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Eastern Graduates 1,227 at XL Center

Written by Ed Osborn

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Willimantic, Conn. - More than 12,000 family members and friends filled the XL Center in Hartford on Tuesday, May 13, to cheer on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,162 undergraduates and 65 graduate students received their diplomas at Eastern Connecticut State University's 124th Commencement exercises.

Nicholas Lawson, director of field human resources for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa during the Commencement Exercises, and offered remarks following presentation of his honorary degree.

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Lawson has worked with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) for the past 17 years, a group he proudly describes as the "preeminent emergency medical humanitarian organization in the world." As Director of Field Human Resources for MSF since 2007, Lawson is responsible for the oversight of 35,000 staff across the globe, and leads the development and implementation of MSF's vision as a member of the MSF Executive Management team. Over the years, he has traveled to and coordinated humanitarian and medical relief efforts in Uganda, Pakistan, Burundi, East Timor, South Sudan and Afghanistan.

Lawson spoke of the organization's core principles of service, independence, impartiality, neutrality, ethics and engagement, and described his early years with MSF, when he faced the challenge of bringing medical supplies to civilians in Afghanistan caught in the crossfire of that nation's civil war.  In the end, he said MSF's focus was simple: to "alleviate the suffering of vulnerable people in crisis."

His charge to Eastern's 2014 graduating class was equally simple:  "What place does service and engagement in the public realm have in the careers we dream for ourselves? Is that activism? Is it volunteerism? Is it civics? Will it be a lifelong professional choice? . . . You will be richer than you can possibly imagine if you do actually make that choice."

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                                             Eastern President Elsa Nunez

Other speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Nunez; Catherine Smith, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, who represented the Board of Regents for Higher Education; Senior Class President Zachary Yeager; and Brittany Lane '14, who delivered the Senior Class Address. Other members of the platform party included Gregory Gray, president of the Board of Regents; Willimantic Mayor Ernie Eldridge; and other Eastern officials.

Nunez gave her traditional charge to the graduates, telling them, "I hope you look forward to the next chapter in your lives with optimism and expectation, knowing that the faculty and staff on our campus have done their utmost to prepare you for this day."
 
Nunez cited examples of applied learning experiences ranging from internships at ESPN and Cigna to study abroad trips to Costa Rica and Switzerland, to undergraduate research into genetics and emotional health among senior citizens, to working in South Carolina on anti-hunger efforts, as examples of the hands-on experiences that Eastern students receive in applying their liberal arts education.

 "Never be satisfied with a half-hearted effort, never assume that the way things have been done is the way we should do things in the future. Intellectual curiosity and a moral commitment to a better life for all people are hallmarks of a liberal arts university in our democracy. The best way to honor Eastern and our faculty is to remain true to what you have learned here."

 Nunez closed her remarks with a quote from the 19th-century Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda:  "Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life -- think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success."

More than 40 percent of the graduates were the first in their families to earn a bachelor's degree. As Connecticut's only public liberal arts university, Eastern draws students from 164 of the state's 169 towns. Approximately 90 percent of graduates stay in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Zachary Yeager presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez--an annual Class of 2014 scholarship--and said, "College has been the time to make mistakes and learn from them, a time to challenge ourselves, and a time to step out of our comfort zone . . . We will carry the memories that we have made in the past few years at Eastern with us for a lifetime."

Catherine Smith, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, offered remarks on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.  "I want you to know how deeply moved and excited we are about the great work you have done to earn your degree tonight," said Smith. "This is a significant milestone, and you should be very proud. The journey isn't easy, and there are no shortcuts to earning an undergraduate degree, but the benefits are enormous. Eastern has prepared you well for all the challenges you will face as the 21st century-economy continues to change. Pursue your career with the same dedication that has brought you to this fabulous day."
 
In her Senior Class Address, Brittany Lane urged the graduates to "pack your bags" and get ready for a new journey. She listed five items to include on the trip. First on the list: a belief that "every day is a great day to be alive," something she learned from one of her professors, Dan Switchenko. Second on her list was a commitment to helping others. "Volunteer; give back to your community; give back to your school. It is far more rewarding than a paycheck." 

  The third item on her list was to live life with kindness. "You never know the impact that your kind words could have on someone's day or even their life. Make your mark." Lane told her peers to also "remember to take the memories you have made at Eastern with you . . .  These are the moments that stand the test of time."

 Finally, Lane reminded her classmates that "there is no place like home. For your duration of time spent here at Eastern, it has become a second home . . . a close community of students from different walks of life coming together to live and learn in harmony . . . No matter where your journey takes you after today, no matter how many bumps in the road you may hit, always remember that we all have a place here at Eastern. You are all important. You will all accomplish incredible things; and our journey starts today." 
 
From the Governor's Foot Guard Color Guard in attendance, to the plaintive sound of the bagpipes of the St. Patrick's Pipe Band and the pre-event music of the Thread City Brass Quintet, this year's graduation ceremonies again reflected the University's Commencement traditions of dignity and grace. University Senate President Gregory Kane presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Emily Chuber, Rachel Jung and Emma Kuehnle sang "America the Beautiful"; Senior Mame Fatou Diop gave the invocation; and History Professor Anna Kirchmann was recognized as the 2014 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

 

Eastern Presents Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards

Written by Dwight Bachman

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Left to right, Robinson Camacho, Kimberly Silcox, Todd Aviles and Eastern President Elsa Nunez


Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University presented its Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards on April 26 to Todd Aviles, a senior majoring in Sociology; Robinson Camacho, a family liaison working for Windham Public Schools; and Kimberly Armstrong Silcox, director of Eastern's Center for Community Engagement. The program recognizes members of the campus and local community whose actions demonstrate distinguished service in promoting educational opportunities and/or advancement for members of Latino groups and acts that represent a commitment to positive Latino youth development.

Aviles has been fully engaged at Eastern since he arrived on campus. He served as the president for the MALES organization for the past two years. A native of Hartford and a strong advocate who believes heavily in giving back to his community, Aviles currently works for the Center for Internships and Career Development as a peer counselor. He also worked in the Center for Community Engagement and the Office of Student Orientation. In his spare time, Aviles likes to read and write poetry.

In addition to serving as a family liaison for Windham Public School, Camacho is also coordinator for the high school Puentes al Futuro/Bridges to the Future after-school program.  The program meets twice a week at Windham High School and Eastern.

'I am Latino' is a series of classes that Camacho developed, which focuses on motivating, encouraging and opening the eyes of the youth through visual media and interactive lectures. The class is direct and to the point, and its purpose is to make young people think about where they are and where they are going. Young people hear about successful Latinos in history and today, as Camacho goes over statistics on Latino dropout rates, low college attendance rates and the importance of education, by telling his story about dropping out of college and then realizing he needed to finish his college education.
 
Silcox is director of Eastern's Center for Community Engagement, which opened in 2009. She serves on many nonprofit boards and committees and has received numerous awards for service to the community. She is an advocate for students, faculty and communities, working to build and facilitate meaningful partnerships in the Windham community.

Chief Justice Rogers and Judge Kahn to Speak at Eastern

Written by Michael Rouleau

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Willimantic, Conn. - Two high-level Connecticut court officials will speak at Eastern Connecticut State University on March 26 for Eastern's University Hour series. At 3 p.m. in the Student Center Theatre, Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers and Superior Court Judge Maria Kahn will speak with the Eastern community about justice and the judicial system in today's world. 

Born and raised in Angola, Africa, Kahn was appointed a Superior Court Judge in 2006 and currently is assigned to hear criminal matters in the Fairfield Judicial District Courthouse. She moved to the United States at 10 years of age, is fluent in three languages and serves on a number state and national Bars. 

Rogers, a Connecticut native, was sworn in as Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2007--the second woman ever to reach this designation in Connecticut. She was also appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the State Justice Institute's Board of Directors. In addition to serving on a number of prestigious Bars and committees, Rogers is also an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law.

"The event is open to the public and will be organized in a question-and-answer format," said Starsheemar Byrum, coordinator of the Women's Center. "Arrive early at the Student Center Theatre to ensure a good seat."

"Eastern in 4," Eastern's Revamped Academic Plan

Written by Michael Rouleau


Willimantic, Conn. - As part of Eastern Connecticut State University's 2013-18 Strategic Plan, "Eastern in 4" is now a requirement for current students and incoming freshmen. The goal of "Eastern in 4" is to lay out a tight and comprehensive plan--including academic and career goals--that will lead students to their bachelor's degrees in four years.

"Eastern in 4" has existed as an informal objective for several years now, but recent data supporting the need for college-career planning has caused the University to revamp and mandate the program. "There are so many options and requirements in a college setting," said Alison Garewski, a professional advisor with the Advising Center. "Students unknowingly taking courses they don't need--costing them more money and prolonging their time in college--is an issue nationwide."

With nearly 1,000 freshman at Eastern this year, approximately 650 have completed their academic plans. Though the plans are designed in group sessions of five to 20 students, each four-year plan is individualized according to a student's degree requirements and preferences--taking into consideration which liberal arts courses to take, internships and study abroad opportunities.

"Every semester when registering for classes I use my four-year plan to aid in my selection," said Christina Harmon, a sophomore majoring in psychology. "'Eastern in 4' was a great way for me to learn what classes I need to take and how to stay on track in order to graduate on time."

While "Eastern in 4" is available to all students and majors, it is especially useful to transfer students, continuing education students and those switching majors. "This program is ideal at Eastern because we're a liberal arts school," said Chris Drewry, a professional advisor with the Advising Center. "Students are required and encouraged to take courses outside of their major, so having this direction is really helpful."

"Before making my 'Eastern in 4' plan, I had no idea if I could fit a double major's worth of classes into my schedule," said Thomas Hacker, a freshman with a double major. "Now I have a roadmap to double major in music and communication in four years."

Eastern Alumnus Ryan Davis Keynote Speaker at MLK Awards

Written by Danielle Couture

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Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University Alumnus Ryan J. Davis will serve as keynote speaker at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Awards at 6 p.m. on Feb. 19 in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Conference Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library.
 
Davis graduated from Eastern in 2003 with a B.S. in Business Administration. He is now the senior program manager for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, which was designed to increase the number of students of color who earn postsecondary degrees.

Prior to joining the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, Davis accumulated almost a decade of experience as a teacher, higher education administrator, and education policy researcher. Davis has authored or co-authored more than 25 publications, including reports featured in "The Chronicle of Higher Education" and "Inside Higher Ed." Davis' research on student success among males of color earned him and his colleagues the "Outstanding Research Award" by the American College Personnel Association's Standing Committee for Men.

Davis also has been the recipient of such accolades as 93.9 WKYS' "Top 30 Under 30" in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. He was named a "TRIO Achiever" by the Connecticut Association for Educational Opportunity Programs, a Graduate Fellow at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a Fellow at the Association for the Study of Higher Education's Institute for Critical Policy Research and is a lifetime member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Davis was presented with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award in 2003.

Recipients of the awards for 2014 are Alycia Bright Holland, lecturer of performing arts; Biology major Yollaine Kaja; and Rose Marie Hernández, family liaison at Windham Middle School and coordinator of the Puentes al Futuro/Bridges to the Future program.

The awards are open free and open to the public. For any information, please call Kemesha Wilmot at (860) 465-4421 or email wilmotk@easternct.edu.

Eastern Presents "Half of Me"

Written by Danielle Couture


Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University's Intercultural Center will present "Half of Me" as part of the University Hour Series at 3 p.m. on Feb. 19 in the Student Center Theatre.
 
The purpose of the event is to open the eyes and minds of students by discussing diversity issues on campus. A panel that includes members of the LGBTQ community will be asked a series of questions pertaining to issues that are relevant to each of their identifying communities.

The event is free and open to the public.

Eastern Seeks Nominations for MLK Award

Written by Danielle Couture

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Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University is accepting nominations for the 2014 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award. Nominees may be a part of the university campus community or from the greater community. Nominations will be accepted through Dec. 17.

The award recognizes members of the campus as well as the community-at-large whose actions demonstrate distinguished service in promoting King's ideals to further the goals of diversity and social equality. Three awards will be given: to a member of the community; a member of the Eastern faculty/staff; and to a member of the Eastern student body.

The awards recognize distinguished service in one or more of three categories: activities that represent a commitment to the goals of an integrated society, including activities beyond one's work obligations; leadership in a program serving the needs of a diverse community, with efforts reflecting an attempt to unify groups and or to increase sensitivity; and planning and implementation of programs to broaden representation of underrepresented groups as students and employees.
 
 The awards will be presented at 6 p.m. on Feb. 19 in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Conference Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library.  For more information regarding the ceremony or to request a nomination form, please call Kemesha Wilmot at (860) 465-4421 or email wilmotk@easternct.edu.

Eastern Presents "Hair Matters: Unresolved Issues"

Written by Danielle Couture


Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University's Intercultural Center will present "Hair Matters: Unresolved Issues" as part of the University Hour Series in the Student Center Theatre from 3-4 p.m. on Nov. 20.
 
The program consists of a panel including staff members Kemesha Wilmot, coordinator of the Intercultural Center, and Julisa De Los Santos, hall director of Laurel Hall, as well as students Kaitlyn Jolley and Erica Byrd.
"Hair Matters" will discuss political, social and other aspects surrounding women of color and their hair. Attendees will learn about taking care of their own hair as well as learning about other people's hair in order to build bridges across ethnicities.
 
University Hour is free and open to the public.

 

Bernard Lafayette Says "Use Your Rights, or Lose Them!"

Written by Akaya McElveen

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Willimantic, Conn. - Bernard Lafayette Jr., a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement, spoke on "Reaching Beyond Your Grasp" on Oct. 9 in the Student Center Theatre at Eastern Connecticut State University. His presentation was part of Eastern's University Hour Series.

More than 200 Eastern students, faculty and staff  heard Lafayette say he was "glad" and "shocked" that he is still alive today, in response to a question asked by a student. Lafayette's life has been threatened on many occasions, including a night when white men came to his house to kill him.

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       More than 200 Eastern students, faculty and staff heard Lafayette describe how resolute the Freedom Riders were while facing terrifying mobs.

Being the target of many death threats, Lafayette had expected his life to have ended already. In fact, he said he that he and his peers, realizing the dangerous journey they were about to begin, created a will before taking part in the Freedom Riders, who were African American and white college students. "No one can take your life if you've already given it," said Lafayette.  He said the Freedom Rides of the 1960s provided the momentum for the Civil Rights Movement, and provided an in-depth, personal look at what life was like for the Freedom Riders.

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Left to right, Stacey Close, Eastern's associate vice president for equity and diversity; Prudence Allen, former administrative assistant to the late Coretta Scott King; Lafayette, Sociology Professors Dennis Canterbury and James Russell pose for a photograph.

Lafayette played a riveting clip from a documentary on the Freedom Rides, which showed scenes of white mobs as they burned and bombed the Freedom Riders' buses and beat them with crow bars, baseball bats and any other weapon they could pick up. Law enforcement and city officials had made a deal; the mob of people was given 15 minutes to do whatever it wanted to the Freedom Riders and they would not get punished for it. Once the 15 minutes were up, Lafayette said the officers announced, "Alright, you've had your fun," and told the mob, "Not one soul will ever be arrested." 

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        Lafayette shakes hands with Akaya McElveen'14, an English major from Waterbury.

There was a moment in the film when a black woman went to a police officer to explain that her husband was being attacked, only to be knocked to the ground by that same officer.

Lafayette said media exposure of the mob violence and city officials' sanction of it played a leading role raising public awareness. News of the mob and police brutality was heard around the world, with America's European allies making it clear to President Kennedy that they were embarrassed by the violence. 

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       Lafayette, left, with former vice president for equity and diversity at  Eastern,and administrative assistants Carmen Diaz and Kathy Escobar.

The speaker also said there is a misconception that the Freedom Rides were about integrating the buses: "The demonstrations were really about bus stations and the right to be treated equally in them." Lafayette also talked about the importance of community engagement, saying that all colleges and universities should be involved in the community. "You've got to bring young people together and organize them. If you don't use your rights, you will lose your rights." As an example, he said students could initiate a voter registration drive by hosting a public birthday party for eighteen-year-olds, where the cost of admission would be showing their voter registration cards.

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          Lafayette with Hope Fitz, professor of philosophy and a scholar on nonviolence.

Lafayette said that he is genuinely interested in what the next generation will contribute to the Civil Rights Movement. "Maybe the movement never really stopped; it's continuous." He said young people should never surrender to violence and injustice. "If you do, the psychological wounds will run deep and may never end."  He encouraged the audience to keep the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream alive, quoting the late Civil Rights leader, "We must live together as sisters and brothers or die separately as fools."

Lafayette ended his presentation by entertaining the audience with a country song about the struggle of poor white Americans.

Eastern Presents GivingBackLife

Written by Christopher J. Herman


Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University will host GivingBackLife from 6-8 p.m. on Oct. 16 in the Student Center Theatre.   

    
Giving Back Life is an organization that works with and assists the underprivileged and orphaned children of China. Founder of the organization, Daniel Lui, will share his experiences working with the children of China and talk about the history and mission of GivingBackLife. The event will culminate with an activity that captures the essence and difficulties of being an orphan in rural China.
 
"GivingBackLife may be young, but we are going to carry with us a fresh outlook on making a difference in the world in which we live," said Liu, when describing the mission statement of his organization. "We are ambitious, we are passionate, we care dearly about people, and we realize that big things cannot be accomplished alone; however, if we can collectively do small things with great love, as Mother Teresa once said, there is no reason why we can't change the world."

For more information on the event, contact the Intercultural Center at (860) 465-5749 or interculturalctr@easternct.edu.

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