AMHERST, Mass. – For the first time in its history, the University of Massachusetts Amherst today held a virtual Commencement celebration to honor its graduating class of 6,600 students. The Class of 2020 persevered through a difficult final semester, completing their studies remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and were hailed in a streaming video presentation viewed on the UMass website and as a Facebook Live event.
The 20-minute presentation featured salutes from nearly 30 prominent public figures, including Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and UMass President Marty Meehan, as well as actor Ben Affleck, TV host and political commentator Rachel Maddow, SNL comedian Rachel Dratch, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and U.S. Representatives Jim McGovern, Richard Neal and Ayanna Pressley.
Approximately 15,000 people viewed the virtual celebration that started at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
Others who offered congratulations include Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman and UMass alumnus John Jacobs ’90, co-founder and chief creative optimist of the Life Is Good company. He will also be the keynote speaker for a future on-campus ceremony when it can be scheduled.
From his living room, in full academic regalia, Subbaswamy led the ceremony, which began with a musical introduction by the UMass Amherst Wind Ensemble. He said, “These online events do not replace the traditional campus ceremonies, which will be rescheduled for an appropriate date after restrictions on large gatherings are lifted. While at UMass, you conquered challenges of both the hard and the minor, and the significance of this journey is not defined by one day.”
Other special contributors included Senator Elizabeth Warren, Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty, UMass hockey All-American John Leonard, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Emmy-winning actor Rob Corddry and NASA astronaut and UMass Amherst alumna Cady Coleman.
Other sports and business figures who paid tribute to today’s graduates include philanthropist Earl Stafford, Peloton co-founder Hisao Kushi, UMass hockey alumnus and NHL player Cale Makar, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver and UMass alumnus Andy Isabella, bassist Ken Casey of the “Dropkick Murphys,” Kelly Fredrickson, president of Mullen Lowe’s flagship Boston office, former UMass basketball head coach John Calipari, Patriots running back James White, actor Jeffrey Donovan and Karen Kaplan, CEO of the Hill Holliday agency, Boston.
Each guest speaker offered uplifting and often lighthearted words of advice to the graduates. Sen. Warren said, “Don’t be so focused on your plans that you’re unwilling to consider the unexpected. Sometimes things don’t go as you planned, but sometimes they turn out even better.”
Maddow added, “Enjoy this moment if you can. Yes, it is weird, but it is your weird and what’s more Western Mass than that!”