UMass 2011 Commencement Speaker: Alan Ulichney

Student commencement speaker Alan Ulichney hails from Stow, MA, a town that boasts a population that is one-fifth the size of the 30,000 person audience expected to attend the class of 2011 commencement. You can hear the double journalism and economics major speak at McGuirk Alumni Stadium Friday, May 13th at 5pm. In this interview you’ll get a glimpse....or two.... or three of his much anticipated address.

How do you feel now that you’ve been announced as the student commencement speaker?
Ecstatic, nervous, I guess honored because I really didn’t expect to win. I checked the speakers for the past couple of years and they all did these great wonderful things--going abroad...I’m just, kind of, your ‘average joe’. Ya know?

When did you decide you wanted to apply as the student speaker?
One day I was checking the commencement page to find out what day graduation was on, and I saw on the side “Submit a speech to speak”, and I thought that would be fun. There were six finalists just based on the speech. They got rid of four, and it was just between me and one other speaker, and I got an email that night saying I was the speaker. This was a three week thing.

Why did you want to apply?
I was home. I’m from a town that’s like one fifth of the population that is expected to be at graduation. There are 6,000 in my town and they prep for 30,000 at graduation. I figured my parents would like it and I figured I’d submit [a speech], and then I figured if I didn’t get it it’d be no big deal.

How long was the speech you submitted?
They said a three to four minute speech, and so it’s two pages on paper. It’s not that long. All the graduate speakers keep it around four minutes.

Who selected you as the speaker?
There is a commencement committee of half professors and half students. It was a cross between journalism and theatre students [applying]. Teachers range from journalism to theatre to English. Karen List [the Director of the Journalism department] was there, some English and theatre professors.

Will the one you submitted be your actual speech?
Well, I’m not sure. I have some people I have to talk to. Ever since they told me [I was selected], I’ve taken a little time off because of tests and other things.

Tell me about your speech.
The one right now is mostly just cracking jokes. They probably wanted to switch it up, and that’s probably why they went with a schmo like me.

What is your favorite line or part?
A lot of it is about things we will remember about UMass that aren’t really school related. A little extracurriculars...that doesn’t have anything to do with school. Some is advice that I've been given. Most of it is just joking around, which will hopefully just make it easier to read when I'm up in front of thousands of people.

One of my openers is that I'm terrified, which will probably be one of the things that change. As far as jokes go, the stuff we will remember, like, Antonios. I don’t really want to give it away I suppose.

Have you had any public speaking experience before this?
Other than typical classroom projects...I read my essay at the D.A.R.E. [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] graduation in 5th grade. That's actually one of the reasons I did this. Because my grandparents and parents liked that I did that, so I was like ‘I’ll try and do it again’.

How will you prepare either the night before or morning of commencement?
We like to joke that I'm gonna take a few shots, but I guess I'm just gonna have to psych myself up a little, read it over a few times, make sure I know it because I know I'm gonna be nervous.

How have your friends and family members reacted?
They're going nuts [he laughs]. A few of them have actually had me write letters of recommendation for them, and I’m, like, “Why?”. They’re going nuts, and the first day I got all those should be fun. They're going nuts.

My parents obviously loved it. They're going nuts. And it should just be a fun time I guess. I really thought it was funny because I’m not, like, a notable person per say. I do  intramurals in sports, but no clubs or anything like that and I'm not  a straight A student or anything, so I was pretty surprised when I won.

What intramural sports do you play?
Basketball, softball, football, the usual.

What are your plans for after graduation?
I'm gonna skip grad school for now and go straight to work and then come back to grad school, so I can make some money first. I don’t have a job yet. I interned last summer in Sudbury [MA] at a publishing office [Jones and Bartlett]. That was another, kind of, strange process. It was the only paid internship around, so it was really competitive to get. There wer a lot of UMass people there...older people, which was kind of shocking.

Are you pursuing a publishing job after graduation?
I'm trying, but it’s a hard thing to break into. I'm also trying to get, like, a regular business job or something. I also really want to travel, so I'm trying to move around the country a bit before I settle down. One of the more serious parts of my speeches is urging people to not settle down right away. I mean, like, in one place. Usually people will go somewhere that they expect not to be there too long, but then it turns into a career. This [the speech] is a nudge to move around a little bit and find your place in the world.

Where do you live on campus?
I live over by Puffers Pond...State Street, across from the Townhouses. Actually part of my speech is how we will remember jumping off the cliff at Puffers.

What is your favorite weekend hangout spot in Amherst?
My buddies houses or here. During the summer I’m always at Puffers or the river over between Amherst and Hadley. If I’m not there, I'm at the bars or something--usual college crowd...a lot of bonfires, hiking.

Although many of us are going to be sad to leave UMass in a month and a half, it’s nice to know that we will be bid farewell with a few light jokes. Keep your ears open for Alan come May 13th!