A view from the rear of the field toward the stage at the 2023 UMass Amherst Commencement ceremony at McGuirk Alumni Stadium
University News

UMass Amherst to Confer Honorary Degrees, Distinguished Achievement Awards at Undergraduate Commencement May 18

Honorees include entrepreneur Paul Manning, philanthropist Earl Stafford, community leader Denise Hurst, media executive Michelle Cardinal and conductor Jason Fettig

Three illustrious alumni will be bestowed honorary degrees, and two accomplished alumnae will receive Distinguished Achievement Awards, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Undergraduate Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 18, at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

Paul B. Manning ’77

Paul Manning
Paul B. Manning ’77

A native of Massachusetts, Paul B. Manning graduated from UMass Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology in 1977. He is chairman and CEO of PBM Capital Group, a venture capital and private equity firm that is focused on life sciences and biotechnology.

Prior to founding PBM Capital Group, Manning successfully founded several companies that developed and distributed prescription and over-the-counter products to major retail chains throughout the United States. In 1997, he founded PBM Products, which grew to become the largest private label producer of infant formula and baby/toddler food in the world before being sold to Perrigo in 2010. Ernst & Young named Manning, a lifelong entrepreneur, the Virginia Entrepreneur of the Year in 2002.

Manning and his wife, Diane, established the Manning Family Foundation in 2003, which has awarded over $50 million to 120 organizations focusing on health and innovative life sciences research, health care services, educational and developmental opportunities for children, and financial literacy. Inspired by their children, the Manning family is dedicated to finding cures for Type 1 diabetes and macular degeneration. In 2023, the Mannings pledged a landmark gift to establish the Paul and Diane Manning Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where they reside.

Since 2013, Manning has fostered innovation at UMass, starting the Manning Initiative and the Manning Inventor Fellowship, followed by the Manning Innovation Program in 2019 to boost entrepreneurial efforts. Furthermore, he is a lead investor in the Maroon Venture Fund, a for-profit entity investing in early-stage companies associated with UMass Amherst.

Paul and Diane Manning have been married for 39 years and have three children and seven grandchildren.

Earl W. Stafford ’76

Earl Stafford
Earl W. Stafford ’76

A prominent leader and philanthropist, Earl W. Stafford is renowned for his impact across diverse sectors, including nonprofit, business and entertainment. In 2002, Stafford founded the faith-based Stafford Foundation, which uplifts people who are socially and economically marginalized in the United States and Africa.

The foundation builds churches, schools and orphanages throughout Africa to give support and provisions to people in need as well as provide education to under-resourced women and children. The foundation also built a training center in West Africa to nurture nascent entrepreneurs and small business owners.

The Stafford Foundation’s initiative, the People’s Inaugural Project, enabled over 400 disabled veterans, people experiencing homelessness and other underserved individuals from across the U.S. to participate in the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Stafford is also CEO of The Wentworth Group LLC, a holding company providing private equity investments and growth support to commercial, technology-focused small business concerns. He is currently a partner in Monumental Sports & Entertainment, an American sports and venue management company, and has been an executive producer for several commercial films including The Butler and Willie.

A board member of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Stafford is also trustee emeritus of the UMass Amherst Foundation and the Wesley Theological Seminary. He has also received Presidential appointments as trustee to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the President’s Board of Advisors for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Stafford holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UMass Amherst and an MBA from Southern Illinois University. He and his family reside in Virginia.

Jason K. Fettig ’98

Jason Fettig
Jason K. Fettig ’98

Jason K. Fettig is an internationally recognized conductor and esteemed educator. Performances under his baton have occurred across the U.S. as well as in Japan, the Czech Republic, Austria and The Netherlands. His live performances have been broadcast on National Public Radio and national television networks including PBS, NBC and CBS. The former director of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band from 2014-23, Fettig served as music advisor to the White House and performed under five presidents. Conducting both the Marine Band and Chamber Orchestra in support of hundreds of nationally significant events, he has worked with a wide array of artists ranging from violinist Joshua Bell to Lady Gaga.

As the 28th director of the Marine Band, he appeared in venues including Carnegie Hall, Chicago Symphony Center, Severance Hall in Cleveland, Boston Symphony Hall and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. A fervent advocate for new music, Fettig has commissioned or premiered almost 50 works and maintains a strong commitment to preserving historic American repertoire. In 2014, he launched an ambitious project to re-record the 125 completed marches of John Philip Sousa and provide free performance and educational materials online to schools and ensembles worldwide.

Fettig is deeply committed to music education and has served as a visiting clinician or conductor at over 40 colleges and universities and countless public school band programs across the country. He also began an interactive Young People’s Concert series with the Marine Band and significantly expanded the band’s educational resources. He currently serves as director of university bands and professor of conducting at the University of Michigan, where he conducts their acclaimed Symphony Band, leads the graduate program in wind conducting and oversees the university’s band program.

Fettig holds two bachelor’s degrees from UMass Amherst – in clarinet performance and music education – and a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from the University of Maryland, College Park.


Denise Hurst ’01

Denise Hurst
Denise Hurst

Denise Hurst, a proud native of Springfield, Mass., boasts a rich history of community leadership and public service. Graduating from both UMass Amherst and Springfield College School of Social Work, her educational journey laid the foundation for her impactful career.

An active member of the Springfield School Committee since 2009, Hurst champions initiatives to improve academic achievement and implement equitable policies within the educational system. She led the establishment of the Minority Caucus for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, formerly as chair and now as vice president of MASC.

Beginning her professional journey as a social worker and clinician, Hurst ascended to the role of area director within the commonwealth’s Department of Mental Health. Her dedication to community engagement transcends boundaries, as she has navigated roles as a policymaker and legislative advocate across local, state and federal levels.

In 2016, Hurst assumed the role of regional manager for western Massachusetts of the Massachusetts State Lottery and became the inaugural vice president of advancement and external affairs at Springfield Technical Community College in 2018. She currently serves as vice president of community impact and partnerships for the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, leveraging her expertise to foster positive and transformational change.

Hurst’s contributions have garnered widespread recognition, including awards such as the 2019 Woman of the Year by the Professional Women’s Chamber, the Massachusetts All State School Committee Award, BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty Class of 2014, the Hispanic Association in Higher Education, 100 Women of Color in New England and the Top 25 Women to Watch in Western Mass.

Michelle Cardinal ’89

Michelle Cardinal
Michelle Cardinal

Michelle Cardinal started her 30-year media career in TV media and marketing after graduating from UMass Amherst with a bachelor’s in communication. The founder of several companies, she is currently chairwoman and co-founder of Rain the Growth Agency.

Cardinal’s first company, Cmedia, founded in 1998, quickly became one of the top media buyers in the country, with clients such as Humana, Carnival Cruise Line and Cancer Treatment Centers of America. In 2005, Cardinal merged Cmedia with Respond2, a Portland, Oregon-based creative agency, to create the fully integrated direct-to-consumer (DTC) agency, R2C Group, which later rebranded as Rain the Growth Agency. One of the largest independent, women-led advertising agencies in the country, Rain is the top choice for fast-growing e-commerce brands and many traditional brands that have expanded their DTC channels, including companies like Humana Healthcare, Shopify, Chewy, Peloton and Bissell.

Passionate about using technology and data to guide informed marketing decisions, Cardinal also helped found Leavened, a DTC data and analytics company that specializes in media mix modeling and has invested heavily in the development of leading media analytic tools and platforms.

Cardinal sits on the Forbes Agency Council and is a published thought leader in the marketing industry. She was an Ernst & Young LLP Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 national finalist and was winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 Pacific Northwest Region Award.

In January 2024, Cardinal joined the ownership group of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm basketball team, and she can be found cheering them on from the sidelines of the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle.