2011 seniors set to blast off into real world

By Sam Butterfield

As America’s economy continues to struggle and seniors inch ever closer to clearing out of their rental homes and dorms, the University of Massachusetts is bringing its outgoing fourth-years a commencement speaker from an unlikely place: outer space.

NASA astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman, a UMass alumna, will deliver this year’s undergraduate commencement in a taped address from the International Space Station on Friday, May 13 at 5 p.m. at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

Whether Coleman will tell UMass’ crop of 4,300 outgoing seniors to blast off remains to be seen, but she certainly will offer her congratulations on a collegiate mission accomplished and may even encourage the seasoned seniors to do some gravity defying of their own.

According to an April 27 release from the UMass Office of News and Media Relations, Coleman earned a doctorate in polymer science and engineering from UMass and now works as a chemist. She is also a former U.S. Air Force colonel, the release states. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1983, and was chosen by NASA to be an astronaut in 1992. She has served on two space missions prior to her current one.

Prior to undergraduate commencement exercises, graduate commencement will be held at 9:30 a.m. Friday in the Mullins Center. Stockbridge School of Agriculture ceremonies will be held at noon Friday in Bowker Auditorium.

Also at undergraduate commencement, CNN political analyst and former presidential aide David Gergen will be awarded an honorary degree. Two UMass alumni, Jerome M. Paros, a leader in measurement science, and Kenneth L. Brayman, a top diabetes researcher, will receive Distinguished Achievement Awards.

At the morning’s graduate commencement ceremonies, William McKibben, an author and environmental activist, will receive an honorary degree and give brief remarks. Alumnus and prominent experimental musician Yusef Lateef will also receive a Distinguished Achievement Award.

At undergraduate commencement, graduating journalism and economics major Alan Taylor Ulichney of Stow, Mass., will give the student speech. Twelve outgoing seniors will be recognized as 21st Century Leaders, and two other students, Joseph Bliss and Igor Dobrusin, will be honored for “leadership and executive ability” as Jack Welsh Scholars. According to the release, Bliss is the student member of the UMass Amherst Foundation Board of Directors while Dobrusin is a double major in finance and philosophy.

Sam Butterfield can be reached at [email protected]