UMass Amherst Student Speaker Grace Jung to Help Lead Virtual Celebration for Class of 2020; 21st Century Leaders Selected

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AMHERST, Mass. – Student Speaker Grace Jung of the University of Massachusetts Amherst will play a leading role Friday during a virtual celebration of the university’s Class of 2020.

Jung, whose hometown is Newton, was selected as the student speaker for the virtual celebration and for an in-person commencement to be held at a later date. She is a biochemistry and molecular biology major who plans on applying to dental school with the goal of becoming a pediatric dentist. She has volunteered through the UMass Center for Women and Community as a Massachusetts-trained rape crisis counselor and has been involved in the UMass Pre-Dental Society and the American Student Dental Association. Jung also was co-manager of the student-run business Campus Design and Copy.

The culminating virtual event honoring the achievement of this year’s graduating class will be available on Friday, May 8, at 4:30 p.m. EDT at During the 15-minute streaming video celebration, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy will lead a tribute that honors the graduating class. 

In addition, the university has selected 10 members of the Class of 2020 as 21st Century Leaders for their exemplary achievement, initiative and leadership: 

Nathalie Amazan of western Long Island, New York, is a Commonwealth Honors College student with a double major in political science and legal studies with a minor in Afro-American studies. Recognized as a student leader, Amazan served as a member of the Student Government Association, rising to the position of vice president. She also founded the UMass Restorative Justice Initiative through her fellowship with Young People For and a partnership with the UMass Center for Education Policy and Advocacy to bring a restorative justice program to campus. She co-founded the UMass Prison Abolition Collective in 2016 and served on the W.E.B. Du Bois Afro-American Studies Undergraduate Council. She has worked as an intern for the UMass Student Legal Services Office and the ACLU. Her plans are to take the LSAT this summer and start law school in 2022 after doing legal advocacy work in New York and continuing to write and perform poetry.

Racquel Bitar is a Commonwealth Honors College student graduating with a degree in microbiology and a minor in anthropology. The Paxton native has worked as a research assistant for Professor Mark Pachucki’s research group in sociology and in Professor Luke Remage-Healey’s lab in psychology and brain sciences, as a resident assistant, a teaching assistant in biology, a medical scribe at the UMass Memorial Medical Center and as a career peer advisor in the College of Natural Sciences. Bitar also volunteers as a court appointed special advocate in Worcester, work she intends to continue while serving as a medical scribe as she applies to medical school. She is a member of Phi Sigma Pi, a national honor fraternity and the Arab Cultural Association, where she served as public relations officer and treasurer.

Christopher Clark of Westfield, a Commonwealth Honors College student receiving a degree in environmental science and STEM-German, plans to pursue a master’s degree in environmental health sciences from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and eventually a Ph.D. Clark worked in the research lab of Professor Alicia Timme-Laragy in environmental health sciences doing toxicology research. Clark’s leadership experience includes working on the steering committee and as a community organizer for Westfield Residents Advocating for Themselves, which led an effort that resulted in a CDC-sponsored exposure assessment and an increase in regulation for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Clark also served on the Student Government Association as chief of staff and undersecretary of sustainability. He has received numerous academic awards, including a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship awarded by the U.S. State Department to study abroad in Germany.

Jonathan DeMarco of Hopkinton is a civil/environmental engineering major who will begin work as an environmental engineer in New York City upon graduation. He plans on studying for a master’s degree from UMass Amherst as well. DeMarco has worked as a student ambassador in the dean’s office of the College of Engineering and worked as an engineering study abroad essentials coordinator with the International Programs Office (IPO) at UMass to implement a long-term IPO program that will assist engineers to engage in study abroad. He was involved in the Engineers Without Borders chapter on campus and traveled to Kenya and Ghana to assist communities by implementing various water-related infrastructure.

Deanna Ferrante of Carver is a Commonwealth Honors College student and a psychological and brain sciences major with a minor in education and a letter of specialization in developmental disabilities and human services. She interned at the National Organization on Disability, where she was awarded the Kaitlin Geraghty Memorial Prize for excellence in disability inclusion, and at the Assistive Technology Center at UMass. Ferrante also worked as a resident assistant and received numerous academic awards, including Outstanding Overall Senior from the department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Ferrante founded the Alliance Against Ableism, an on-campus activism group that advocates for people with disabilities. Her future plans include working for an asset management firm as a human resources analyst and exploring post-graduate opportunities in industrial-organizational psychology. 

Victoria Ishola of Worcester will receive a bachelor’s degree in business administration in finance from the Isenberg School of Management. Her plans are to work for a couple of years in the private sector before pursuing a law degree. At UMass, Ishola served as secretary of finance for the Student Government Association, the first black female student to do so, and reformed various financial processes within SGA. She also was voted in as UMass’s first black Homecoming queen in 2018 and worked as a resident assistant. Ishola also is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and participated in the UMass Black Mass Communication Project as its treasurer. Ishola says that being a student leader in the Black community on campus helped her advocate for less-seen campus groups and to remind other students of color not to be limited by one or more of their identities.

Carl McDonald of Carmel, N.Y., is a Commonwealth Honors College student majoring in nursing. McDonald worked as a resident assistant and UMass tour guide for the admissions office. He is the social actions coordinator for the Student Nurses Association on campus and worked as a nurse extern at the New York-Presbyterian Psychiatry hospital last summer, where he received a Tier III Award for saving a patient’s life by performing the Heimlich maneuver. His career goal is to move to New York City and work as an oncology nurse and eventually study for a psychiatric nurse practitioner degree to work with patients suffering from substance abuse disorder or schizophrenia. He published an article with faculty on end-of-life knowledge among university nursing students and presented on the same topic at national nursing conferences.

Daniela Molina Palacios, a Commonwealth Honors College student and member of Phi Beta Kappa, is graduating with a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology. A native of Venezuela, Palacios has participated in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) COVID-19 Challenge in April, assisting with UbiquiTest, a virtual platform that can advise healthcare professionals and companies on which populations can benefit from group testing. She’s also worked as a summer research intern at MIT and in the lab of Professor John Stoffolano, with whom she did her honors thesis. She also worked as a teaching assistant in biochemistry, a resident assistant and an academic peer advisor in biochemistry and molecular biology. Palacios’s leadership extended to projects off campus as well, where she served as a tutor for Eureka! Girls Inc. in Holyoke. She also was a member of the Workplace Climate Committee in biochemistry and molecular biology. Her future plans include working as a research associate at MIT and eventually pursuing a Ph.D.

Jeremy Paradie of Holliston is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in individual concentration (BDIC) in creative mechatronics, a multidisciplinary branch of engineering that focuses on both electrical and mechanical systems. While at UMass, Paradie started in the electrical and computer engineering program, but he transitioned based on his interest in a more interdisciplinary experience to the BDIC program, where he could design his own major and extend his learning experiences beyond engineering and into landscape architecture, theater and the cognitive sciences program at Hampshire College. Working with faculty in landscape architecture, Paradie helped with several interactive walkway projects, including one called Step and Flash, which created a piezoelectric walkway with a goal of harvesting energy from footsteps. He also contributed to a temporary installation called FutureWATERS along East Boston’s greenway. On campus, Paradie worked at the All-Campus Makerspace and managed the M5 Makerspace for electrical and computer systems engineers. He was a teaching assistant at Hampshire College and in landscape architecture. He has participated in several hackathons and maker fairs. His future plans include graduate school.

Timothy Scalona is a Commonwealth Honors College student with a double major in political science and a BDIC in policy, journalism and storytelling with a minor in Spanish from Wilmington. He has worked as a resident assistant and is the founder of the First-Generation Low-Income Student Partnership, which advocates for centralized campus support systems for first-generation, low-income students. Scalona has written about and been featured in the media as a previously homeless college student and did his senior thesis on the Massachusetts Emergency Assistance program and his family’s experiences in it. He also served on the Student Government Association and chaired its Social Justice and Empowerment Committee. He has worked as a caseworker intern at Amherst Community Connections, assisting homeless individuals with job and housing searches, and as a district intern for former State Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose of Amherst. Scalona is a member of the Alpha Chi Rho fraternity and helped lead efforts to support the UMass student food pantry and other projects for low-income students. His future plans include pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at UMass Amherst and eventually applying to law school.