U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern Addresses Commencement Audience as UMass Amherst Confers Degrees to 7,000
AMHERST, Mass. – At the Undergraduate Commencement at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern called on the Class of 2022 to believe in democracy in today’s perilous times. The chairman of the House Rules Committee, who was one of the last people to evacuate the House when the U.S. Capitol was attacked by a violent mob on Jan. 6, 2021, warned that without such a commitment “it’s no longer safe to assume your right to vote will be around the next time you want to use it.”
McGovern delivered the keynote commencement address as approximately 20,000 family members, friends and other guests cheered for a graduating class of about 7,000 under bright sunshine and warm temperatures at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
McGovern, who represents the 2nd District of Massachusetts, said, “I won’t tell you what to believe—but I will tell you that you have been given an incredible gift—a world class education. My question to you now is, what are you going to do with it? What are you going to do for democracy?”
He said, “I’m asking you not to forget that part of living a meaningful life is about being part of a community. And giving back to that community. It will be tempting to let someone else do the work … to step back, throw up your hands and say, ‘not my problem.’ But if democracy just means leaving it to someone else, then our country is not going to work for you. It’s going to work for fewer and fewer people. It’s going to work for those who are willing to rig the system to overturn elections. So I’m asking each of you—all of you—not to give up on democracy.”
UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy presided at the ceremony, and UMass President Marty Meehan conferred degrees to the graduates.
Subbaswamy said, “You did it! Whatever it took! Social distancing. Masking up. Zooming classes. Asymptomatic testing. Maybe symptomatic testing. Vaccinating. Then more vaccinating. You simultaneously navigated your way through a once-in-a-century global pandemic while successfully completing the rigorous requirements of your UMass degree. Your perseverance and resourcefulness over the past two years is amazing.”
The Chancellor observed, “So many of our national and global challenges are fueled by polarization—and the resulting walls built between opposing views are undermining our ability to find common ground and forge solutions.” To break down these walls, he cited the wisdom of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who shared this advice from his father: “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”
The student speaker was Emily Przybyla, a biology major from Ellicott City, Md. Przybyla plans to move to Boston following graduation and apply to physician assistant programs.
Przybyla spoke of the historic moments that she and her classmates witnessed in their four years at UMass – the murder of George Floyd, the Me Too movement and deaths of legends such as Kobe Bryant and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She also spoke, often in humorous ways, about the impact the COVID-19 had on college life, including living at home with parents while doing remote learning. But she also spoke of the tragedy of the pandemic.
“We cherished these moments of humor because so many of us walked hand-in-hand with heartbreak. We heard the stories: a classmate who didn’t know if he would be able to afford to finish his education; a co-worker whose family fell apart; a friend whose dad died,” she reflected. “Some of us are saving seats for people who couldn’t be here today. Some of us are saving a seat for someone who should’ve been here today.”
“Every single graduate in this room here have faced challenges that we never could’ve imagined,” she said. “We’ve faced pain and struggle and loss. But we have not, and will not, let these challenges reduce us. We conquered them, and today, we honor that battle. Our diploma is not just a piece of paper to hang on a wall – it’s a testament to our resilience and success. It says, ‘I did it. I did not let these obstacles reduce me, and I will continue to overcome anything that life throws at me.”
Three Honorary Degrees Conferred
Jerome M. Paros, an internationally recognized innovator and leader in the field of geophysical measurements, received an honorary doctor of science degree. A member of the UMass Amherst Class of 1960, Paros holds more than 50 patents and has authored many papers and articles about scientific instrumentation. Paros is the founder, president and chair of Paroscientific, Inc., Quartz Seismic Sensors, Inc. and related companies that use the groundbreaking quartz crystal resonator technology he developed to measure pressure, acceleration, temperature, weight and other parameters. Paros received his undergraduate degree in physics from UMass Amherst and his graduate degree in physics from Columbia University. A visionary philanthropist, he has supported science and education with endowments at several institutions, including the Paros Center for Atmospheric Research, endowed chairs and fellowships at UMass.
Justice Albie Sachs received an honorary doctor of law degree. Sachs is known for his efforts to extend democratic freedom to all South Africans. He began practicing law at age 21, and his human rights advocacy involved defending people charged under apartheid’s racist statutes and repressive security laws. Many faced death sentences, and Sachs was targeted by the security police and placed in solitary confinement for 168 days without trial. His book, “The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs” was dramatized for the Royal Shakespeare Company and later broadcast by the BBC. During the 1980s, Sachs worked with Oliver Tambo, leader of the African National Congress (ANC) in exile. He helped draft the ANC’s Code of Conduct and its statutes. In 1990, he returned home and took part in the negotiations that lead to South Africa becoming a constitutional democracy. In 1994, he was appointed by President Nelson Mandela to serve on the newly established Constitutional Court, where he helped abolish the death penalty, enable prisoners to vote and same-sex couples to marry. Sachs has written and lectured widely about constitutionalism, human rights and healing divided societies. He has been internationally recognized for his human rights work. His many awards include the prestigious Tang Prize in the Rules of Law in 2014, the Ford’s Theatre Lincoln Medal in 2010, and the French Legion of Honour in 2021.
Receiving an honorary doctor of public service degree was Marcellette G. Williams, the first woman to lead UMass Amherst as chancellor, ascending to the position in 2001. In addition to stabilizing campus through the trauma of September 11, Williams led the campus through one of its most challenging periods of budgetary pressures, which involved program reductions and administrative reorganization. Throughout her tenure and while emphasizing the totality of the university’s mission, Williams advocated for the importance of community collaboration, interdisciplinary understanding and human enablement. Her educational philosophy emphasized “living values” and a creation of a learning environment through the integration of knowledge and scholarship. She has taught and also consulted throughout Asia, Europe and Africa, served on numerous boards, and has held local, state, regional, national and international positions. She retired in 2019 after 50 years of distinguished service as an influential champion of higher education at two U.S. top land grant universities – Michigan State University and UMass Amherst.
21st Century Leaders
Ten graduates were honored as 21st Century Leaders for far-ranging achievement, initiative and social awareness, and a number of them are Commonwealth Honors College (CHC) students. They are: Jasmine Bogle of Queen Creek, Ariz., with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering; Elodie Carel of Wayland, a CHC student who earned a degree in psychology and a Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration in disability studies; Julia Stone Fox of Southwick, a CHC student, with dual degrees in political science and environmental science; Zachary James Glanz of Sharon with a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies with a secondary major in Chinese Language and Literature; Jacqueline Victoria Grundfast of Warwick, N.Y., a CHC student, receiving dual degrees: a Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration in biomedical ethics and policy and a degree in psychology, in addition to a minor in business; Alanna Joachim of Groveland, a CHC student, with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a minor in engineering management through the Isenberg School of Management; Sarah Kaunfer of Wrentham, a CHC student, with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology; Kanon Kobata of Saitama, Japan, with a bachelor’s degree in food science with a second Bachelor’s Degree in Individual Concentration in sustainable food business; Adam Maciej Lechowicz of Bridgewater, a CHC student, who earned dual degrees in computer science and political science; and Obinnaya Okereke of Marblehead with a bachelor’s degree in public health.
Jack Welch Scholars
Two graduating seniors were recognized during the commencement ceremony for their leadership and executive ability as Jack Welch Scholars. Zachary Evan Carter from Northborough graduated with a major in operations and information management; and Raveena Dookhan, a CHC student from Franklin, who graduated with a degree in biomedical engineering and minors in engineering management and math.