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UMass Boston graduates surprised with a $1,000 gift from the commencement speaker


Courtesy Addie McElreath

Graduates at UMass Boston received $1,000 in two envelopes from commencement speaker Robert Hale. The billionaire CEO asked graduates to keep $500 and donate the rest.


University of Massachusetts Boston graduates left their graduation ceremony with more than just diplomas thanks to a generous billionaire.

Before taking the stage Thursday, 2,000 undergraduate students learned they would receive two envelopes containing a total of $1,000, according to the university.

Commencement speaker Robert Hale, a billionaire CEO of a Massachusetts-based communications firm, interrupted Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco as he began to announce the awarding of diplomas, the ceremony’s live stream shows.

“You have survived, you have thrived, you are to be celebrated,” Hale said at UMass Boston’s 55th undergraduate commencement.

Hale, founder and CEO of communications services provider Granite Telecommunications, told the students they would also get $1,000 in cash, prompting a roar of excited cheers and applause, the live streaming shows.

“You’ve overcome. It’s not easy,” said Hale, whose commencement speech followed that of co-keynote speaker Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

“We’re here and we’re proud of you,” Hale said.

John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Granite Telecommunications CEO Robert Hale was the commencement speaker at UMass Boston’s graduation ceremony and offered graduates $1,000.

One envelope contained a $500 gift for each student, while the other contained $500 for the students as a gift to someone “or another organization that could use it more than you,” Hale explained.

“This is a celebration of everything you’ve done to be here,” he said.

UMass Boston graduate Wendy Humphreys told CNN that she and several other graduates were shocked when Hale returned to the stage for the announcement.

“I looked at my friend and jokingly said, ‘he’s going to give us $2,000 each,’ but I was totally kidding,” Humphreys said.

She was amazed to find that she wasn’t completely wrong, she said.

“I can now scroll through GoFundMe and donate to causes that speak to me,” said Humphreys, an English major, of her plans for the gift portion of the cash. “I’m very passionate about abortion access and LGBTQ rights, so I plan to donate to those causes.”

A friend of the Humphreys, UMass Boston graduate Addie McElreath, 27, said she felt Hale likely introduced a new generation to giving.

Courtesy Addie McElreath

UMass Boston graduate Addie McElreath poses with her grandparents at her graduation ceremony on May 25, 2023.

“Many college students have probably never had the time, money or opportunity to donate or gift to others until now,” McElreath told CNN.

Her grandparents traveled from Maine to see her get her bachelor’s degree in English.

“I think it’s going to open a lot of people’s eyes to something that I think is really important socially, which is just giving as much as you can,” McElreath said.

Hale made the 2023 Forbes billionaires list with a net worth of about $5 billion, according to CNN affiliate WBZ-TV.

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