Monday, July 15, 2019

University of Massachusetts @ Boston (UMB) - A Brief Review

Rather than talk about my entire history there or the quality of education, which largely will come down to an individual Professor's ability to engage their students and the students' own work ethic and motivation, I will just briefly point out stuff I observed on graduation day on May 31, 2019.

  1. The campus is right by the ocean. So the graduation setting was on a large, new lawn by the ocean. It was a spectacular, warm day to begin that became cold and overcast half-way through. Brr.
  2. There were 2,700 graduating students as announced by a speaker. There may have been a collective gasp or groan from the audience upon hearing that number. My first thought was that it was going to be a long graduating ceremony. So, ok, it was a groan then. But my immediate takeaway here was that, if I ever did my Master's, I was going to spend a bit more money and get into a private school with a considerably less graduating number. I felt a bit elitist at that thought. But the UMB graduation ceremony just made me feel like a statistic, which was an awful feeling.
  3. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 trying one's patience the longest, the half-a-dozen or so speeches fluctuated between 2 and 7. But 2,700 students walking to the podium, after the speeches ended, to get their certificates -- empty folders really as the actual certificates were to be mailed out later -- proved to be the more taxing experience.
  4. One of the speakers was white, male and old. He looked like a "MA state legislature guy".. Boston Irish and like he had been around the block. As a matter of fact, he admitted he had been making the rounds doing some of these graduation speeches. No disrespect. His speech was short and funny and a number 2 in length.
  5. Another speaker was white, female and old. Apparently, she was the new temporary Chancellor of UMB or something like that. I had lost track of those changes in leadership in recent years. Her speech was a number 5 in length and, for the life of me, I cannot remember most of what she said except for one part.. when she pointed out various students from diverse backgrounds who were hard pressed to fund their education while taking care off their families, a child or an ailing parent, and still got a 4.0 GPA. These students were asked to stand up in the crowd. And I felt ashamed. I had thought I had put in a decent effort to finish my education and, well, the "decent effort" was only magnified during this part of the speech. I realized that I had had it relatively easy. This part affected me the most that day and I would leave campus later telling myself that things were going to change in how I ran my life.
  6. Rep. Ayanna Pressley was engaging without being remarkable. Because I was just as old as she was and I could relate to some of the things she said. I dismissed some of her points about success. I have observed that individualism, luck, being in the right place at the right time, etc. play a notable role when it comes to attaining success. So it is best to really just look at your own progress up to your current station in life to define your success rather than by looking at what you could or should have been. Her points about creating a work ethic and believing in oneself were certainly relevant if somewhat generic. But I think that was all she could do in that context where she had to connect with a generic crowd. Still, she was a palpable hit with most of the student population, who were black. Her speech was a number 5.
  7. Another speaker was a svelte, sparkling white girl, a magna cum laude student.. looked late 20s from where I was seated. She said she had got accepted to work at Microsoft as a Program Manager. She made four points covering some traumatic event in her life, leadership, etc. The audience did not relate to her as they did with Rep. Pressley. I understood well how things stood in America then. This young white woman reeked somewhat of privilege although I doubt that was her intent. Wouldn't you have to be rich and go to an Ivy-league school if you want to reek of privilege? But, unfortunately, that was the vibe she put out. Personally, I think she just liked the attention of her fawning 2,699 fellow students. And she was operating at an entirely different level. I mean, Program Manager at Microsoft. So the folks watching probably sensed the distance between them and her. She was also a solid public speaker. And her GPA was up there and I think she also had a double Major. She had certainly put in the work. But that persona.. it was all Reese Witherspoon from Election. I had run across her type in corporate America many times. They are quick to move up the ladder. I wished her well. Then I just soaked in the sun while waiting for whoever came next onto the podium. That's all I could do. Her speech was a number 7.
  8. Once the storm clouds blocked out the sun, it became suddenly cold and I wished I had won a thicker shirt under my thin academic dress. It was May. What was I thinking? I had been a New Englander for so long. I should have known better. Probably one reason why I had not gone up that ladder myself.. because I tended to be cavalier about things. I thought about that then. Oh, how I thought about that while sitting there on that rickety chair and shivering as yet just another statistic of this world. I made a mental note to fix the cavalier attitude once and for all.
  9. While seated at the Clark Athletic building waiting to do the walk and later during the long stop-start walk to the lawn, I managed to chat with a bunch of students and realized the magnitude of the diversity and background of who I had been attending school with and the part of the world I lived in. I also got the number of a couple of female students. I knew that these things won't work once they realized I was not as young as I looked. But I had to stay in practice and keep my skills intact. I would text them a few days later. One of them responded. That chat would peter away to nothing. The other never responded. So there! I reinforced my belief in all this: best to move things quickly with women than to try any lame attempt at a traditional dating process. But I had been there with my parents and they with their families. So (shrugs)...
  10. My folks had asked me many times over the years as to when I was going to finish my degree. They had stopped asking in the last few years. Still, I wanted them to experience my college graduation and I myself did not just want to receive my degree by snail mail.. which was what happened anyway. I invited my parents to the graduation. But at the end of the ceremony, they just looked relieved that it was all over. A couple of my friends had dropped by amidst their busy schedules and it was great to see them there. They had to leave early.. work, kids, you understand. By that time, I myself couldn't wait to leave but knew I would stay until the end. I have had a long history with that campus. And I knew I wouldn't be returning after that day.
  11. As soon as the students had been handed their certificates after walking by the podium, most started leaving right away. Some of the ushers kept chanting, "Please stay. Please stay". But their calls went unheeded. I stayed until the end when faculty started leaving the podium. A handful of the remaining seated students kept our eyes on them. It was ultimately a meaningless gesture. Once the last of the faculty filed past the student seating, I skedaddled out of there.
  12. The new West Garage parking lot was great when I used it during the last semester. But on that day when we were ready to leave campus, a huge jam caused an absolute standstill for almost 15 minutes. Garage employees eventually sorted it out and cars super-slowly started streaming out and onto Morrissey Boulevard. I am sure the University will ensure parking to be a smoother experience next time.
In the end, the ceremony was anti-climatic for someone of my experience and age.

I have some fond memories from over the years of attending classes, making a few friends -- still connected to a couple of them on Facebook -- and meeting my first girlfriend in one of my distribution requirement classes. Anthropology, I think. She was a ballerina who eventually moved to Florida to work for Sarasota Ballet and to continue her education there. We wrote letters to stay in touch but stuff stopped eventually happening between us and I lost track of her. I still have her letters and a photo of us together. And I have fond memories of just being on campus and trying to figure things out on my own in the complete absence of mentors.

The Campus

UMB is a beautiful campus. Very accessible by public transportation. And it will become more beautiful as further construction, landscaping and building renovation work get done in the next couple of years. Also, there is much better in-campus parking and huge Freshman dormitories today.. all built in the last couple of years. Campus wide Wi-Fi has been in place for several years now. And, by the time I left, more professors were starting to use online products like Blackboard and realizing that new students preferred a connected experience to printing papers out. So I expect newer students to have a modern, updated experience. But the graduation rate was only 51% at last check. Compare that to Harvard University at 97%. But the latter is much more expensive to attend and there is prestige involved in attending and graduating from there. So the students there, high-achievers or not, are driven to develop a solid work ethic and maintain a compulsion to finish. Will UMB manage to cultivate that sort of work ethic and dedication in more of its student bodies? That remains to be seen.

Finishing your education

I strongly recommend that students start working with an academic advisor right from the first semester. It is never too late to begin with an advisor. So do it! They will be the closest thing to a mentor students will get on campus. I never paid attention to an academic advisor during my first run in college many years ago. The cavalier attitude thing coming into play then. But, during this second and final run, my academic advisor Alex was a huge help in seeing that I stayed on track to finish. My biggest advice to students though is to welcome mentors in your life from outside the college. You likely cannot go asking for mentors. Well, how about people close to my own age? Drink with them. Sleep with them. Play with them. Compare notes with them. But don't listen to them. Just keep an eye out, ok, when meeting new people.. as a good mentor that you click with can accelerate your success in life whether it is to do with career, romance, etc. Well, why can't I just listen to my parents? Parents are inherently good, well-meaning people. But understand that parenting and mentoring are two different things. Your parent may be a great mentor to someone else but an awful mentor to you. It will come down to their own experience and outlook on life. And, yeah, its great to be able to experience and figure things out by yourself. That certainly builds character. I get it. But a mentor can help shave off years of dawdling in your life. So find a good balance in bringing people into your decision making process and get on with it.