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Groton native, MSNBC host, gives life lesson to UMass Lowell graduates


LOWELL — UMass Lowell graduates were handed several pieces of wisdom during the first of two commencement ceremonies Saturday at the Tsongas Center.

And, as wisdom does often come in the most unlikely of places, the keynote speaker described how five tuna fish sandwiches were at the heart of one shining lesson.

MSNBC and “Today Show” political analyst Steve Kornacki, the morning’s keynote speaker, explained to the Class of 2017 why he is so appreciative of his honorary degree from UMass Lowell.

“This is the first honorary degree I’ve ever received and to be honest, it’s also the first degree I ever received,” said Kornacki, who grew up in Groton.

Graduating from Boston University in 2001, Kornacki described how he was out of money the week before graduating and charged $25 to his student account to feed himself until graduation. That bought him five tuna sandwiches.

When he stepped up to the podium and receive his diploma, the envelope that was supposed to hold his diploma was empty. He thought it was a mistake.

A BU staffer enlightened him.

“It’s no mistake. You owe Boston University $25 and we’re withholding your diploma until you pay it,” the staffer told Kornacki.

He decided that, on principle, he would not pay the bill just yet and told him mom to save the bills as they came in.

“When they have spent more than $25 in postage, I will send a check,” said Kornacki with a smile. “What happened is they stopped sending the bills and I never got my diploma. But now I have a diploma, so thank you!”

While he of course officially graduated from BU, he described to the grads how it made him think of the time between that degree and this one and that their focus should be on the journey, not just a degree.

“The thing it got me thinking about was the journey from then to now for me — the 16 years between the day I graduated and today and the lessons I learned,” said Kornacki.

Student speaker Adeja Crearer of Piscataway, New Jersey, told her fellow graduating classmates that she hopes they are prepared to enter the “real, real” world.

“Now it is time for the real, real world. Not the one they warned us about before getting to high school or here, but the real, real world; the one that holds us accountable for our beliefs and in control of our own will. It’s time to step up and to be the best you in the real world,” said Crearer.

UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Maloney told the graduates the sheer importance of the current class.

“You helped us to drive a most dramatic transformation of this university, now a national story,” said Maloney. “As you know the UMass Lowell is the second fastest-rising university in the US News and World Report.”

But she didn’t stop there and informed the students of another important benchmark they hit this year.

“You, the 3,970-strong graduating class, is the largest class in UMass Lowell’s history,” said Maloney.

In addition to Kornacki, UMass Lowell gave honorary degrees in humane letters to Nobel laureate Steven Chu as well as longtime civic leader and philanthropist Francis “Frank” Spinola and his wife Mary Jo Spinola, both members of the Class of ’66.

Civil-rights activist and educator Freeman Hrabowski III addressed post-graduates in an afternoon ceremony. Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was featured in a Spike Lee documentary about his activism as a teen. He urged students to take a life path that helps others.

Overall, the state university congratulated 110 doctoral graduates, 1,032 master’s degree graduates and 2,802 baccalaureate graduates, all hailing from 44 states and 87 countries.

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