Written by Ed Osborn
Hartford, CT — More than 12,000 family members and friends filled the XL Center in Hartford on Tuesday, May 17, to cheer on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,221 undergraduates and 25 graduate students received their diplomas at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 126th Commencement exercises.
Jerry Franklin, CEO and president of the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, was awarded an
Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa during the Commencement Exercises, and offered remarks following presentation of his honorary degree.
Franklin has served as CEO and president of CPBN for more than 30 years. Through CPTV, the state’s only public television broadcasting network, and WNPR, Connecticut’s leading National Public Radio affiliate, CPBN serves Connecticut as well as areas of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York — reaching an estimated 450,000 television viewers and 276,000 radio listeners each week.
During his tenure at CPBN, Franklin has led a growth in programming ranging from the Infinity Hall music concert series to playing a leadership role in bringing children’s programming such as “Barney and Friends,” “Bob the Builder” and “Thomas and Friends” to public television.
Speaking to the graduates, Franklin said, “You may feel overwhelmed by today’s events . . . it feels like the world is coming unglued. You may see these times as a pivotal point in human history. It is where we have always been. Life is all about moments of transition. Tonight you are coming to the end of your college phase, bringing you back to a beginning, a new start. Do not be afraid of this time. Adjusting to change is what life is all about, and the liberal arts undergraduate degree you have earned is the first step toward your success.”
Other speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Nunez; attorney David Jimenez, who represented the Board of Regents for Higher Education; Senior Class President Bryan Hayes, and Gabriela Wrobel ’16, who delivered the Senior Class Address. Other members of the platform party included Willimantic Mayor Ernie Eldridge; Justin Murphy ’98, president of the ECSU Foundation; Ellen Lang ’81, president of the ECSU Alumni Association; Father Larry LaPointe; and other Eastern officials.
Núñez told the graduates, “Our nation and the global society we live in look to you for leadership. As you begin your career, take care of yourself, take care of your families, but make sure that you take time to help others when you can. You will find that supporting and helping others strengthens you. St. Francis of Assisi once said, ‘Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received…but only what you have given; a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.’ May each of you have a long, successful life, marked by courage, strengthened through sacrifice, and enriched by service to others.”
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 158 of the state’s 169 towns. Approximately 85 percent of graduates stay in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.
Senior Class President Bryan Hayes presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez — an annual Class of 2016 scholarship — and said, “Our contributions will allow future Eastern students to experience the vast opportunities that our University has to offer. Together, we are leaving behind a legacy that we can all be proud of.”
David Jimenez, a shareholder in the Hartford-based law firm of Jackson Lewis, which specializes in employment and labor law, spoke on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education. “We all know there is no shortcut to earning an undergraduate degree, but the benefits for doing so are extraordinary,” said Jimenez. “You energize my colleagues and me on the Board of Regents with the promise and potential you represent. The foundation of learning you have received at Eastern has prepared you well. Your contributions to your communities, our state and the world have just begun.”
Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, also brought greetings. “I hope you feel an immense sense of pride for the unique contributions to Eastern. You have pushed yourself to succeed despite life’s numerous challenges. I am inspired by what you have achieved. You are Connecticut’s future leaders, its future workforce, and members of our state’s communities. Now go out and make us proud!”
In her Senior Class Address, Gabriela Wrobel described coming to the United States from Poland when she was 11 years old, and said, “It was at Eastern, in this tight-knit community, that I found my home over the past four years . . . . By connecting with the faculty on campus I have had the chance to do independent research, aid in running a classroom as a teaching assistant, and even broaden my horizons by taking a Global Field Course to Israel and Jordan over spring break.” Turning to her fellow graduates, Wrobel said, “At Eastern, we have developed a deeper way of thinking about the world and the solutions to its problems. We leave here as liberally educated people, well-rounded, rational, critical and ethical members of society, ready to create change where change is needed.”
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 Shelby Larsen, Caitlin McDonough, Delaney Jordan, Moriah Parrett, Alexis Kurtz and Judy Reid sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Courtney Callaway gave the invocation; and Business Administration Professor Jeffrey Schaller was recognized as the 2016 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.