Overcast skies and rain did not dampen the spirits of nearly 400 students who received master’s and doctoral degrees on Saturday, May 19. The graduates, their families, and guests were all seated under a tent on Gengras lawn that sheltered them from the elements and was large enough to seat 3,000.
Eighty percent of Saturday’s graduates are from Connecticut. The balance represent 29 states and Puerto Rico, and 21 countries.
“Please remember this moment, you worked hard for it,” University President Gregory S. Woodward told the graduates. “Earning an advanced degree is a major educational achievement. I encourage you to remember the joy you feel thanks to reading, writing, composing, creating, and learning. Keep growing and learning. It will pay dividends for the rest of your life.” Woodward presided over his first spring Commencement ceremony on Saturday. He became the University’s sixth president in July 2017.
The keynote speaker was Charles “Chuck” Pagano ’84, M’07, who was awarded the University’s Distinguished Alumni Award during Commencement weekend last May. Pagano is a highly successful and multiple award-winning retired executive vice president and chief technology officer at ESPN. He worked at ESPN for 35 years and guided it to become a leader in sports television.
In his message, Pagano said he learned leadership lessons from the great servant leader, Yoda, of Star Wars. One of those lessons is “It’s all up to you,” he said. “Like Yoda, great leaders understand the future is up to them. Yoda had to train Luke (Skywalker) to conquer the Emperor and Darth Vader. Similarly, it’s up to you, as a great leader, to conquer the toxic leadership so many societies and organizations are fraught with today.”
An honorary Doctor of Humane Letters was presented to Linda J. Kelly, retiredpresident of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, which is among the oldest and largest community foundations in the country. She was the first female and first person of color to lead the organization since its establishment in 1925. During her tenure, the foundation reached a record of nearly $1 billion in assets; set grant-making records; expanded outreach to communities of color; and collaborated with businesses, public policy leaders, and local and national nonprofits to improve equity, access, and opportunity for residents.
In her remarks, Kelly said the honor is also a tribute to her parents who grew up in the segregated south and their efforts to bring about equality for all. “I congratulate all the graduates,” said Kelly, “and I challenge you with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, ‘I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies; education and culture for their minds; and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.’ Go forward with audacity.”