At Graduation, 2,600 Embark on ‘New Journey’

For Ilir Kochi, a general management major, UMass Boston’s commencement ceremony was his second graduation that week.

Two days before he strode across the stage to receive his diploma, the 26-year-old Albanian had gotten his U.S. citizenship after five years of waiting.

“It has been said that the most exciting moment in one’s life is the beginning of a new journey, so I guess this is it,” he said, standing out on the Campus Center’s front lawn, where Kochi joined over 2,600 other students in receiving UMass degrees last Friday.

From the stage, commencement speaker and journalist Emily Rooney dispensed advice on maintaining a “general level of awareness as you go through life,” and Steven Tyler, lead singer for the Boston-based Aerosmith, shook a tin Altoids box, singing “Sweet graduation” to the tune of his rock-and-roll band’s hit “Sweet Emotion.”

“Just as you are now clued in to Osama bin Laden – clue into other things that are going on around you and in the world,” Rooney said.

Rooney, host of WGBH-TV’s Greater Boston and its media criticism segment Beat The Press, also defended the news business. “As of today, there is no more reliable source of information,” she said. “I know my business has taken a beating in recent years with plagiarism, fabrications and the use of unreliable sources -Deep Throat not among them. But I can tell you this: It’s a whole lot more reliable than the Wild West of the Internet, the rumor mill and even more reliable, if you can believe it, than Jon Stewart.”

Both Rooney and Tyler received honorary degrees that were also handed out to Dominican Republic president Leonel Fernandez, The Boston Foundation’s vice president Gail Snowden, and John Ruffin, director of the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

“We must be ready to process [information],” Fernandez said in his speech. “Only then can we transform it into real knowledge.”

Graduating College of Management senior and class speaker Kent Downing spoke of how he found a “wealth of knowledge and a breadth of experience” when he came to UMass Boston. “The wealth comes from you the students, the class of 2005,” he said.

The hit parade was not limited to Tyler and President Fernandez – earlier that morning, Red Sox hitter David Ortiz appeared at a commencement breakfast as a guest of the Dominican president, before signing several autographs, donning sunglasses, and disappearing for a game later that day against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. President Fernandez also brought several other guests: The Secret Service, which has almost become familiar sight on campus after visits in the last year from White House chief of staff Andy Card, former First Lady Rosslyn Carter, and several other visiting foreign presidents.

The ceremony also marked the first time commencement was held on the Columbia Point campus in ten years. Previous graduation ceremonies were held in the Bayside Expo Center down the road. “It was great to be back on campus,” said Celia Moore, chair of the psychology department.

Campus police had jurisdiction once again, and were out in full force, helped by UMass Dartmouth and deputy sheriffs from Plymouth County to ensure a smooth commencement, according to police officials. With several policemen on the force from when ceremonies were last held on the plaza outside the towering Healey Library, “we had a pretty good idea of what to expect,” UMass police chief Philip O’Donnell said.

For some students, post-graduation plans may appear hazy beyond the graduation parties that took place the following weekend.

But for Jason Wentworth, an assistant building manager at the Campus Center who got his undergraduate’s degree in history, his strategy is clear: “I am going to make a sandwich,” he said.

After that, “I am going to take some time off, work a little, go to law school maybe in a while,” he added.

Write to Gintautas Dumcius at [email protected].