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May 31, 2019

The Boston Herald: Ayanna Pressley tells UMass Boston grads to ‘upend the status quo’

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley encouraged University of Massachusetts Boston graduates to “upend the status quo” in a stirring commencement speech that addressed ways to rise above the stark political and racial divides that persist in Boston and across the nation.

“Today we find ourselves at a crossroads as a nation and as a city,” Pressley said.

Today’s graduates “are coming of age with a hopeful eye and a critical heart, questioning institutions that have come up short and working hard to build the infrastructure to do things different for those who come up behind us,” Pressley continued. “Be skeptical, ask the questions that change the conversation, shake the table, upend the status quo – just do not become cynical.”

Pressley, the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress, was met with rousing applause and a partial standing ovation from the 2,783 students and their families who gathered on the sun-drenched banks of the Atlantic Ocean for Friday morning’s ceremony. Along with addressing the graduates, Pressley received the chancellor’s medal for exemplary leadership.

The freshman representative – who has called to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump in the wake of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election — didn’t shy away from politics in her remarks.

Surveying the diverse crowd before her, Pressley remarked, “Do you know who we are and what we represent today? Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.”

Stories of diversity, adversity and triumph were on full display as immigrants, first-generation college students, military members and more received their diplomas.

“I am in awe to be in front of you. I can’t believe the stories, what you have done to get here, how hard you have worked … in getting to this point,” said UMass President Martin T. Meehan. “Congratulations to each and every one of you for your success today.”

Meehan’s appearance comes days after a report from the Pioneer Institute think thank blasted him and the UMass board of trustees for cash woes at the Boston campus. Meehan has also been embroiled in a budget debate on Beacon Hill that’s left him threatening a tuition increase of 2.5%.

In closing out his remarks, Meehan encouraged those entering the workforce to take their first paychecks and treat someone who helped them along the way to dinner – and said if there’s “any money leftover, write a small check for scholarships for future UMass Boston students so they can achieve what you have.”

Dozens of students, faculty and union members – including several members of the stage party and those staffing the graduation ceremony – donned green #SaveUMB stickers in silent protest of Meehan and the administration’s handling of the university’s finances. Several students told the Herald they were disappointed in the administration’s decisions to spend money on buildings and parking garages instead of investing in students.

“They’re spending and developing the university in ways that aren’t necessarily focusing on students,” said graduate Shannon Murphy, 22. “Students are facing frustrations not being able to pay for their education.”