UMass Amherst Confers 6,400 Undergraduate Degrees to the Class of 2021 in Four Smaller, Socially Distanced Ceremonies

AMHERST, Mass. – At today’s Undergraduate Commencement ceremonies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, UMass ice hockey Coach Greg Carvel shared with graduates some of his maxims for success with the 2021 national champion men’s hockey team, including daring to make bold decisions, developing a strong identity and treating others with dignity and respect.

Carvel delivered the keynote commencement address at four smaller, socially distanced commencement ceremonies for a total of 6,400 enthusiastic graduates who received their bachelor’s degrees in front of family and friends at Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium under sunny skies.

The coach spoke of his late father-in-law, retired UMass philosophy professor Edmund Gettier, who taught for 34 years at UMass and formulated “The Gettier Problem,” a landmark philosophical question that is widely taught in introduction to philosophy courses.

“Ed and I had a lot in common,” Carvel said of his father-in-law, who died two weeks before the UMass hockey team won the national championship. “Two quiet men who didn’t care much for small talk, and only spoke when we had something we really needed to say. We were just two common men, who worked at the flagship campus of our Commonwealth, but were both able to accomplish something uncommon for the betterment of our university. And therein lies the true magnificence of UMass. We are not an elitist community. We are a community of common people striving to do exceptional things.”

Carvel also shared some of his principles for success in creating a “culture of excellence” for the men’s hockey team. Using a series of quotes attributed to Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, Carvel spoke of treating people with respect and love.

“When I took over the hockey team five years ago I was asked: Coach, how do you intend on turning this program around? My instant response was relationships,” Carvel recalled. “Treat people well and you will get the most out of them. Be honest, show compassion, demand high standards, allow yourself to be vulnerable, treat people with love and respect.”

Carvel also extorted graduates to “throw good stuff on the pile.” Carvel said the team adopts this approach to encourage integrity and accountability within its program. “Every action of our players, and staff, adds either good stuff or bad stuff to our collective pile,” he said. “Ultimately, that pile is what you really are and that pile becomes your identity. Having a strong identity is the most powerful thing a team, business or individual can have. I advise you to be mindful of what you are throwing on your pile every day.”

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UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, who presided at the ceremonies and conferred degrees, praised the graduates for their strength, resilience and innovation during the trying times of the global pandemic.

“Challenging convention has always been a part of our DNA,” Subbaswamy said. “But what do we do when convention gets thrown out the window? Which is exactly what happened over the past year. You reinvent yourself. You find ways to innovate. You uncover ways to remain connected to all the things important to you. And you do everything in your power to ensure that challenge inspires growth. You didn’t let distance stop you from learning. You didn’t let disconnection interfere with growth and you didn’t let disappointment deter you from happiness.”

“The entire UMass Amherst Class of 2021 has shown all of us the best of us,” Subbaswamy said. “You will forever wear resiliency as a badge. But what makes you truly special is that you will not let the past year define you. You will not use it to make excuses. Rather, you will use it as motivation to be an even better you. Because that’s who you are.”

Student Speakers

Each of the four ceremonies had a different graduating senior scheduled to speak.

At the 9 a.m. ceremony, Isenberg School of Management student Sarah Bloznalis of Upton, a double major in business management and political science who personifies the UMass experience of being involved, meeting new people and trying new things, told her classmates that “rather than strive to be tough, I argue we strive to be human.” Bloznalis will become a content marketing coordinator at Workhuman in Framingham after graduation.

At the noon ceremony, Sarah Rose Stack of Agawam, a mother with two teenage boys who returned to UMass last year to complete her education through University Without Walls, urged her classmates to be brave and try new things. “Stretch your mind as often as you can. Leap as often as you like,” she said. Stack earned an Interdisciplinary Studies degree focused on music and the performing arts. She plans to continue her education and pursue a master’s degree in communications with a focus on marketing and open a non-profit dance and theater company to bring quality and inclusive programming to Western Massachusetts.

At the 3 p.m. ceremony, Jyotika Vallurupalli of North Grafton, a Commonwealth Honors College student who earned a degree in public health sciences and volunteered at the UMass Public Health Promotion Center as a contact tracer, reflected on the pandemic and how it impacted her and her classmates. “If there’s anything that this year has taught us, it’s that your voice matters,” she said. Vallurupalli will pursue a graduate degree in global health after graduation, and eventually plans to attend medical school.

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At the 6 p.m. ceremony, Keyu “Chloe” Li of Dongxiang, Jiangxi, China and Franklin, Tenn., a Commonwealth Honors College student who majored in biochemistry and molecular biology and minored in studio arts, praised her College of Natural Sciences classmates for their perseverance. “You are not alone in your bewilderment, but you are also not alone in your perseverance,” Li said. She added, “Whether it’s nostalgia, fear, or a violently pounding heart, you are meant to conquer and prevail fiercely.”

21st Century Leaders

Ten graduates were honored as 21st Century Leaders for far-ranging achievement, initiative and social awareness, and a number of them are Commonwealth Honors College (CHC) students.

They are: Jason Biundo of Burlington, a Commonwealth Honors College student, receiving degrees in biology and neuroscience; Joanna Buoniconti of West Springfield, a Commonwealth Honors College student, receiving degrees in English, with a specialization in creative writing, and in journalism; James Andrew Cordero of Woburn, a double major in English and social thought and political economy, with a minor in education; Hannah Guard of Marion, a Commonwealth Honors College student, who completed a double major in biochemistry and molecular biology, and in public health sciences, with a minor in psychology; Rania Marie Henriquez of Methuen, a Commonwealth Honors College student, with dual degrees in women, gender and sexuality studies and in political science; Carla Montilla Jaimes of Doral, Fla., a Commonwealth Honors College student with dual degrees in political science and history; AnnMarie Marquis of Tewksbury, a Commonwealth Honors College student, double majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology and a Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration in immunology and immuno-engineering; Babatunde Olatinwo of Monroe, Conn., who earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing; Carolyn Parker-Fairbain of Boston, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Afro-American Studies, with minors in theater and history, and a certificate in multicultural theater; and Alannah Scardino of Rochester, N.Y., a Commonwealth Honors College double major in sport management and social thought and political economy.

Jack Welch Scholars

Two graduating seniors were recognized during the commencement ceremony for their leadership and executive ability as Jack Welch Scholars. They are: Jake LeBlanc of Hopkinton, who is receiving a degree in finance; and Allison Lepine of Chicopee, who majored in industrial engineering with a minor in engineering management.

Detailed coverage of the commencement activities at UMass Amherst, including photos and videos, will be posted at

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