UMass Confers Degrees on 6800 at 154th Undergraduate Commencement


UMass Undergraduate Commencement 2024. Photo:

Source: UMass News & Media

The University of Massachusetts Amherst celebrated the graduation of approximately 6,800 students before a gathering of 20,000 family and friends at the 154th UMass Amherst Undergraduate Commencement ceremony today at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

Chancellor Javier Reyes and the platform party a 2024 Undergraduate Commencement
Chancellor Javier Reyes (center) and the platform party at 2024 Undergraduate Commencement.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes, presiding over his inaugural Commencement, praised the resiliency of the graduates. “You, the class of 2024, have faced unprecedented challenges in the pursuit of your degree. Despite these challenges, you showed up: You showed up in the classroom. You showed up in the laboratory. You showed up on Zoom. And you showed up here today. You met the rigors of your academic program and you succeeded.”

The Chancellor said, “You pursued your undergraduate degree during a global pandemic and now graduate at a time of continued global uncertainty. Over the past year, this uncertainty has been increasingly visible on college campuses across the country, including our own. As both Chancellor and as a father of two college students — one who just graduated  last week — I  am heartened by the passion of this generation and your desire to actively work toward creating a better world. Your advocacy challenges us to explore new perspectives and create new understandings.”

Chancellor Javier Reyes applauds the Class of 2024 at Undergraduate Commencement at McGuirk Alumni Stadium May 18, 2024
Chancellor Javier Reyes applauds the Class of 2024 at Undergraduate Commencement at McGuirk Alumni Stadium May 18, 2024

Reyes observed, “As a public university, we are deeply committed to upholding the tenets of academic freedom. We will always support the rights of our students, faculty and staff to explore challenging ideas and advocate for a point of view. We also recognize that while we may not always agree, this university must be a place where students and faculty are able to pursue opportunities and make choices that work for them, even if they are not choices that we would make for ourselves.”

“As you begin your next chapter, I ask that you continue to bring a sense of curiosity to all that you do,” Reyes said. “Ask questions, seek diverse perspectives, listen—and then ask more questions. Engage in civil dialogue and be open to opposing points of view. If we are to solve the myriad of issues that face our communities and our world, we must be able to engage in dialogue that is grounded in facts, logic, and reason. This is how you begin to make impactful change.”

Protestors marched briefly and then departed the stadium without incident at the start of the ceremony.

Sophia He, of Fremont, California, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and a minor in sociology, represented the undergraduate Class of 2024 as student speaker at the ceremony.

Student speaker Sophia He at 2024 Undergraduate Commencement
Student speaker Sophia He

“As you sit here adorned in your caps and gowns, surrounded by those who have walked this path alongside you, I invite you to take out your phones and take a moment to look at yourself through your reflection in the camera app or on the black screen,” He said to her fellow graduates. “Closely look at your reflection and understand that this isn’t just an image of you, but proof of your success, resilience, and the embodiment of your triumphs and trials. It contains every laughter, every tear, every late night, every moment of doubt, and every emotion you experienced during these past few years. Now, please lift your gaze to everyone sitting around you. Each one of them holds a new combination of those emotions—a whole new story behind their eyes looking back at you. Together, we have all created a mosaic of vibrant memories unique to our class.”

An exceptional student, He qualified for the dean’s list every semester in the university’s internationally recognized Department of Linguistics and is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society.

“We all entered UMass Amherst as individuals, but we will all leave as a community, a close network, and a family,” He continued. “In the reflections of each other, we have witnessed the struggles and strengths we all share, and in doing so, we discovered more about ourselves. As you now step into the newest chapter of your lives, I ask for everyone to remember this feeling. Please remember that you are not alone in your journey called life.”

Honorary Degrees
UMass Amherst also conferred honorary degrees to three illustrious alumni at the Undergraduate Commencement ceremony.

Paul Manning
Paul Manning ’77

Paul Manning ’77, an entrepreneur and chairman and CEO of venture capital and private equity firm PBM Capital Group, was presented with an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree

Prior to founding PBM Capital Group, Manning successfully founded several companies that developed and distributed prescription and over-the-counter products to major retail chains throughout the United States. Manning and his wife, Diane, established the Manning Family Foundation in 2003, which has awarded over $50 million to 120 organizations focusing on health and innovative life sciences research, health care services, educational and developmental opportunities for children, and financial literacy. Since 2013, Manning has fostered innovation at UMass, starting the Manning Initiative and the Manning Inventor Fellowship, followed by the Manning Innovation Program in 2019 to boost entrepreneurial efforts. Furthermore, he is a lead investor in the Maroon Venture Fund, a for-profit entity investing in early-stage companies associated with UMass Amherst.

Earl Stafford
Earl Stafford ’76

Earl Stafford ’76, a prominent leader and philanthropist renowned for his impact across diverse sectors, including nonprofit, business and entertainment, was presented with an Honorary Doctor of Public Service Degree. In 2002, Stafford founded the faith-based Stafford Foundation, which uplifts people who are socially and economically marginalized in the United States and Africa. The Stafford Foundation’s initiative, the People’s Inaugural Project, enabled over 400 disabled veterans, people experiencing homelessness and other underserved individuals from across the U.S. to participate in the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Stafford is also CEO of The Wentworth Group LLC and is currently a partner in Monumental Sports & Entertainment, an American sports and venue management company. An executive producer for several commercial films, including “The Butler” and “Willie,” he is a board member of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and trustee emeritus of the UMass Amherst Foundation and the Wesley Theological Seminary.

Jason Fettig
Jason Fettig ’98

Jason Fettig ’98, an internationally recognized conductor and esteemed educator, was presented with an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degree. The former director of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band from 2014-23, Fettig served as music advisor to the White House and performed under five presidents. Conducting both the Marine Band and Chamber Orchestra in support of hundreds of nationally significant events, he has worked with a wide array of artists ranging from violinist Joshua Bell to Lady Gaga. A fervent advocate for new music, Fettig has commissioned or premiered almost 50 works and maintains a strong commitment to preserving historic American repertoire. Deeply committed to music education, he has served as a visiting clinician or conductor at over 40 colleges and universities and countless public school band programs across the country. He currently serves as director of university bands and professor of conducting at the University of Michigan, where he conducts their acclaimed Symphony Band, leads the graduate program in wind conducting and oversees the university’s band program.

Read more about the Honorary Degree Recipients and Distinguished Alumni Award Winners

Distinguished Achievement Awards
The university recognized two accomplished alumnae with Distinguished Achievement Awards at the Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony.

Denise Hurst
Denise Hurst ’01

Denise Hurst ’01, an active member of the Springfield School Committee since 2009, champions initiatives to improve academic achievement and implement equitable policies within the educational system. Hurst led the establishment of the Minority Caucus for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, formerly as chair and now as vice president of MASC. Beginning her professional journey as a social worker and clinician, Hurst ascended to the role of area director within the commonwealth’s Department of Mental Health. Her dedication to community engagement transcends boundaries, as she has navigated roles as a policymaker and legislative advocate across local, state and federal levels. In 2016, Hurst assumed the role of regional manager for western Massachusetts of the Massachusetts State Lottery and became the inaugural vice president of advancement and external affairs at Springfield Technical Community College in 2018. She currently serves as vice president of community impact and partnerships for the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, leveraging her expertise to foster positive and transformational change.

Michelle Cardinal
Michelle Cardinal ’89

Michelle Cardinal ’89, is a media and marketing executive and chairwoman and co-founder of Rain the Growth Agency. Cardinal’s first company, Cmedia, founded in 1998, quickly became one of the top media buyers in the country, with clients such as Humana, Carnival Cruise Line and Cancer Treatment Centers of America. In 2005, Cardinal merged Cmedia with Respond2, a Portland, Oregon-based creative agency, to create the fully integrated direct-to-consumer (DTC) agency, R2C Group, now known as Rain the Growth Agency. One of the largest independent, women-led advertising agencies in the country, Rain is the top choice for fast-growing e-commerce brands and many traditional brands that have expanded their DTC channels, including companies like Humana Healthcare, Shopify, Chewy, Peloton and Bissell. An Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 national finalist and winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 Pacific Northwest Region Award, Cardinal joined the ownership group of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm in January 2024.

21st Century Leaders
Ten of the university’s most talented and accomplished undergraduates were honored for their exemplary achievements, initiative and leadership with awards naming them as 21st Century Leaders. Receiving $1,000 honorariums from the UMass Amherst Alumni Association were:

The 2024 21st Century Leaders are recognized on-stage at Undergraduate Commencement at McGuirk Stadium on May 18,2024
The 2024 21st Century Leaders are recognized on-stage at Undergraduate Commencement at McGuirk Stadium on May 18,2024

Alina Antropova, a double major in English literature and social thought and political economy from Southwick, who has demonstrated a combination of academic excellence and a deep commitment to social justice , having spent the last several summers, dedicating her time in service of immigration rights; Sean T. Bannon, a Commonwealth Honors College student from Winchester, who graduated on the pre-medical track with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and as a junior was a recipient of the UMass Amherst Rising Researcher Award, the highest award an undergraduate can receive in research; Naicha Chamille Christophe, of Taunton, and born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who earned dual degrees in psychology and public health, with a certificate in criminology, and whose dedication to social justice and public health proved evident as president of the Haitian American Student Association when she reactivated the organization’s charity initiative, P.E.A.C.H., to help raise nearly $6,000 for the Haitian Health Foundation and for winter blankets to donate to a local migrant shelter; Zoë Pearl Cohen, a music education major from Nevada City, California, who was the first-ever recipient of the Jeff Poulton and Suzanne Jessee Drum Major Scholarship and was awarded the Howard M. Lebow Memorial Scholarship from the university’s music department, looks forward to inspiring the next generation of musicians as a high school band director; Rianna Jade Jakson, of Marlborough, who earned dual degrees in film studies and communication through the bachelor’s degree with individual concentration (BDIC) program while maintaining three on-campus jobs and serving as a peer advisor, and was also cinematographer for two fashion shows and the director of photography for 12 short films for UMass Fashion Organization (UFO), where she also designed a more than 275-page look book for the spring 2023 fashion show and acted as editor-in-chief of two editions of UFO’s magazine; George F. Olisedeme-Akpu, a mechanical engineering major in the Commonwealth Honors College from Abuja, Nigeria, who served as president of the UMass chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) following a two-year tenure as senator, growing the organization’s membership by more than 60% in one semester, raising thousands of dollars to support the professional development of NSBE members, sending 60 members to national and regional conferences, and hosting an outreach event to teach high school students about opportunities within STEM; Molly Roth, a Commonwealth Honors College student from Exeter, New Hampshire, who double majored in legal studies and anthropology and co-created the Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s first social justice podcast and served as president of the UMass Pre-Law Club, where she established the UMass Undergraduate Law Review and oversaw speaker panels, networking events and visits to law schools; Vandrey Sisson, a biology major in Commonwealth Honors College from Newton, who has been a leader on campus, participating in and steering community organizations that help people with developmental disabilities as president of the Autism Awareness Club, a member of the Developmental Disabilities and Human Services letter of specialization program, and founder of the UMass LEGO Playgroup, a respite care program for children with a range of abilities; Gaia Taig, of Lexington, a Commonwealth Honors College student, who earned a dual degree in biochemistry and molecular biology and psychology with a concentration in neuroscience and conducted research on breast cancer development in the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences’ Jerry Lab where she immortalized over 15 primary breast cell lines, making the lab the largest storage of immortalized breast epithelial cells in the world; and Caroline Tran, of Everett, a member of the Commonwealth Honors College and a pre-medical-track student graduating with dual degrees in microbiology and public health sciences, who started a free college application assistance program for underrepresented high schoolers, guiding students through the application process and conducting workshops on topics related to the university experience.

Jack Welch Scholars
Two graduating students were recognized at Undergraduate Commencement as Jack Welch Scholars for 2024 and will receive merit scholarships funded by the GE Foundation. The award is named in honor of alumnus Jack Welch, who drew upon his UMass undergraduate education in chemical engineering to forge a career as an international business leader, serving for two decades as chairman and chief executive officer of General Electric. 

Honored at the ceremony were Gillian Gaboury, of Brimfield, who earned dual degrees in finance and managerial economics, and Tiana Elaine Naylor, of Littleton, a Commonwealth Honors College student majoring in biomedical engineering with a minor in computer science.

Read More
Thousands Join Graduate Class of 2024 at Commencement.
UMass Amherst Celebrates Class of 2024 with Four Days of Festivities
UMass Student Protestors Honored in Alternate Graduation Ceremony

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