UMass Amherst Confers 2,100 Advanced Degrees at 2022 Graduate Commencement
AMHERST, Mass. – The Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts Amherst conferred 2,180 graduate degrees at a Commencement ceremony at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. The Class of 2020, which was unable to hold a commencement ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic, joined the Class of 2022 at the celebration.
Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy recalled the many hurdles the graduates faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the special challenges of international students. “Despite all the challenges, you not only completed your degree, but you also excelled at it. The achievements you earned and the accolades you garnered are truly exceptional,” the chancellor said.
The chancellor described the accomplishments of the graduates, among them National Science Foundation graduate research fellows; Fulbright scholars; national Scientist Mentoring and Diversity Program invitations; postdoctoral fellows in the American Council of Learned Societies; Ford Foundation scholars; and American Association of University Women fellows.
He then challenged the graduates to do more. “Clearly, you leave here today exceedingly well-prepared — across all your respective disciplines — for success in your chosen profession,” he said. “But for each of you, there is more. You also carry with you a once-in-a-century perspective of the world, formed through perseverance and resourcefulness. This combination of a UMass degree and your unique perspective is your superpower, and I ask that you use it fully for the common good as you advance your professional goals.”
The chancellor observed, “For there is work to be done, as we face some of the greatest issues of our time, including global geopolitical crises; a reckoning of our extreme social, racial and economic inequalities; and the existential threat of climate change. Yes, we live in challenging times. Yet seeing all of you here today, and fully understanding the choices you made to get here — and the sleep you willingly forewent — I am filled with optimism.”
Continuing on the theme of challenges, Class of 2022 student speaker Koboul Elsayed Mansour, a doctoral student in higher education in the College of Education, spoke of her journey to UMass Amherst from Egypt and the loss of her father just 10 days after arriving on campus. She said when she was a high school student, he encouraged her to become a scholar. And she spoke of the challenges many international students face, coming to the U.S., leaving behind all that is familiar, many speaking a language other than English and belonging to different social and academic cultures.
“Therefore, when we come here, we start looking for our people; we start building our village; we start cultivating an updated, yet continually shifting, sense of self,” Mansour said. “And as the years pass, we start wondering, ‘Who we are? Where do we belong? Will I stay here? Am I going to move back home? What is next?’ While I do not have all the answers to those questions, I can tell you this. Here, at UMass Amherst, I found the best friends, I found the people who I could call family, I found support, and I learned so much!”
Mansour continued, “I stand here today before all my fellow graduates who made it here today to say: I see you! I acknowledge your perseverance! I admire your tenacity! I recognize the sacrifices and the compromises you all have made to persist through graduate school. And you all should be extremely proud of yourselves! You made it! We made it.”
Class of 2020 student speaker Yolanda Wiggins, who earned a Ph.D. in sociology, spoke about the importance of having a vision, saying she was a product of high-poverty school districts in Flint, Mich., and Washington, D.C. She said the schools she attended were permeated with disadvantage, making the vision of earning a Ph.D. difficult. But she recalled a high school teacher, Mr. Connor, who was educated at Yale University. She asked him why he chose to teach at an inner-city school. He replied, “You don’t think you deserve to have well-educated teachers? I’m from this community. It was important to me to come back.”
“My understanding and interest in education as an uneven playing field started during those formative years as I had a front row seat to nearly every inequity imaginable,” Wiggins said. “I share my experiences loudly and proudly as an attempt to not only highlight but also normalize the diversity and range of experiences of graduates in this very room.
“With any vision, it is not enough just to be able to see. The real question, the most important question is, what will you do with what you see? And, alternatively, what happens when you are unable to see? Sometimes those closest to you have their sights set farther for you than you may have for yourself.”
Wiggins urged her fellow graduates to “reach back” as educators, researchers and public servants to envision a better future for themselves and to also envision a better world for those who can’t see past bleak conditions.
Graduate School Dean Jacqueline Urla reminded graduates that earning an advanced degree is a significant individual accomplishment, but that no one does it alone. From the faculty who teach and mentor to the staff who support students to the fellow graduates who helped each other, Urla thanked the faculty, staff, family and friends who supported students along the way, especially through the pandemic.
“As you follow your own path, no matter your field of study, and no matter where the future takes you, you will have opportunities to make a difference and to be mentors and teachers to others,” Urla said. “Look for those opportunities. Make the commitment to serve as a mentor for someone else, to elevate others, to be an ally, and carry forward the UMass ideals of excellence, justice and inclusion in your future work and in your communities.”
Urla noted that of the 2,180 advanced degrees conferred today to the Class of 2022, 1,784 are master’s or educational specialist degrees and 396 are doctoral degrees.