2024 2024: Class of 2024 Student Commencement Speakers announced

2024 2024: Class of 2024 Student Commencement Speakers announced
Class of 2024 Student Commencement Speakers announced

Alexis Petty, Zemen Berhe, Susie Furtado, and Natalia Vargas to deliver speeches that exemplify determination and success

Four Student Commencement Speakers headshots
Student Commencement Speakers Alexis Petty, Zemen Berhe, Susie Furtado, and Natalia Vargas

UMass Dartmouth has announced the student commencement speakers for the Class of 2024 Commencement ceremonies on May 16 and May 17.

Undergraduate Student Ceremony

Alexis Petty

Bachelor of Science in Physics

Alexis Petty, of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, will graduate with a bachelor's degree in physics, a minor in mathematics, and a concentration in computational physics. Additionally, she will graduate from the Honors College with a 3.97 GPA. From a young age, Alexis has been intrigued by the intricacies of physics, finding joy in solving complex puzzles that intertwine both physics and mathematics. This love of physics brought her to college, where she juggled medical conditions as a full-time student. However, Alexis has persevered through the challenges and is excited to pursue a career that allows her to give back to others who are similar to her. 

Driven by her personal journey, Alexis aspires to become a radiation therapy medical physicist, focusing on pediatric care. Medical Physics is the perfect avenue for Alexis to use her passion for physics by combining it with the world of medicine to help positively impact the field. Her ultimate goal is to make a tangible difference in the lives of children, offering them hope and healing by applying her expertise and compassion. Alexis will attend Brown University after graduation to pursue a master's degree in Medical Physics.

Doctoral Ceremony

Zemen Berhe

Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry and Biochemistry

Zemen Berhe will be receiving her Ph.D. in Chemistry and Biochemistry. She is poised to make history as the first Black Ph.D. graduate from the UMass Dartmouth Chemistry and Biochemistry Department. Originally from Tigray, she was raised in Germany and earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Stuttgart. Upon joining the graduate program in Dr. Emmanuel Ojadi's research laboratory, Zemen quickly established herself as a highly productive and valued member. Her research aimed to explore how light-sensitive molecules called porphyrins can affect cancer cells when used in photodynamic therapy.

Zemen's leadership extended beyond the laboratory. She represented graduate students as treasurer and senator of the College of Arts and Sciences in the Graduate Student Senate and was the graduate representative on the UMass Dartmouth Pandemic Emergency Response Team. In addition to receiving multiple awards and serving as a panelist to promote graduate studies and women in STEM, she has also presented scientific talks and posters at national and international conferences, including the American Chemical Society (ACS) Conference and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry Conference in Paris, France.

Her contributions have been recognized with multiple awards, including the Younger Chemist Committee Leadership Development Award from the American Chemical Society and the Tier One Advancing Science Conference Grant from the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers. Zemen's dedication to teaching excellence was acknowledged with the Best Graduate Teaching Assistant Student Award from the Chemistry Department. She also served as Chair and Career Chair for the ACS Northeastern Section Younger Chemists Committee, representing hundreds of chemists in the New England Area. She has been passionate about promoting STEM among underrepresented communities as a member of the ACS Education Committee and the ACS Women Chemists Committee.

Her advocacy efforts garnered recognition with Nature, Wired, and Advanced Science News features. Currently serving as a Graduate Teaching Fellow, Zemen remains committed to promoting science among underrepresented communities through her involvement in professional committees.

Graduate Student Ceremony

Susie Furtado

Master of Business Administration

Susie Furtado, of Fall River, Massachusetts, comes from a background of hardworking immigrants who sacrificed tirelessly to provide for her and her siblings. The values of diligence and perseverance were instilled within her growing up, and she learned early on that success is not merely given but earned through dedication and hard work. Becoming a mother of two at a young age sparked a deep desire to provide a better life for her children. Motivated by this aspiration, she embarked on an academic journey, undaunted by the obstacles ahead.

With unwavering determination, she completed her undergraduate studies, finding a niche in the dynamic field of health information management. It was there that Susie's passion for healthcare blossomed, propelling her forward. Driven by ambition and a thirst for knowledge, she pursued a Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) license, laying the foundation for a fulfilling career in the healthcare field. Eager to expand her horizons and deepen her understanding of business principles, she pursued a Master in Business Administration focused on Business Analytics. This choice pushed Susie beyond her comfort zone and tested her limits in unforeseen ways. Guided by perseverance, she navigated the complexities of graduate school, emerging with a degree and an expanded sense of purpose and confidence. After graduating, Susie plans to continue applying her healthcare expertise while exploring the world with her children.

UMass Law Ceremony

Natalia Vargas

Juris Doctorate

Natalia C. Vargas was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico. At UMass Law, she has served as the Executive Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion for the Student Bar Association, the Chair of the SBA Events Committee, and as a Student Ambassador for the 2023-2024 academic year. Natalia participated in the university’s Immigration Clinic and served as a Diversity and Inclusion Committee member. She was awarded the 2024 Unsung Hero Award by the student body for her work planning and facilitating events with the law school’s student organizations. 

Raised in Southwest Florida, Natalia earned a B.A. in English Literature from Florida Gulf Coast University. Before arriving at UMass Law, she worked at a low-income tax clinic at a civil legal services agency in Fort Myers, Florida. Her parents, sisters, extended family, and treasured friends have encouraged and motivated her to give everything her most honest and full effort. She is immensely thankful for their support and love. She feels extremely grateful for her community within the law school. And of course, she would be remiss if she did not express appreciation for her dog, Benny, who brought her comfort and joy since her very first year of law school. Natalia dedicates today’s remarks to the Class of 2024 and all who helped them throughout their law school journey. After law school, Natalia plans to practice transactional law with a private law firm in Massachusetts.

Learn more about UMass Dartmouth’s 2024 Commencement Ceremonies.