Skip to main content

Your Dracut Today

Political Analyst, Renowned Educator To Speak To Class Of 2017

Apr 16, 2017 06:14AM ● By Theresa Gilman

UMass Lowell 2017 Commencement

(Editor's Note: the following information was provided by UMass Lowell.)

LOWELL, Mass. – One of the nation’s most astute political analysts and an educator who is one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People will serve as speakers of the Commencement addresses to UMass Lowell’s Class of 2017 on Saturday, May 13 at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell.

Steve Kornacki

MSNBC host and political correspondent Steve Kornacki, a frequent commentator on the 2016 presidential campaign and the outcome of the election, and Freeman Hrabowski III –  civil rights activist, one of U.S. News & World Report’s picks for America’s Best Leaders and president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County – will speak at UMass Lowell’s Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 13. Both events will be held at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, 300 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Lowell.

Kornacki, who took classes at UMass Lowell while still attending high school in his nearby hometown of Groton, will address the first ceremony, at 9 a.m. at which bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees will be presented to graduates of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the Manning School of Business; and the Graduate School of Education. 

 Hrabowski, a leader in the 1960s civil rights movement while just a teen, has devoted much of his career to expanding access to education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field to students from diverse backgrounds. He will speak at the second ceremony, at 2:30 p.m., which will honor recipients of degrees from the College of Engineering, Kennedy College of Sciences and the College of Health Sciences, as well as intercampus programs.

For the 10th year in a row, a record number of graduates, more than 3,800, are expected to receive degrees during UMass Lowell’s Commencement ceremonies. The growth in the number of graduates, which has doubled since 2007, reflects UMass Lowell’s 53 percent gain in enrollment – The Chronicle of Higher Education ranks the university as the ninth-fastest growing public doctoral institution in the nation – and increases in student success.

“Steve Kornacki and Freeman Hrabowski have both witnessed history in the making. Drawing on those experiences, they will bring a powerful message to our graduates about the importance of being engaged in the future course of our nation and the world, whether through participating in the political process or through working to ensure access for all to high-quality education, particularly in critical fields such as science and technology,” said Chancellor Jacquie Moloney, who is a UMass Lowell graduate and the first woman to lead the university in its 122-year history.

Kornacki – who previously covered Congress for Roll Call and served as politics editor for Salon, and also contributed to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Boston Globe and other publications – provided daily, in-depth analysis of the presidential race during the 2016 election cycle on NBC’s “Today” show and MSNBC, where he continues to weigh in on the political news of the day as a host of “MSNBC Live.” His 2016 election coverage included polls by UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion of likely voters in New Hampshire and the University’s national survey of millennials that found nearly a quarter would have rather seen Earth hit by a giant meteor than vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. In December 2016, Kornacki headlined an event on campus that provided his unique insight into the events of Election Night and how Trump secured the electoral votes needed to win the presidency. A graduate of Boston University, Kornacki is writing a book on the political history of the 1990s that is due out this year.

“I have deep feelings for this school and this area. It’s an honor to address graduates who will take values that were forged here into the world. Also, I'll do my best not to talk too much about election maps,” said Kornacki.

Hrabowski, whose civil rights activism as a teen was prominently featured in a Spike Lee documentary, was named chairman of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans by Barack Obama and served on the National Academies’ committee that produced the report, “Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads in 2011.” He serves as a consultant to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Academies, and universities and school systems nationwide. Hrabowski has authored numerous articles and two books, including “Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth from the Civil Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement,” which describes the experience that played a role in his development as an educator and leader. Hrabowski, who was born in Birmingham, AL, earned a math degree with highest honors at Hampton University, a master’s degree in math, and a doctorate in higher education administration and statistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“I’m really looking forward to joining the UMass Lowell community to celebrate the achievements of this graduating class. Commencement is such a special time for the graduates, their families and the entire university. It’s a great honor to be part of this day,” Hrabowski said.

UMass Lowell’s Commencement also recognizes the following with honorary doctorates of humane letters:

  • Francis Spinola ’66, a leader in industry who earned a degree in chemical engineering at Lowell Technological Institute, one of UMass Lowell’s predecessors, before going on to success in the chemical industry, including as vice president and general manager of the Koppers Co. In 1988, he led a leveraged buyout of his division and formed INDSPEC Chemical Corp., which, under his leadership, increased in value 4,000 percent over 11 years before its sale to Occidental Petroleum Corp., where he served as executive vice president for three years before retiring in 1999.
  • Mary Jo (Roberto) Spinola ’66, who grew up just a few blocks from the State Teachers College at Lowell, another of UMass Lowell’s predecessor institutions, and knew from an early age that she wanted to be a teacher. After graduating with her degree in elementary education, she married her classmate Frank Spinola, and went on to work as a teacher until the birth of her two children. The Spinolas have together been generous supporters of UMass Lowell, including endowing a scholarship, underwriting the renovation of the gallery at the university’s historic Allen House and sponsoring the annual DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge competition, through which students gain entrepreneurial skills and launch ventures in business and the community. The Spinolas will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this year.
  • Steven Chu, Nobel laureate and former U.S. secretary of energy, who was presented with an honorary degree at a ceremony in November when he delivered the university’s annual Tripathy Memorial Lecture. As the nation’s longest-serving energy secretary, Chu launched several initiatives supporting research and innovation, particularly in the area of clean energy, and helped BP end the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Chu, a Ph.D. in physics who holds 11 patents, is the former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and led the Quantum Electronics Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories, as well as serving on the faculty of the University of California, Berkley and Stanford University.

The Distinguished Alumni Award will be presented to Edward “Ned” Barrett ’58, who, prior to his retirement in 2013, had a long and successful career in educational publishing. A graduate of the State Teachers College at Lowell, Barrett worked as a teacher and school administrator before changing paths to pursue a sales position with a textbook publisher, the first step on the way to senior executive roles with companies including Prentice Hall, Addison-Wesley, and Pearson Education. Barrett – who had the rare opportunity to share the stage at his graduation with his mother, Margaret, who had returned to college for her bachelor’s degree – has also worked tirelessly to support education in his personal endeavors. That includes the Margaret Holland Barrett Scholarship, which provides support to education majors, particularly returning students like his mother. Barrett – who also holds master’s degrees from Salem State University and Suffolk University – is the chairman of the UMass Lowell School of Education Advisory Board and serves on the committee overseeing the university’s “Our Legacy, Our Place” campaign, which has raised more than $90 million toward its $125 million goal. Barrett and his wife Carole reside in Naples, Fla.

UMass Lowell will recognize the honorees and student award winners at the annual Commencement Eve Celebration on Friday, May 12 at 5:30 p.m. at University Crossing, 220 Pawtucket St., Lowell. The benefit has raised millions of dollars for student scholarships since it was first held in 2008.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 17,750 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers.


Follow us on Facebook at Follow us on Twitter at @Dracut_Today