Thousands of friends, family members, faculty and staff gathered to celebrate the tremendous achievements of UMBC’s Class of 2016, nearly 2,000 strong, at the university’s commencement ceremonies, held May 18-19, 2016. Moving remarks by each ceremony’s speaker served as a powerful reminder of the value and impact of a UMBC degree.
“Higher education can be a great equalizer in this country, and there is no further intervention as strong or as enduring as a college education for helping individuals and societies to thrive,” said Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust during the undergraduate ceremony. “But many colleges, most of the colleges, have not figured out how to do as good a job as UMBC at enabling all students to reach their highest potential.”
Clemson University President James Clements, a three-time alumnus of UMBC, shared a particularly personal reflection during graduate commencement. “It is actually difficult for me to put into words how much of an impact UMBC has had on my life,” said Clements.
President Clements described how his grandparents never graduated from high school and how he and his three siblings were the first in their family to attend college.
Between the four of us we earned eleven college degrees, and seven of those degrees came from this great university. And one of the happiest days in the lives of my parents was when my older brother and I graduated side-by-side with our Ph.D.s from UMBC. […] So this place not only gave my family a chance to receive a top-notch education, it literally transformed my entire family and gave us a path to a better life.
That experience also motivated President Clements to enter the field of higher education, to provide others with the opportunities he experienced. He told the graduating master’s and doctoral students:
With a degree from UMBC you can achieve anything that you set your mind to. You can even become the president of one of the top public universities in the country… But most importantly, use your degree and the knowledge you have acquired to have a positive impact on something that is important to you…to help tackle some of the most significant challenges facing society today. I know that you can, and will, make a difference.
President Faust echoed this thought in her remarks to UMBC’s undergraduates, telling them:
…you have the responsibility to pay it forward: to inspire others in their quest for knowledge just as you were inspired. To acknowledge the many people who invested in your journey by offering your help to others.
“So many of you are already embracing that responsibility,” said Faust, before honoring several UMBC graduates moving on to careers in public service. These students, she said, are “following in the footsteps of alumni like Shalonda Holt, the 2007 UMBC graduate who last month was named Washington Post’s 2016 Teacher of the Year. She is living the responsibility conferred by her UMBC education every day.”
Valedictorian Katelyn Seale ’16, biochemistry and molecular biology, reflected on her own UMBC experience, including how she became committed to meeting the needs of medically underserved populations and sensitive to patients’ diverse perspectives and life experiences. She told her classmates, “I thank you all for contributing to the open, intelligent, and compassionate community we share at UMBC.”
UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski offered special recognition to the highly accomplished scholar-athlete Tessa Seale ’16, biochemistry and molecular biology, Katelyn Seale’s twin sister, who will soon begin a Ph.D. in cellular molecular medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Tessa Seale competed as a sprinter on UMBC’s track team and was inducted into both the Chi Alpha Sigma National College Athlete Honor Society and Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society.
Several other graduates were honored for their academic achievement and dedication to public service throughout the ceremony, particularly in President Faust’s commencement remarks. A few include Gaurav Luthria ’16, bioinformatics, heading to a Ph.D. in bioinformatics and integrative biology at Harvard; CODE2040 alumnus Randi Williams ’16, computer engineering, who will begin a master’s in media, arts, and sciences at MIT; Cheyenne Smith ’16, psychology and biological sciences, who will work as an AmeriCorps Community Service Learning Fellow with The Choice Program at UMBC; and Sayre Posey ’16, history, who will soon begin teaching 9th grade U.S. history in Baltimore City.
The ceremony also recognized Jonathan “Shane” McNeil, who passed away prior to receiving his degree in psychology. President Hrabowski shared, “Our community feels a great sense of loss…To Shane’s family, I want to say, you will always be a part of the UMBC family.” Shane’s parents, Dr. John McNeil and Elizabeth Gordon-McNeil, received his degree in his honor as the full arena stood to recognize him.
Each graduate in UMBC’s Class of 2016 has a powerful story to tell, and departments across the university exuberantly congratulated their graduates on social media throughout the ceremony, from biological sciences to visual arts to American studies. The Women’s Center recognized graduating Newcombe Scholars including Carrie Cleveland ’16, social work, recently highlighted in The Baltimore Sun’s coverage of inspiring college graduates across greater Baltimore. Cleveland chose to complete a social work degree after her daughter was born with a congenital heart defect and a supportive social worker had a profound impact on her family’s experience. She told the Sun, “It took me finding what my passion was…to excel.”
Cleveland and her fellow graduates have already demonstrated exceptional personal achievement and made invaluable contributions to the UMBC community. Now they take their knowledge, experience, and passion to serve as leaders in graduate programs and careers across the globe.
As President Faust said, “Education challenges us with the obligation to be the best we can be for ourselves and for others every day. It shows us what we might be and it points the way.”
Full videos of UMBC’s Undergraduate and Graduate Commencement ceremonies are now available online, as well as remarks from a special dinner recognizing this year’s honorary degree recipients and the achievements of the Class of 2016:
Learn more about UMBC’s Spring 2016 Commencement speakers on UMBC News. The Baltimore Sun offers coverage of President Faust’s remarks and the undergraduate ceremony, and Harvard University has provided her remarks in full. Clemson University offers details on President Clement’s commencement speech.
All photos by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.