A view of numerous mortar caps, many decorated with personal messages, as students celebrate the 2023 UMass Amherst Commencement ceremony at McGuirk Alumni Stadium
University News

Sophia He, Jarrel De Matas Named Student Speakers for UMass Amherst Commencement 2024

Linguistics major He to represent undergraduate class; De Matas, who earned a doctorate in English, will speak to graduate students
2024 Commencement wordmark

A linguistics major with plans to pursue advanced degrees and a doctoral candidate who explores the culture of Caribbean science and speculative fiction will represent the undergraduate and graduate classes of 2024, respectively, as student speakers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Commencement ceremonies May 17-18.

The 154th UMass Amherst Undergraduate Commencement ceremony will be held on Saturday, May 18, starting at 10 a.m., at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. Graduate Commencement for all doctoral, master’s and education specialist degree candidates is scheduled for Friday, May 17, at 10 a.m., and will also be held at McGuirk Stadium.


Sophia He, of Fremont, California, is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and a minor in sociology.

Sophia He
Sophia He

An exceptional student, He qualified for the dean’s list every semester in the university’s internationally recognized Department of Linguistics and is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society.

At UMass Amherst, He worked as a research assistant in the Phonetics and Phonology Lab for three semesters. Under professor John Kingston, she ran experiments on speech perception and the Ganong effect; became proficient in RStudio, a software programming language used in data analytics; and fielded questions from prospective students about the linguistics department (along with her passion for phonetics and sociolinguistics). In her free time, she loves bodybuilding and lifting and is considering becoming a professional bodybuilder.

After graduation, He intends to continue working with speech, sound and hearing, and plans to study for a master’s in speech-language pathology or a doctor of audiology in the San Francisco Bay Area, later earning a doctorate in linguistics with a focus on sociophonetics.


Jarrel De Matas, of Couva, Trinidad, is graduating with a doctorate in English. 

Jarrel De Matas

An avid fan of science fiction, De Matas dived into the genre and culture of science in the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States for his doctoral thesis. He will continue exploring the intersection of science fiction and culture in his new book, tentatively titled “Caribbean Science Fiction and Beyond: Interviews with Writers of Science and Speculative Fiction, Fantasy, and Folklore,” to be published by Routledge.

Among his many accomplishments, De Matas was a finalist in the 2020 Three-Minute Thesis competition at UMass Amherst, presenting his research on how climate fiction and environmental facts can encourage greater activism. He also received a UMass Decolonial Global Studies Mellon Fellowship for the 2022–23 academic year.

Following graduation, De Matas will start as an assistant professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch. 


Please visit the Commencement website for full bios on both speakers.