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Soccer star Briana Scurry tells UMass Amherst graduates that setbacks help forge success

Briana Scurry blocking a penalty shootout kick during the Women's World Cup Final in 1999. The United States defeated China to win.ERIC RISBERG/Associated Press

Legendary soccer player Briana Scurry told UMass Amherst graduates Friday that her failures were essential in creating a successful career and life.

“One result does not define you; what defines you is if you get up when you’re knocked down; what defines you is if you still forge ahead when all is lost,” Scurry told 9,500 graduates at McGuirk Alumni Stadium on a sunny morning.

Scurry, a former goalkeeper for the US women’s national soccer team and two-time Olympic gold medalist, is known for being a trailblazer for African American women in sports. But she recalled that her success was “not a straight line.” She spoke of not getting to play in the 2000 Olympic Games when she was demoted, and of the difficulty recovering from the 2010 concussion that ended her playing career.


“If you keep having spirit, if you keep having ambition, if you keep resilient and anticipating that what you want will come to you ... you will be a champion,” said Scurry, a UMass Amherst alumna.

Scurry now travels around the country speaking about leadership, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and overcoming obstacles.

With smiles and cheers, about 7,500 undergraduates and 2,000 master’s and doctoral students celebrated the day.

In addition to Scurry, other honorary degree recipients included Cheryll Toney Holley, a leader of the Hassanamisco Nipmuc Band of Massachusetts; social justice advocate Esther Terry; and William Cummings and Joyce Cummings, husband and wife entrepreneurs and philanthropists.

University Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy urged graduates to continue making changes and contributions as they had done as students.

“Throughout history, it’s always young adults who have both the vision and the will to drive revolutionary change that improves the world,” Subbaswamy said. “We only need to look at the past 50 years in this country for evidence. All our significant social and economic justice movements were fueled by young adults, often by students on university campuses challenging the status quo.”


Subbaswamy, who is stepping down next month after more than a decade leading the institution, noted that it was the last time he would celebrate commencement as chancellor. His voice trembled as he congratulated the graduating class, and he was given a standing ovation.

Vikram Singh, graduating with a bachelor’s in computer science, issued remarks on behalf of the Class of 2023. He spoke about the strength of his fellow students for facing such hardships as the pandemic and dealing with the fallout from the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who were killed by police.

“We have been the catalyst for change while our leaders have turned a blind eye, and we have become a force to be reckoned with,” Singh said. “We are champions in the domain of change, we are gladiators in the arena of adaptability, and we are warriors in the kingdom of the unexpected.”

In her address, Scurry urged students to continue being passionate, have aspirations, to help and support others, and let others support them, as well.

“Every single one of you is capable of changing the world in whatever it is you’re doing,” she said. “It has nothing to do with gold medals and soccer scores, or anything else, it has nothing to do with being famous. It has everything to do with what is in your hearts.”

Ashley Soebroto can be reached at ashley.soebroto@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ashsoebroto.