I didn’t exactly come from the “lofty halls of academia,” as the saying goes — my father was a conductor on the Boston-Salem line and my mother ran the household — but my parents made sure I grew up knowing one thing for sure: I was attending college. Back in the 1950s, that was the golden dream of every immigrant family I knew on the North Shore, be the family Irish, Italian, German, Russian, Polish, you name it. It was the American dream in those days — that ordinary people, hard-working people with very little but grit and optimism to their names, could make better lives for themselves, and especially their children, by getting an education and putting that education to work in the real world.
Lucky for me and my parents, UMass-Amherst welcomed me to the Class of ’57.
I still believe education is the American dream, and UMass is still a great place to go grab that dream by the tail.
Look, UMass is a terrific institution. Founded 150 years ago with a land grant from the US government, it’s now New England’s largest public research university, with 28,000 students and an in-state alumni base of 259,000 strong. Like other land-grant institutions, UMass was originally charged with educating students who could rise to meet the challenges of the industrial revolution. And has it ever! UMass is now a national leader in food science, sustainability, and climate research. In fact, UMass is ranked in the top 10 research universities nationwide for its commitment to innovation and leadership in sustainability. Its business and engineering schools are especially well-respected in their fields, and the university can boast of Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners, not to mention our country’s current poet laureate. Its alumni roster includes renowned leaders from industry, technology, entertainment, law, and sports. And if all that wasn’t impressive enough, consider that UMass’s five campuses contribute more than $1.4 billion to the state’s economy every year.
But here’s the thing. You just don’t hear people hyperventilate over UMass all that often. It’s a very good school, you hear, or, “It’s gotten so much better over the years,” people say, “you can get an excellent education there.”
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