By From the Lowell Sun
By Prudence Brighton
University of Massachusetts Lowell graduates are "truly poised at the edge of the most creative time in history," Jack M. Wilson, president of the state university system, said during commencement exercises yesterday.
Nearly 2,200 scholars were awarded degrees yesterday, the largest graduating class in school history. The academic procession into the Tsongas Arena took nearly 30 minutes.
Paraphrasing Robert F. Kennedy, Wilson told graduates "these are times of danger and uncertainty."
With the local, national and global economy in such perilous condition "only those who lived through the Depression can say 'we've seen this before.'"
But Wilson sees reason for optimism. "What I see before me is not alarms and concerns. What I see in front of me is you."
Wilson listed how graduates have already made a difference, including helping to clean the environment and caring for the sick in Ghana.
The current economic climate was a recurring theme.
"Even on this celebratory day, we cannot ignore the challenges of rebuilding our economy," said student speaker Abbey Denaro, who received a bachelor's degree in exercise physiology with highest honors.
She compared the journey her class has taken to the Merrimack River. She spoke about the flow of water past rocks in its path with "its destination of the open and free Atlantic. We now get to go full steam ahead into that open expanse."
"UMass Lowell has provided us with the skills to create our own unique means to successfully navigate to the ocean of opportunity... In essence, if we all use the skills that we have been developing here at UMass Lowell, and if we continue to be motivated in the manner that got us here today, then no obstacle will ever block or prevent the journey of our future," she said.
Chancellor Marty Meehan urged the graduates to seize the power of their education and take an active role in their community and the world.
"Nelson Mandela said, 'Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world.' This is an unprecedented moment of change in our nation and in the world. Going forward, I hope all of you will be active citizens who are deeply engaged with public affairs, from local issues to global concerns," Meehan said.
Commencement speaker Harold E. Ford, a former congressman from Tennessee who served in Washington with Meehan, told graduates about his grandmother "who taught me the difference between right and wrong. No lesson has served me better than that."
Ford, now a news analyst for NBC and MSNBC, gave the graduates "five suggestions."
First, he said, "Don't chase the future, shape the future." Then, he admonished them not to "hog" all the credit. "And if you're ever in a room where you are the smartest person, add more people or leave so that learning continues."
"Focus on your dreams with laser-like focus," he said. He told the story of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer. Jobs was fired by his own company but eventually came back to lead it, bringing many innovations, including the iPod, to market.
"Love your country and give back to it. We live not only in the greatest nation, but a nation made great by its people. We all have an obligation to make it better."
Finally, he said, "Listen, listen, and listen."
The university conferred honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees to:
* George Duncan of Lowell, founder of the Enterprise Bank, which was founded 20 years ago and now has $1.65 billion assets under management. Duncan was also the founding treasurer of the Greater Lowell Technical High School, founding incorporator of the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, and founding president of both Lowell Development and Financial Corporation and Lowell Telecommunications Corporation.
* Bernard Amadei, professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where his mission is to educate globally responsible engineering students. He is founding president of Engineers Without Borders-USA, which works to improve the quality of live in disadvantaged communities.
* Chaz Maviyane-Davis, an internationally known designer who was born in Zimbabwe and is now a professor at the Massachusetts College of Art. He has been called the "guerrilla of graphic design" because he has taken on issues of consumerism, nutrition, social responsibility, the environment and human rights.
* Robert Pozen, currently on the board of directors of the Commonwealth Fund, a charitable foundation dedicated to promoting a high-performance health-care system. He is chairman of MFS Investment Management, which manages $150 billion in assets. He served as secretary of economic affairs under Gov. Mitt Romney.
Kathleen Beaumont Allen received the Distinguished Alumni Award. A 1977 graduate of what was then University of Lowell, Allen has retired as corporate vice president and chief financial officer of Billerica-based Millipore Corp., where she held a wide variety of other positions. She is a member of the university's College of Management Advisory Board.
The university conferred 29 associate's degrees, 1,460 bachelor's degrees, 620 master's degrees, and 83 doctorates.