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Billionaire surprises UMass Boston grads with $1,000 each at commencement — in cash

"For us the greatest joys we've had in our life has been the gift of giving, so each of you is getting $1,000."

A group of graduates wearing caps and gowns
UMass Boston graduates each received $1,000 as they crossed the stage during the university's 2023 commencement. John Tlumacki/Globe Staf

The 2,500 students making up the University of Massachusetts Boston graduating class of 2023 walked away from their commencement with more than just a diploma on Thursday.

Each student, courtesy of a surprise donation from Quincy-based billionaire Rob Hale, also received $1,000.

As graduates walked across the stage on the school’s Campus Center Lawn, they were handed two envelopes — each containing $500 — with the idea that they could keep one and give the other to charity, as they saw fit.

Hale’s announcement came about half an hour after he had finished his speech, interrupting Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco’s climactic proclamation “Now, we’ve come to the moment our graduates and their families have been waiting for.”


Hale pushed the chancellor aside and revealed 4,000 customized envelopes the graduates would be receiving. The announcement shocked students, who erupted into cheers and applause once he made the announcement.

“For us the greatest joys we’ve had in our life has been the gift of giving, so each of you is getting $1,000 cash,” Hale said to the graduates.

Granite CEO Robert Hale speaking after getting the Chancellor’s Medal.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Hale similarly surprised 2021 Quincy College graduates, and the billionaire and his wife, Karen Hale, donated $30 million to Connecticut College, his alma mater, in 2021.

Hale, co-founder and president of the Quincy-based Granite Telecommunications, was joined by Senator Elizabeth Warren to speak at the university’s 55th commencement ceremonies. Both speakers also received honorary medals from the chancellor.

“I have a single piece of advice: choose hope,” Warren said. “That’s a little tougher than it sounds right now. After, all of you are graduating into a world that is filled with anger, strife, and grief.”

Warren discussed the difficulties brought upon the class of 2023 by the COVID-19 pandemic, a never-ending cycle of mass shootings, and attacks plaguing marginalized communities.

“Surely, you face more challenges than any other graduating class in history. And yet, I am here today to counsel: choose hope,” she added. “In fact, I am here today to tell you, I choose hope. That in fact, I am hopeful.”


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