By From the Lowell Sun
By David Eiranova, Sun Correspondent
LOWELL -- Life is good. Certainly, with the sun shining on a free barbecue that followed the second annual Convocation for New Students at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and with their whole life stretching before them, the vast majority of the freshman and new students who were there had every reason to feel that way.
As the 1,250 or so young men and women filed into the Campus Recreation Center looking like, well, students, the bright tones of the UMass Lowell marching band filled the air with an atmosphere of excitement before the start of the ceremony.
The students heard from several speakers, among them Bert Jacobs, co-founder of the "Life is good" brand as well as Chancellor Marty Meehan and Dean of Students Larry Siegel.
Guest speaker Jacobs (dressed in a UMass Lowell hockey jersey), held the room rapt as he told of the phenomenal success of his company that he began by selling T-shirts out of a van with his brother John, and which today sees more than $100 million in annual revenue.
"Remember that the things you do here on campus will likely lead to what you do with the rest of your life," said Jacobs, who made his first T-shirt while attending Fitchburg State College.
Although he said that he never originally planned to make a business out of it, he always remembered how much he got a kick out of seeing students walking around campus wearing his design.
"As simple as it was, it was something that I locked in my mind," he said, and four years later he called his brother to propose going into business together.
Simplicity is one of the three anchors of his philosophy of life -- optimism and humility being the other two. Without preaching, Jacobs conveyed to the assemblage that these three "jewels of wisdom" can make the journey through life not only bearable, but enjoyable.
The Jacobs' efforts to support various charities, including Camp Sunshine and Project Joy, began in 2001, after the Sept. 11. attacks. Management at "Life is good" wondered about the appropriateness of the company's central slogan.
Today, the company sponsors outdoor festivals through which "Life is good" has raised more than a million dollars for charity.
Newly appointed Chancellor Marty Meehan, who served six terms as a U.S representative before returning to UML (of which he is an alumnus), told the crowd that he feels very passionate about what the university has to offer.
"This university gave me the foundation that I needed to go on and get a master's, to go on and get a law degree. ... This university provided me with the foundation that I needed, and it will provide all of you with the foundation that you need," he said.
He told of how there wasn't a single day in his experience as a congressman that he didn't think back to the training, education and growth that happened at UMass Lowell.
Meehan said the legacy of former Chancellor William Hogan is that of a "world class" faculty that students have the benefit to interact with.
While describing some of the planned improvements to the physical assets of the school, particularly plans for a new emerging technology research center and added academic space, Meehan emphasized that "really in the end, it's all up to you" the students.
"I was very inspired by the energy coming from the students" of the Class of 2011, Meehan said after the ceremony. He also mentioned that the school was looking at perhaps building a new student athletic center.
In his address to students, Dean of Students Larry Siegel characterized a college education as a "journey." He said that this freshman class was the largest freshman class in recent history. The number of students in the class of 2011 is 1,475.
A theme touched on by more than one of the speakers, which also included Lowell Mayor Bill Martin; interim Dean of Education Anita Greenwood, and Steve Holstrom, Student Government president, was the immediate opportunity to register to vote. A booth outside the building was busily registering students as the barbecue was in full tilt, complete with a live rock band.
The UMass Lowell hockey team was also busy promoting the upcoming season, distributing free T-shirts to all comers and announcing that students for the first time would be eligible for free game tickets.
Also at the barbecue were at least two dozen student organizations with tables set up to give out information about the various things students can get involved in. Some of the groups represented included the UML Dance Team, the Student Government Association, the International Relations Club, the Psychology Club and the Association of Students of African Origin.
Students at the event were of one mind. Nearly every freshman that gave their opinion on what the next four years held for them was expecting an excellent education from the university, testament to the reputation of UML.
Perhaps a comment by Jacobs to the students puts it into perspective well. "Today you may not have your whole life figured out ... but your life is good, your life is amazing. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you're energized and the sooner you're able to go out and get what's yours."