CNN’s Jake Tapper Calls on Graduates to Embrace the Humanity of Others as UMass Amherst Awards 5,500 Degrees

Commencement at McGuirk Alumni Stadium
Commencement at McGuirk Alumni Stadium
Graduates with Sam the Minuteman
Graduates with Sam the Minuteman

AMHERST, Mass. – At today’s Undergraduate Commencement at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, CNN anchor Jake Tapper called on the Class of 2018 to lead the nation out of a dark period, set a moral standard of which they can be proud, and embrace the humanity of others.

Tapper delivered the commencement address as about 20,000 family members, friends and other guests cheered the approximately 5,500 graduates who received their bachelor’s degrees under sunny skies. Tapper was also awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree during the ceremony.

Tapper observed that as a society we now live in “a world of social media where every bad impulse, every negative nasty thought, every shallow, glib cut-down can be shared the very moment it’s conceived.” Empirical fact, he said, is corroding. “People are standing up and saying no to these indecencies. But not enough people. And not enough of those in power. It will need to be your generation that leads this nation out of the darkness.”

Detailed coverage of the commencement activities at UMass Amherst, including photos and video of Tapper’s speech, can be found at

UMass President Martin T. Meehan also addressed the graduates as did UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, who presided at the ceremony held at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

“Remember the intellectual journey that successfully brought you here today,” Subbaswamy told the graduates, “and build on your university experiences to view each day as an opportunity for continued growth and exploration.”

He urged the Class of 2018 to appreciate the diversity of ideas, people and perspectives that surrounded them during their college years and reminded them to stay in touch and come back to campus often.

“I am proud of all of you,” the chancellor said. “Go forth, lead a good life and make the world a better place.”

During the ceremony, an honorary doctor of public service degree was also conferred upon UMass Amherst alumnus and Pearl Harbor veteran Len Gardner, who was aboard the destroyer USS Reid during the Japanese attack on the American fleet. Gardner served in the U.S. Navy until 1946, attended UMass on the GI Bill and went on to a career with several federal agencies including the Naval Research Laboratory, Federal Aviation Administration and the National Science Foundation.

A Distinguished Achievement Award was given to orthopedic surgeon and sports physician Katherine Coyner, who graduated from UMass Amherst in 2001. A two-time captain of the UMass women’s basketball team, Coyner is an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at UConn Health, a team physician for the UConn Huskies and head team doctor for the WNBA Connecticut Sun.

Antonio D. Vitale from Wilmington was presented the inaugural Chancellor’s Award for Exceptional Service, which recognizes graduating seniors who have had significant impact on the institution while enriching the experience of their fellow students. Twice elected president of the Student Government Association, Vitale led efforts to secure funding for renovations of the Student Union through a student-approved fee increase, helped bring early voting to campus for the 2016 national election and advocated for increased state support for the university.

The student speaker was Tenzin Dawa Thargay of West Roxbury, a Commonwealth Honors College student who is receiving dual degrees in political science and Chinese language and literature. Thargay, who aspires to a career with the Foreign Service, will spend this summer as an intern at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in Washington, D.C., before traveling to South Korea as a Fulbright scholar to conduct research on energy security.

Thargay recounted his family’s journey as exiles from Chinese rule in Tibet to refugee settlements in India and later to the United States. “The U.S is and has always been a land of immigrants,” he said. “My family story and those of our community represent the mosaic of cultures threading our nation and UMass.”

Reflecting on the past four years, Thargay said, “What stands out to me the most about UMass and its students is this trademark UMass spirit of dogged determination and grit. … We are problem-solvers, we are fighters, and we find innovative ways to succeed. Don’t lose this grit. However, in order to be effective leaders for the 21st century, we also need compassion. In an era of national and international divide, we must extend more compassion to one another and recognize the interdependence and commonality to heal, collaborate and advance.”

Ten graduates were honored as 21st Century Leaders for far-ranging achievement, initiative and social awareness. They are: Nargis Aslami, a women, gender, sexuality studies major from Worcester; Shuaib Balogun, a chemical engineering major from Lagos, Nigeria; Nicolas Blaisdell, an English major from Peabody; Stephanie Castro, an accounting major from Plainville; Jessica Furtado, a double-major in biochemistry and molecular biology and public health from Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Charlotte LaPlante, a biology and English major from Brookline; Xin Liu, a computer science major from Nanchang, China; Caroline Qin, a microbiology major from Winchester; Tenzin Thargay, of West Roxbury, who majored in political science and Chinese language and literature; and Hadiya Williams, a psychology and anthropology major from Mansfield.

Two graduating seniors were recognized for their leadership and executive ability as Jack Welch Scholars. They are Enda O’Shea, from West Newton, a finance major, and Lina Wu, a chemical engineering major from Burlington.