The University of Massachusetts Amherst will honor the exemplary achievement, initiative and leadership of some of its most talented and accomplished graduating seniors during Undergraduate Commencement ceremonies taking place Friday, May 14 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. Rania Marie Henriquez and Carla Montilla Jaimes from the graduating class will be honored as 21st Century Leaders at Undergraduate Commencement.
Rania Marie Henriquez of Methuen, Mass., is a Commonwealth Honors College student who has earned dual degrees in women, gender and sexuality studies and political science. Henriquez came to UMass with the belief that art and community building can change the world. She became immediately active in Students of Caribbean Ancestry and the Black Student Union. She then extended her community activism, working in Springfield to support Hurricane Maria relief efforts and to help organize a youth-led rally advocating for gun control. In her sophomore year, her father, her most ardent supporter, died unexpectedly. Henriquez finished the semester strong and went on to a summer service learning program in Cape Town, South Africa, in his honor. She was a research assistant in political science, investigating indigenous communities’ resistance to natural resource extraction. She was an academic diversity fellow for the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, supporting first-generation students and students of color. She is also a prolific poet. After graduation, Henriquez will merge her passion for social justice and her love of art as the first-ever community resource coordinator at Elevated Thought, a youth organization in Lawrence, that develops spaces for BIPOC youth and communities to engage and understand art.
Carla Montilla Jaimes of Doral, Fla., is a Commonwealth Honors College student graduating with degrees in political science and history. Originally from Venezuela, Montilla Jaimes is the first in her family to earn a college degree in the U.S. She served in the Student Government Association, the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success, and other campus groups, where she amplified the voices of marginalized students. She researched policies to fight hunger and food insecurity as a Sophomore-Service Scholar. Following her sophomore year, she was selected to participate in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences summer program in Washington, D.C., where she worked in the office of U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern. She was selected as a UMass Women into Leadership Fellow her junior year. After a trip to Israel and the West Bank, she founded a student chapter of J Street, an organization that advocates for progressive American foreign policy in the Middle East. As a senior, Montilla Jaimes helped start the Period chapter at UMass and worked on a pilot program to make free menstrual products available across campus and to address period poverty in Massachusetts. Starting this fall, Montilla Jaimes will attend American University’s School of International Service to pursue a master’s degree in ethics, peace, and human rights.
- Student News