39th Commencement marks endings and beginnings

Liberian President Ellen John Sirleaf to deliver address

By Ellie Castano and Kristen O'Reilly

UMass Medical School Communications

May 23, 2012
  The 39th Commencement will take place at noon on Sunday, June 3, on the UMass Worcester campus.

Over the next week and a half, the UMass Worcester campus will be abuzz with final preparations for the signature event of the academic calendar: Commencement, held this year on Sunday, June 3. An added challenge for this year’s planning is the extra attention required in hosting a sitting head of state—Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who will be giving the Commencement address and receiving an honorary degree. In addition to the usual months of work leading up to the big day, preparations have also included input from the U.S. Secret Service, which is charged with keeping visiting heads of state secure while in the United States.

Logistics and diplomacy aside, for the 248 students who will graduate from UMass Worcester, June 3 marks the culmination of many years of work and the beginning of new adventures in medicine and science.

This year’s class of graduating students is the largest in UMass Worcester history. The School of Medicine will award 111 MDs; the Graduate School of Nursing will award 50 master’s degrees, six post-master’s certificates; four doctor of nursing practice degrees and six PhDs; and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences will award three master’s degrees and 64 PhDs. Four MD/PhDs will also be awarded.

For Johnson Sirleaf, the 39th Commencement at UMass Worcester coincides with the 40th anniversary of another historic commencement address that she delivered. Johnson Sirleaf, who is serving her second term, made her now-famous address at the College of West Africa in which she sharply criticized the Liberian government; the speech launched her political career and brought her to the forefront of the decades-long struggle to transform the government from authoritarian rule to democracy. For her fundamental role in this change, she was a recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakel Karman of Yemen, “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Other honorary degrees will be given to Boston businessman and philanthropist Joseph O’Donnell and U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin, MD, MBA.

O’Donnell is the founder of The Joey Fund, which works in partnership with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to support research into new treatments for cystic fibrosis and provide financial assistance to patients and their families. The fund is named in memory of O’Donnell’s son, who died of the incurable genetic disease. O’Donnell is also a trustee of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and chairman of the Foundation’s Milestone to a Cure campaign.

Dr. Benjamin was appointed the 18th surgeon general by President Obama in 2009 because of her reputation as a dedicated public health advocate for access to quality health care and her history of operating the only health clinic in a rural fishing town along Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

In addition to Johnson Sirleaf, one student from each school will speak at Commencement. James Ferguson, who will receive his MD, will give the class address for the School of Medicine; Phyllis Muthee, who will receive her MS, will speak for the Graduate School of Nursing; and Allison Keeler, who will receive her PhD, will represent the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

As usual, all members of the UMass Worcester community are invited to Commencement. Because of increased security measures, everyone must have a ticket to enter the Commencement tent. To request tickets, faculty and staff should contact Lisa Beitel, assistant dean for administration and chief of staff in the office of the deputy chancellor (lisa.beittel@umassmed.edu). Information on tickets for students and their families can be found on the Commencement information pages.

A pre-Commencement celebration on Saturday, June 2, for graduates and their guests is also open to all faculty. The party runs from 8 p.m. to midnight under the tent on the LRB quad. All parking areas, except the patient/visitor garage, will be open and accessible to attendees.

On Sunday, June 3, a Commencement Brunch will take place from 9:30 to 11 a.m. on the UMass Worcester Campus. Commencement will begin sharply at noon under the large tent on the Campus Green; seating begins at 11 a.m.

For those who cannot attend but who would like to watch the event, Commencement will be live streamed here: http://asx.abacast.com/umass-medical-300.asx.


Over the next week and a half, UMassMedNow will be running a series of stories leading up to Commencement Day, Sunday, June 3. Tomorrow, read about the long and deep connection between UMass Medical School and Liberia that laid the groundwork for President Johnson Sirleaf’s visit.