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Written by Ed Osborn
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.
Commencement Speaker Nicholas Lawson
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."
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.
Written by Michael Rouleau
Willimantic, Conn. - On April 1, a crowd of Eastern Connecticut State University students gathered on the Student Center patio for "Warriors Against Violence," a rally to raise awareness of dating violence. The event started with a march around campus and concluded with a speech by author and advocate Susan Omilian.
During the march, students shouted empowering statements of courage and antiviolence, led by a speaker with a megaphone. "Wherever we go, however we dress, no means no and yes means yes!" shouted the crowd of female and male students.
At 2 p.m. on the Student Center patio, Omilian took the podium and told the story of her niece, Maggie Wardle, who was a 19-year-old sophomore in college when she was shot and murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1999. At the time of this tragedy, there were no on-campus organizations dedicated to awareness, intervention or victim support of dating violence and related issues.
Since her niece's death, Omilian has spoken across the country on the topic of dating violence. Colleges across the nation, including Eastern, have established on-campus resources to handle these issues, such as Eastern's Sexual Assault Response Team (SART).
"Warriors Against Violence," an event within an ongoing awareness-raising campaign, was organized and sponsored by the Womens' Center, SART and a number of social work students.
According to Omilian and other authorities on the topic, warning signs of an unhealthy, abusive relationship can be emotional, physical, psychological, sexual and economic. If they have any concern whatsoever, students are urged to utilize Eastern's support resources.
Written by Ed Osborn
left to right, Kathlee McGrory, Belinda Kwakye, President Nunez and Betsy Wade
Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University presented its Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Awards on March 26, 2014. The program, now in its sixth year, recognizes members of the campus and local community whose actions demonstrate distinguished service in promoting Grasso's ideals to advance women's rights and gender equality.
Awards were given to Betsy Wade, the first woman to be a copy editor at The New York Times and a former resident of Willimantic; Kathleen McGrory, a distinguished member of the Eastern faculty and former academic vice president in the 1980s; and Eastern student Belinda Kwakye.
The keynote speaker of the event was Connecticut Superior Court Justice Maria Araujo Kahn. "I benefitted from the women who came before me like Ella T. Grasso," said Kahn. "They paved the way to success for girls and women like me and for students like you."
Wade enjoyed an extraordinary career as a dedicated wordsmith and self-described "troublemaker:" She was the first woman copy reader ever hired by The New York Times, the first woman chief copy editor on the foreign desk and the writer of the Practical Traveler column for 14 years. She was also the first woman to serve as president of the New York local of the Newspaper Guild, the largest in the nation and a named plaintiff in the landmark sex discrimination lawsuit against The Times.
Stacey Close, associate vice president for equity and diversity praised Wade and her distinguished career. "Betsy Wade was a true fighter for gender equality and women's rights." Wade's granddaughter Jennifer Boylan, Eastern's interim coordinator of AccessAbility Services, added, "My grandmother was a longtime fighter for the Equal Rights Amendment and supported a woman's right to sue for better conditions and treatment in the workplace."
Provost Rhona Free spoke next in honoring McGrory, who returned to Eastern after administrative and teaching positions at Hartford College for Women, Stanford University, the University of Virginia and Georgetown.
"At Eastern, Kathy took action; when she was an academic vice president, she singlehandedly raised Eastern's percentage of female workers on campus from 13 percent to 25 percent and she was also instrumental in founding the first women's center on campus."
Belinda Kwakye, a senior who helped found the Black Student Union on campus, is an advocate for both the LGBT community as well as for clients of the Department of Children and Families. Kwakye was recognized by Vice President for Student Affairs Ken Bedini who called her, "A tireless worker for her fellow students and for the wider community. Belinda is an active leader and a great student who realizes what it takes to be a student leader and role model on campus."
President Elsa Nuñez closed the event with remarks that extolled the virtues of the women who have gone before her, the women who stood with her during the event, and the women who will walk in the halls of Eastern and make a difference in the future.
Written by Michael Rouleau
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."
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."
Written by Jordan Sakal
Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University will present its Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Awards on March 26, 2014. This program, now in its sixth year, recognizes members of the campus and local community whose actions demonstrate distinguished service in promoting Grasso's ideals to advance women's rights and gender equality. Three awards will be given: to a member of the community; a member of the Eastern faculty/staff; and an Eastern student.
Recipients of the award work to serve the needs of women by organizing or empowering women, advocating on behalf of women's rights, and/or providing outreach to women in need of supportive services. While promoting justice and peace, recipients of the Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Award also take the initiative in planning and implementing programs to broaden the representation of women at various levels of society including socioeconomic, political, medical/health sectors, the fine arts and the social sciences.
Written by Danielle Couture
Willimantic, Conn. - Diana Pho, a Vietnamese-American activist also known as "Ay-leen the Peacemaker", will present "Social Issues and Steampunk" as part of Eastern Connecticut State University's University Hour series in the Student Center Theatre from 3-4 p.m. on Nov. 13.
Pho will discuss race, gender and other social issues as they relate to the evolving subculture of Steampunk. Pho strives to broaden people's understanding of Steampunk. Her talk will go beyond a traditional mindset to educate people on the many happenings elsewhere in the globe (i.e. China, Vietnam and India) that occurred during the 19th century, and to discuss issues of racism and cultural appropriation as people create their costumes and characters.
Students are encouraged to attend in Steampunk attire.
University Hour is open to the public and admission is free.
Written by Christopher J. Herman
Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University's Women's Center is presenting "Sex, Love and Other Stuff," a presentation on understanding men, healthy relationships and confidence from 7-8 p.m. on Oct. 23 in the Student Center Theatre. Author and professional speaker Aaron Boe will host the event and discuss topics relevant to interpersonal relationships. This is a female only event.
Boe is the author of "The Dating Strengths Handbook," and "Letter to Kegan" and is the founder of Strength Culture, a curriculum development and consulting firm for the fraternity community. Each program he hosts is grounded in the latest research, but designed to connect with young people using humor, stories, and realistic and relevant scenarios. Boe also applies his experience as a stand-up comedian so that he can address important issues in an engaging and entertaining way.
For more information on the presentation, contact the Women's Center at (860) 465-4314 or email@example.com.
Written by Chistopher J. Herman
Willimantic, Conn. - Eastern Connecticut State University will present "Cosplay and Nerd Culture" from 5-6:30 p.m. on Oct. 31 in the Student Center Theatre. The presentation is hosted by Allison Wilhelm and will cover topics on sexism, racism and body shaming in nerd culture. Eastern students are invited to attend in cosplay and share their personal stories. Wilhelm is a professional speaker and convention panelist. After finding inspiration from GeekFeminism.com, The Mary Sue and Jezebel, websites dedicated to women in geek culture, Wilhelm decided to start bringing sexism in nerd culture to light by presenting panels and hosting discussions. Wilhelm has hosted panels such as the "Social Politics of Cosplay" at ConnectiCon and "Gender and Nerd Culture" at Anime Boston and NerdNite Boston.
For more information on the event, contact Starsheemar Byrum at (860) 465-4314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Akaya McElveen
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.