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Over 2,500 graduates of UMass Boston leave campus with gifts of wisdom — and cash

Hundreds of graduates gathered outdoors during UMass Boston's commencement ceremony on Columbia Point.
Hundreds of graduates gathered outdoors during UMass Boston's commencement ceremony on Columbia Point. (Max Larkin/WBUR)

At Thursday's undergraduate commencement ceremony at the University of Massachusetts Boston, more than 2,500 new graduates prepared to leave the Dorchester campus with a spring in their step — and an extra $1,000 in their pocket.

Quincy billionaire Rob Hale, the CEO of Granite Telecommunications, announced the cash gift to each UMass Boston graduate following his commencement address to students, which came after another address by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The surprise gift came with a catch.

“The first five hundred is for you — it’s a celebration of all you have done to be here today,” said Hale, a noted philanthropist and a co-owner of the Boston Celtics. “The second five hundred is a gift for you to give to somebody or somebody else or another organization that could use it more than you.”

Each graduate who walked across the stage received two envelopes holding $500 apiece. After the ceremony, Morisha Pierre, a nursing graduate, shared her reaction toward the gift: “I danced; I was happy,” she said.

UMass Boston’s student body is among the state’s most diverse. In his opening remarks, Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco said the 16,000 current students come from more than 130 countries and speak over 70 languages — and that nearly 60% are the first in their family to get a college degree.

In her commencement address, Sen. Warren told the graduates they are entering “a world that is full of anger, strife and grief” — citing the warming planet, the more-than-daily frequency of mass shootings in the U.S., and the political impasse over the debt ceiling.

“Surely, you face more challenges than most any graduating class in history," she said. "And yet, I am here today to counsel: choose hope."

Warren did not stray too much into policy or politics in her address. After the ceremony, students said they do indeed feel hopeful about their future.

Emerson Thomas came to the U.S. from the Caribbean island of Dominica and was previously enrolled at Bunker Hill Community College before transferring to UMass. He graduated Thursday with a bachelor’s of science in management.

Thomas acknowledged that “the world is going through a phase of economic uncertainty."

"Things are more expensive: food, living, rent," he said. “America is the land of hope, you know,” adding that he’ll “cherish forever” the memory of his graduation day.

Many students said their confidence about the future depends on having weathered college years overshadowed by COVID-19. Today's seniors were in their first year of college when the onset of the pandemic forced a move to remote learning in 2020.

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“There were a lot of times when I wanted to quit,” said Hamzeh Nasri, a pre-dental graduate, of that first year. “With it being online, no one was there — it was me, myself, and I.”

“It builds character, you know?,” added Mohamed Shuman, Nasri’s friend and pre-dental classmate, of the experience. “We were forced to be really good at time management at such a young age — [the pandemic] was right when we started.”

Melissa Laforest, a nursing graduate, was appreciative of Warren’s words of encouragement: “She’s somebody that I look up to — she’s such a strong leader, especially as a woman.”

“She didn’t give me any money, but she gave me all the inspiration I needed,” Laforest added.

Headshot of Max Larkin

Max Larkin Reporter, Education
Max Larkin was an education reporter for WBUR.

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