AMHERST, Mass. – CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper and Pearl Harbor veteran Leonard Gardner will be awarded honorary degrees during Undergraduate Commencement at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Friday, May 11 at 4:30 p.m. at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
Former student leader Antonio Vitale will be recognized for exceptional service and alumna Katherine Coyner will honored for distinguished achievement. Tenzin Dawa Thargay will be the student speaker at the ceremony, where about 5,500 graduates will be awarded their bachelor’s degrees. Tapper will be the featured speaker.
Jake Tapper will be awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters. He joined CNN in January 2013 and currently hosts a one-hour weekday program, The Lead with Jake Tapper, and has hosted CNN’s Sunday morning show, State of the Union, since 2015. Tapper imparts his political expertise on State of the Union by conducting interviews with top newsmakers on politics and policy, covering Washington, the country, and the world. The Lead covers headlines from around the country and the globe, with topics ranging from breaking news in politics and world events, to politics, money, sports, and popular culture.
Most recently, Tapper lent his political expertise to CNN’s 2016 election coverage and moderated two presidential primary debates.
Tapper has been a widely respected reporter in the nation’s capital for more than 15 years. His reporting on the 2016 election has been recognized with a number of awards, including a 2017 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism, the Los Angeles Press Club’s Presidents Award for Impact on Media and the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Tribute to Exemplary Journalism. Tapper has also earned the coveted Merriman Smith Award for presidential coverage from the White House Correspondents’ Association four times. He is also the author of four books, including his debut novel, “The Hellfire Club,” which was published in April.
Leonard F. Gardner, who will receive an honorary doctor of public service degree, is an Amherst native and a 1949 graduate of UMass. As a 20-year-old signalman striker on the USS Reid, Gardner and his shipmates were swept into the maelstrom of war as the Japanese attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. Gardner was not injured during the attack, which killed or wounded more than 3,500 Americans, and he went to serve aboard the Reid through action at Midway, Guadalcanal and New Guinea. In 1944, he was transferred to a flotilla of landing craft gunships that took part in the invasion of Okinawa.
Discharged from the Navy in 1946, Gardner returned to western Massachusetts and enrolled through the GI Bill at Massachusetts State College, which became the University of Massachusetts the following year. His future wife, Doris Anderson, was already a student at the university and pursuing a degree in sociology. They married in 1947.
Gardner went on to earn a master’s degree in history at Stanford University. He signed on for a junior-management program with the federal government and embarked on a career that took him from the Naval Research Laboratory to the Polaris submarine program, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Science Foundation, from which he retired in 1977. In retirement, he was elected county supervisor in Fluvanna County, Virginia, where Len and Doris still live.
Chancellor’s Award for Exceptional Service
Antonio D. Vitale, from Wilmington, is being presented the inaugural Chancellor’s Award for Exceptional Service. Created by Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, the award recognizes graduating seniors who have made significant impact on the institution while enriching the experience of their fellow students. Award recipients exhibit extraordinary commitment to service and citizenship as undergraduate students beyond the scope of their normal academic and extracurricular commitments and serve as role models for future generations of UMass Amherst students.
Elected a student government senator as a first-year student, Vitale was twice elected president of the Student Government Association. His notable accomplishments include bringing early voting to campus for the 2016 national election, reopening the Hatch as a multipurpose space for students in the Student Union, and his advocacy for increased state support for the university. His most significant achievement, acquiring funding for future renovations to the Student Union, will impact the campus and students for years to come. He founded and chaired the Student Union Task Force, united the student body in support of renovations to the Student Union, and rallied them to pass the fee referendum, which will provide half the funding for the $50 million major campus enhancement.
After graduation, Vitale will be joining IBM as a business transformation consultant in its business consulting division.
Tenzin Dawa Thargay, of West Roxbury, is a Commonwealth Honors College student who is receiving dual degrees in political science and Chinese language and literature. He has also earned a certificate in public policy and an International Scholars Program certificate and is one of this year’s recipients of the 21st Century Leader Award. 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.
Distinguished Achievement Award
Katherine Coyner, who graduated in 2001 from UMass Amherst, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with a subspecialty in orthopedic sports medicine and an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at UConn Health. She is also a member of UConn’s Musculoskeletal Institute and sports medicine program as well as a team physician for the UConn Huskies and head team doctor for the WNBA Connecticut Sun.
Coyner began breaking records and setting trends as an undergraduate. A two-time captain of the women’s basketball team, she was only the second player in UMass history to score 1,000 points and total more than 500 assists in a career. A starting point guard, Coyner holds top-10 rankings in 30 different areas of accomplishment in her collegiate basketball career.
Coyner earned her medical degree from Northeastern Ohio University College of Medicine. As the first woman in the orthopedic surgery program, she completed her residency at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.
Active outside of the medical field, Coyner hosts workshops for young women in high schools and medical schools to expose them to opportunities in orthopedic surgery and engineering. For many years, she has been involved in the Perry Initiative, an organization committed to inspiring young women to be leaders in the fields of orthopedic surgery and engineering.