Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker Addresses Commencement Crowd as UMass Amherst Awards 5,500 Degrees

More than 20,000 Attend Celebration at the Commonwealth’s Flagship Campus
2019 Undergraduate Commencement
2019 Undergraduate Commencement

AMHERST, Mass. – At today’s Undergraduate Commencement at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Governor Charlie Baker reflected on the journey of his own family and encouraged the Class of 2019 to choose well and embrace challenges.

“Every life is about choices and challenges,” the governor said, citing a letter he wrote to his daughter, who is graduating from college next week. “You choose your friends. You choose your path. You choose your attitude. Over and over and over again, you will choose. The challenges, whatever they may be, will be there no matter what choices you make. But the choices you make can determine the kinds of challenges you face, and the arsenal of support and guidance that will be there to see you through them.”

Baker delivered the keynote commencement address as about 20,000 family members, friends and other guests cheered for the approximately 5,500 graduates who received their bachelor’s degrees, turning out with enthusiasm despite drizzle and overcast skies at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

Baker observed, “There is a lot of talk these days about happiness. I think happiness is fleeting – and chasing it misses the bigger picture. What matters – and what sustains happiness – is purpose. Purpose comes from being ‘in it’ – whatever it might be – with people you care about, and who care about you. Marriage. Friendship. Work.  Community service. Play. Child raising.  Coaching. Teaching.  Cheering. Volunteering. Note I didn’t mention politics.

“I find tremendous purpose in public service, but it pales compared to 31 years of marriage, three children, and the neighbors and friends who bucked us up for years before I did anything in government – and will be there to do the same long after my time in public life is over.”

Detailed coverage of the commencement activities at UMass Amherst, including photos and videos of Baker’s speech, will be posted at

UMass President Martin T. Meehan also addressed the graduates as did UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, who presided at the ceremony.

Subbaswamy reminded the graduates that they have now completed one of the most important challenges of their lives, graduating from college. He urged them to remember commencement is a beginning, not an end.

“Each semester, your successes and your setbacks shaped you, making you stronger, more resilient, and more prepared,” Subbaswamy said. “Today, you are ready to begin your life as an alumnus of the university. In the years ahead, with each new challenge you encounter, whether personal or professional, you will be ready to make the right choices, and I speak on behalf of all my colleagues when I say it has been a privilege to participate in your intellectual and personal growth.”

He added, “I know you will also be strong ambassadors of the university, setting an example by living our institutional values. You understand the strength of individuality is best served when it values the perspectives of a diverse community. That integrity and compassion are not optional. And, of course, that we always pursue the truth, regardless of the cacophony of voices that may seek to lead us astray.”

Honorary Degrees

During the ceremony, an honorary doctorate of public service was conferred upon UMass Amherst alumna and career military officer Major General Jody J. Daniels. Daniels is the commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 88th Readiness Division based at Fort McCoy, Wis., and is the senior commander of Fort McCoy. In her current command, which she began in December 2018, Daniels is leading the division in assuming new regional missions previously held by other commands, seamlessly transitioning these missions so that there is no interruption in services. Her goal is to continue to help units across the 19-state region achieve ever higher rates of readiness in every facet of their service. She earned her master’s and Ph.D. in computer science at UMass Amherst.

Martin G. Jacobson, an alumnus and successful businessman, was conferred an honorary doctorate of business. Jacobson, a 1968 graduate of the Isenberg School of Management, is a lifetime supporter of UMass and its athletic program. He and his brother Dick funded improvements to McGuirk Alumni Stadium, which include the Martin and Richard Jacobson Press and Skybox Complex. More recently, he provided the lead gift that will fund fan amenity upgrades at McGuirk, including new restrooms, ADA railings and a high-definition scoreboard, and build a seasonal air-supported indoor training facility that will benefit all UMass student-athletes, vastly expanding their winter training options. In recognition of his generous philanthropy, the UMass Football Performance Center was named for Jacobson in August 2018.

Student Speaker

The student speaker was Daniella Iannuzzi of Wakefield, a finance major and education minor. After graduation, Iannuzzi will work at Fidelity Investments in Burlington as a customer experience associate. Although currently focused on a career in finance, Iannuzzi hopes to return to education in the future, to teach at the secondary or university level.

Iannuzzi reminded her classmates that each accomplishment in life is backed by big moments that lead to success. She recounted several of those moments, big and small, of the college experience such as committing to attend UMass Amherst, passing an exam you thought you would fail, or hanging out with your roommates after a long day.

“Now flash forward to today. A really big moment for all of us: Graduation Day,” Iannuzzi said. “Don’t look past the little moments throughout today. The moment you walked into the stadium with your entire class. The drive that your family took to get here to support you. The moment your loved one shed a tear realizing how proud they are of you. Hugging your friends after throwing your cap in the air. The smile you had on your face. The excited and nervous feeling you had throughout the entire commencement. The love that surrounds you. These are the moments that really make today special.”

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: Ramsez Amon of Brooklyn, N.Y., who received a bachelor’s degree in individual concentration; Aiste Balciunaite (CHC), a double-major in chemical engineering and biochemistry and molecular biology from Bala Cynwyd, Pa.; Patricia Bugajska, a kinesiology major from Enfield, Conn.; Bryan Chua (CHC), a double-major in chemical engineering and environmental science from Singapore; Jackson Cote, a journalism major from Framingham; Kelsey DeWolfe (CHC), a political science major from Shrewsbury; Mahdiar Edraki (CHC), a mechanical engineering major from Iran; Jiya Nair (CHC), a double-major in operations and information management and political science; Jaclyn Nicholson (CHC), a double-major in marketing and communication from Gardner; and Jessica Ulloa (CHC), a psychology major from Lynn.

Two graduating seniors were recognized for their leadership and executive ability as Jack Welch Scholars. They are Andrew Metz of Longmeadow, an industrial engineering major; and Rachel Sanderson of Framingham, an accounting major.