Twitter Executive Wayne Chang Addresses 5,500 Graduates at UMass Amherst Commencement (with video)

Elkhansaa Elguenaoui
Elkhansaa Elguenaoui

AMHERST, Mass. – Approximately 5,500 candidates received bachelor’s degrees during today’s Undergraduate Commencement of the University of Massachusetts Amherst as a crowd of approximately 20,000 cheered the graduates amid rain showers and heard Internet entrepreneur and Twitter executive Wayne Chang deliver the Commencement address.

Chang reflected on immigrating to the United States as a young child and persevering through difficult times to study at UMass. Although he left UMass early to pursue his computing dreams, he expressed great satisfaction in accepting his honorary degree, joining “all here together as graduates of UMass.”

Chang, who launched his career as a high-tech entrepreneur while a student at UMass, was also awarded an honorary doctorate. Currently director of product strategy at Twitter, Chang joined the company after it acquired Crashlytics, a mobile crash-reporting service he co-founded in 2011.

He encouraged the graduates to chart their own course, noting “Make your own rules, hack the system and change the world.”

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy presided at the Commencement ceremony held at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium, and UMass President Martin T. Meehan conferred the degrees.

Subbaswamy started at UMass in the summer of 2012 at the same time that the Class of 2016 arrived on campus. Addressing the graduates, Subbaswamy said, “Over the course of the next four years, we remained focused on the challenges before us.”

He observed, “Your ongoing commitment to success over the last four years has been inspiring. Your academic accomplishments have brought you much recognition, while your contributions to campus life beyond the classroom have enriched us all. And your emphasis on actions defined by civility and compassion fill me with hope as you now fan out into the world.”  

Meehan praised both the chancellor and the students for their accomplishments during the past four years, noting of the new graduates, “You are the smartest class that has ever graduated from this flagship campus.”

Also honored was former UMass Amherst faculty member Sheila C. Bair, who was presented with an honorary doctorate, recognizing her career in public service, including her term as chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation from 2006-11. Bair is currently president of Washington College in Maryland.

The student speaker was Elkhansaa Elguenaoui of Medford, a neuroscience and psychology major and biology minor. Her future plans include neuroscience research and attending medical school.

Elguenaoui observed, “If my days here at UMass, have showed me one thing, it’s this: It’s not who you are labeled as, me being a first generation Arab American Muslim woman of color (wow, that’s a mouthful), but more about what I do with that. It’s not what I look like, but who I am. And I couldn’t have learned without you all.”

Ten graduates were honored as 21st Century Leaders for far-ranging achievement, initiative and social awareness. They are: Jennifer Antocci, a double major in public health and communication from Westminster;Sïonan Barrett, a journalism major from Redondo Beach, Calif.; Gregory Barysky of Methuen, who majored in psychology; Samantha Giffen, a double major in public health and microbiology from Millstone Township, N.J.;Kevin Harrington, a double major in astronomy and psychological and brain sciences from Hyannis;Ritika Kumar, an economics major from Lowell; Soun Heang Lee, a biochemistry and molecular biology major from Lynn; Michael Nicholson, a political science and history major from Gardner; Abdifatah Omar, a biology and psychology major from Auburn, Maine, and Matthew Sparks, a civil and environmental engineering major from Mililani, Hawaii.

Two graduating seniors were recognized for their leadership and executive ability as Jack Welch Scholars. They are Timothy Contois of Danvers, a dual degree recipient in computer science and mathematics, and Bianca Tamaskar of Westford, an operations and information management and computer science major.

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