For Graduation, UMass Dartmouth Hopes To Convey 'Real Story'

It's been an unusual semester at the Dartmouth campus of the University of Massachusetts. Accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a student at the school, and three of his friends were also arrested on charges related to the bombing. Anne Mostue of WGBH reports the school and its students are trying to move beyond the bombing as they celebrate commencement this weekend.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. It is graduation weekend at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. The campus is still recovering from the arrests of Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his three former classmates. Anne Mostue of member station WGBH reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS RINGING)

ANNE MOSTUE, BYLINE: UMass Dartmouth is not the flagship state school but it has a sprawling, wooded, 700-acre campus on the southern coast of Massachusetts between Rhode Island and Cape Cod. It's about an hour from Boston. The buildings and dorms are large blocks of ribbed concrete in a style of architecture known as brutalism. This week, students were still walking around campus, sunbathing and reading in the library.

JOSHUA ENCARNACION: What you really feel is a sense of affinity; family, pride, because everyone's just come to care for each other.

MOSTUE: Joshua Encarnacion is finishing his junior year. He is president of his class.

ENCARNACION: I feel like all of the media attention focuses on what people see from outside in. Because on campus, the first day back we were right back to work. It feels like no one missed an assignment, no professor was late on work. And so everybody was ready to begin finals week when it all happened.

MOSTUE: What happened was the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old Boston Marathon bombing suspect. He lived in a dorm on campus and the school was evacuated for a day. Classmates have since told police and the media that he played intramural soccer, smoked marijuana and was a mediocre student. Police and the FBI eventually arrested three of his friends, only one of whom was still enrolled at the school. Officials say the friends had no knowledge of the bombings beforehand but they're charged with destroying evidence and misleading police. At first, the school administration had no comment. It has since announced plans to review its handling of several issues. And Chancellor Divina Grossman says the arrests do not represent the campus of 9,500 students.

DIVINA GROSSMAN: This is a beacon of hope and educational opportunity in this region. The men and women who worked in the textile mills and the fishing industry, they had bright hopes and aspirations for their children.

MOSTUE: Chancellor Grossman herself first came to the school as a foreign student from the Philippines.

GROSSMAN: So, when you look at UMass Dartmouth, the real story about it is how it transforms lives of individual students and how for many of our students it's the first time somebody in their family is going to college and completing college.

MOSTUE: Grossman says UMass Dartmouth didn't turn Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into a terrorist, just as Harvard didn't turn Ted Kaczynski into a Unabomber. And at a school where about half the students live off-campus, it's difficult to keep track of what they do in their free time. Senior Leanne Poirier has been reporting on the arrests for the school paper. She says it's strange, and somewhat frustrating, for her school to be associated with alleged terrorist activity.

LEANNE POIRIER: People are kind of joking now, like, oh my gosh, like, UMass is breeding terrorists. But I don't think that's the case at all. I just think that it's a low-cost school, it's a state school and, you know, some people ended up being here at the wrong time for all of us, I guess.

MOSTUE: Still, in response to the arrests, UMass Dartmouth is boosting security and limiting the number of people who may attend graduation. For NPR News, I'm Anne Mostue.

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