Under sunny skies, 227 graduates of UMass Worcester marked a milestone in their long educational journey on Sunday, June 1, as they marched across the stage in front of faculty, family members and friends to proudly accept their degrees.
U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, who received a Chancellor’s Medal and delivered the Commencement address, used the opportunity to call for more National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to sustain the remarkable medical research advances that are saving lives and helping people live longer, healthier lives.
“Research funded by NIH at institutions like UMass Medical School has been the single greatest contributor to advances in health. Today the average American lives six years longer than in the 1970s, largely because of pioneering NIH investments,” said McGovern. “If you look at NIH funding in terms of constant 2003 dollars, we invested 22 percent less last year than we did a decade ago. That is simply unacceptable.”
He challenged the graduates to be political.
“Being political doesn’t have to mean being partisan or nasty—it means fighting to get what you want and what you believe is in the best interest of your city or your state or your country,” he said.
“You have been given a great gift with the education you received here. You will certainly change for the better the lives of those you treat as nurses and doctors and the people you help through your research. But you have the potential to do more,” McGovern said. “And so I will close with something that might be strange in a speech to graduates of medical school. I will ask you, when you confront the diseases of cynicism and apathy, to violate your Hippocratic Oath and pull the plug.”
Cherylann and Leonard Gengel, founders of the Be Like Brit Foundation and the Be Like Brit Orphanage in Grand Goâve, Haiti, and H. Brownell Wheeler, MD, the Harry M. Haidak Distinguished Professor emeritus and founding chair of the department of surgery at UMass Medical School, received honorary degrees at the ceremony. UMass Worcester conferred 118 doctor of medicine degrees; 36 doctor of philosophy degrees in the biomedical sciences; five MD/PhDs; and, in nursing, 48 master of science degrees, five post-masters certificates, three PhDs and 12 doctor of nursing practice degrees.
Chancellor Michael F. Collins outlined the many examples of how UMass Medical School is making a difference locally and globally.
“There is no greater accomplishment than those who graduate this day. For we have seen them as they were; their lives were transformed before our eyes and we look to the greatness they will bring to the world,” said Collins. “In Main South and Mattapan, in Mumbai and Monrovia, in Barre and the Berkshires, in Port au Prince and Chengdu, today, UMass makes a difference. Our institution is on the move and these students have earned their rightful place as graduates who will continue that legacy.”
The three class speakers offered words of wisdom to their classmates, marveling at how far they have come in their educational careers, and also making some requests.
“As you move forward in your career, whichever direction you choose, please use this gift of higher education to give back to your community—whether it be directly through your research, advocacy or in mentoring the next generation of young scientists,” Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences class speaker Shawna Guillemette said. “Your training here has been an investment and the best way to return that investment is to give back to your community.”
“On those trying days it will be important to remember that you cannot control a lot of what happens to you, what others do or say to you, but you can choose how you respond and your attitude,” said School of Medicine class speaker Laura Ferraro. “It’s not easy to choose your attitude and it is something I continue to struggle with, but reminding yourself that you have the ability to choose your response might get you through the tough days and inspire others around you.”
Graduate School of Nursing class speaker Paula Bigwood, RN, BSN, MHA, who received a doctor of nursing practice degree, reminded her fellow graduates of the power they have as nurses. “Every day there’s a chance to make a real difference in someone’s life.” She said that as the current medical landscape is transformed to emphasize interprofessional collaboration, “nurses will play a fundamental role in that transformation.”