UMass Dartmouth grads urged to find their place in a world of change

May 10, 2019

UMass Dartmouth’s Class of 2019 entered the post-college world with a little bit of advice from commencement speakers: take risks, never give up, and persevere amid rapid economic and social change.

More than 2,000 undergraduate, graduate, and law students accepted their diplomas at four commencement ceremonies, all held for the first time in several years on campus. The Friday ceremonies included the university’s Colleges of Nursing, Business, Visual and Performing Arts, Engineering, and Arts and Sciences. 

Ellen Zane, Chief Executive Officer and President Emeritus of Tufts Medical Center told graduates to take big risks. She recalled the beginning of her career, when she took a job as CEO of a hospital which only had enough funds to stay open for ten days.

It was a do-or-die start to the tough decisions that leaders need to make, and helped establish her reputation.

She also told graduates the shortest path between two points is not always a straight line, meaning oftentimes the path to success is not always direct.

Some students have already learned that lesson through their undergraduate careers, like interior architecture and design graduate Joseph Arcuri. He didn’t begin his studies at UMass Dartmouth, but rather Mount Ida College in Newton.

When the college closed suddenly, he followed his program from metro Boston to suburban Dartmouth.

“It was very different at first being away from the Boston area,” Arcuri said. “Being an architecture student, there’s is a lot of job opportunities in Boston so a lot of our student body were hesitant to come this way, but we’ve made a tremendous amount of connections and our department had helped us find jobs.”

He quickly learned to connect with the South Coast community. He led a project to redesign New Bedford’s Carney Academy Library as part of a service learning project, an unusual experience because he got to see his project built out. 

He’ll be heading to architectural firm Silverman Trykowski Associates for his first post-college job.

Although UMass Dartmouth’s Class of 2019 comes from 33 countries, 34 states, and 257 Massachusetts communities, there were many local graduates as well, including Dartmouth’s Emily Sylvia.

She graduated with an English degree, inspired by her love of Dartmouth High School elective classes to pursue a liberal arts education. She’ll be starting her post-college career in municipal government as an assistant in the Town of Mattapoisett’s Assessors Office.

Other students aren’t quite sure where the post-college road will take them.

English grad Ryan Clark already has a flight to San Diego booked, and plans to travel internationally for a few months.

Chancellor Robert Johnson, in his speech, noted many students will face change and uncertainty in their career paths, including 15 job changes, due to unprecedented economic disruption caused by automation, digitalization, and globalization.

Johnson noted a UMass Dartmouth education will give graduates the skillset and mindset to succeed in a diverse and changing world, and urged graduates to confront issues that will affect future generations like climate change head on.

Congressman Bill Keating (D-MA) was the commencement speaker at the second ceremony, and noted the change today’s college graduates face is truly unprecedented.

“It’s a new world,” Keating said. “It’s a very different world than your parents or I or other generations have had. Changing technology, people are going to be changing jobs on average 15 times. That’s unprecedented change, the likes of which we’ve not seen since the industrial revolution.”

He told graduates to not let money be their guide in the future, recalling how he started his political career in the state legislature on a $12,000 a year salary, passing up the opportunity to lead a Fortune 500 company in the process.

Student speakers shared their stories and advice as well. Nneoma Ugwu came to UMass Dartmouth from Nigeria to study civil engineering, and said being a black female civil engineer was going to be a challenge. She listened to her mother, who urged her she can do it. She created a redesign of the Mashpee Rotary for her senior design project, and drew upon the five-road intersection to illustrate the many branching paths her fellow alumni will find themselves on. 

Silavong Phimmasone, who graduated with a management degree, drew on his military background to illustrate one of his most vivid life realizations, which came from his grueling combat wilderness survival training when he was immersed with his full gear on. After that, his officer asked “Did you die?” 

“He said I get it, it hurts, but it didn’t kill you,” Phimmasone said. “Love or hate this process, you’re better than you were before.” 

On Monday, UMass law and graduate students celebrated commencement. Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Elspeth B. Cypher told graduating law students to "be as corageous as you can" in difficult times. Travis McCready, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, encouraged grads to remember a time when someone made an exception for them.