1,471 graduates receive degrees at 105th UMass Dartmouth Commencement

New Bedford native, UMass alum urges high self-expectation.

The 1,471 undergraduate and graduate students who received their undergraduate or graduate degrees at the 105th University of Massachusetts Dartmouth commencement were urged by 1983 alumnus and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland to "know who you are, and have expectations of yourself that are much greater than what is expected of you by others." 

Mr. Helgeland, a New Bedford native, sprinkled his speech to graduates, parents, friends, and faculty, with humor, childhood memories of finding frogs and playing frisbee on the campus, and undergraduate recollections. “I always thought that if I appeared on an amphitheater stage with thousands of people around me, I would absolutely be holding a guitar in my hand,’’ he said. “Instead, here I am wearing a funny hat. At least I’m not alone.’’ 

“Today is graduation day,’’ he said. “Everything up to now has been testing one, two, three; but the sound check is over. Your performance is about to begin.’’ 

Mr. Helgeland won the 1997 Academy Award for the screenplay of L.A. Confidential, and most recently wrote the highly acclaimed film adaptation of Dennis Lehane novel Mystic River. Other screenwriting credits include Conspiracy Theory and Assassins, and he has directed hits such as A Knight’s Tale and Payback. 

Mr. Helgeland told the story of Professor Wu, his organic chemistry teacher who convinced him to drop out of the class, which he was struggling in, and pursue another field. “He was wise enough to know that sometimes it’s more important to guide someone away from the wrong path as it is to lead them toward the right one.’’ 

UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack said, “My message to our graduates to is to go forth and continue to break new ground in whatever endeavor you choose. Keep looking for the better way. Have the courage to try a new way. And continue to seek knowledge for the rest of your life.” 

Mr. Helgeland joined author Diane Wood Middlebrook and Portuguese-American entrepreneur and philanthropist Luis Pedroso in receiving honorary degrees. 

Mr. Pedroso, a successful businessman has lived the American Dream and helped make the dream accessible to others by supporting the UMass Dartmouth Center For Portuguese Studies and Culture and the establishment of the Helio and Amelia Pedroso/Luso-American Endowed Chair in Portuguese Studies. Mr. Pedroso received an honorary degree in business administration. 

Ms. Middlebrook, is a highly acclaimed biographer best known for her book about poet Anne Sexton, received an honorary degree in humane letters. Her other works include Her Husband: Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath, a Marriage, which is featured in A&E’s Biography program on Sylvia Plath this spring. Dr. Middlebrook 

Due to the growth of the graduating class over the last several years the commencement was re-formatted, with the entire university community gathered for the commencement address and official conferral of honorary degrees in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial amphitheater. The graduates then moved with their colleges to separate ceremonies across the campus. At the college ceremonies, each graduate walked across a stage to have their diploma presented and name read. 

The UMass Board of Trustees was represented by Chairman James Karam, a 1971 alumnus of UMass Dartmouth, who said, “As Trustees, we are proud of the work we do for the University of Massachusetts. Your future makes our work worthwhile. I hope that we can always count on you to speak out and tell others what a difference UMass Dartmouth made in your life. I urge you to become a strong and well-informed voice for this University as an investment in our collective future.” 

The UMass Office of the President was represented by Vice President for Management and Fiscal Affairs and Treasurer Stephen Lenhardt, who said, “This campus is known and respected throughout the Commonwealth for its excellence as a regional university campus., not one confined by geography but one that is defined by its response to regional needs in a way that has statewide and even global impact. You should all be proud to receive your degree from this fine institution. The value of your degree is certain to grow over time, as the prominence of our UMass system and UMass Dartmouth grows.”

Two new graduate programs graduated their first students this year, illustrating the continued evolution of the university’s mission to serve the Commonwealth. 

Four students will be receive master degrees in marine science, making them the first “graduating class” of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology. The school, which opened in 1997, has rapidly built a $10 million research portfolio that includes internationally recognized work in fishery management and ocean modeling. 

Four other students will receive the university’s first master degrees in biomedical engineering/biotechnology. All four are pursuing doctoral degrees. The biomedical engineering program places UMass Dartmouth and its graduates at the center of the Commonwealth’s fast emerging biotechnology economic sector.

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