Eastern’s Day of Giving is Nov. 22

DAY OF GIVING 2017-FILEEastern Connecticut State University’s 11th annual Day of Giving will occur on Nov. 22 in Hurley Hall. The event is open to Willimantic residents who might not otherwise enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. The meal will be served from 12-2 p.m.

The major community event-which served more than 700 guests last year-is a collaboration between Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the Office of Institutional Advancement and Chartwells, Eastern’s food service provider.

The festive spread of Turkey, stuffing and all the traditional fixings will be donated by the ECSU Foundation and Chartwells. Chartwells staff will donate their time to prepare the food and decorate the dining hall. More than 50 volunteers from the Eastern community-students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university-will serve food, provide transportation, welcome guests, lead children’s activities and clean up.

During the four weeks leading up to the Day of Giving, the CCE will conduct food drives at area grocery stores. Donations will go to the Covenant Soup Kitchen and other local food pantries. Upcoming drives include the Willimantic Food Co-op on Nov. 4 and 5; Bob’s IGA in South Windham on Nov. 11; Stop & Shop in East Hampton on Nov. 12; and Stop & Shop in Uncasville on Nov. 18 and 19. Volunteers will collect items from 10am to 2pm on each day.

Last weekend’s food drive, which took place at the Canterbury Better Value Super Market, 575 food items totaling 702 pounds were collected, along with $96 in cash donations.

Additionally, collection boxes have been placed throughout the Eastern campus in residence halls, classroom buildings and administration buildings. Last year, 859 food items were donated on campus; the goal for this year is 1,000 items.

Eastern Students Learn Dining Etiquette

Written by Jolene Potter

•Three students dig into an appetizer at the business luncheon

Three students dig into an appetizer at the business luncheon

Students at Eastern Connecticut State University attended a business luncheon with local employers on Sept. 22 to learn about proper etiquette for lunch and dinner interviews. The event was sponsored by Eastern’s Center for Internships and Career Development (CICD).

“This event was an opportunity for students to engage with employers,” said Clifford Marret, director of the CICD, who arranged for professionals from Cigna and the accounting firm Nicola, Yester & Company to attend the event. “It allowed students to practice skills in networking, professionalism and etiquette while enjoying an excellent meal.”

•Eastern students network with local professionals at the business luncheon

Eastern students network with local professionals at the business luncheon

Jeffrey Kwolek, director of Chartwells, Eastern’s food service provider, facilitated the etiquette portion of the event, explaining proper dining manners and conversation protocol.

Among his advice, Kwolek told the students to arrive 10 minutes prior to the scheduled interview time as well as to turn off their cell phones before entering the restaurant. “You want the employer to know that you are fully engaged and focused on the interview,” he said.

Regarding conversation protocol, Kwolek said, “Avoid topics such as politics and religion. You want to keep the conversation geared toward what you will bring to the company as an employee.”

Students were also given tips regarding what type of food to order, where to place utensils and how to maintain positive body language. For instance, when browsing the menu, Kwolek suggested to stay away from messy, large or overly expensive items.

Students were taught the basics of table setup, learning to use their silverware from the outside in for a meal with multiple courses. They were told to drink from the glasses to their right and to use the bread plate to their left. Students were also advised not to place a used utensil on the table, as it is considered unsanitary.

“This was a fantastic event,” said Tessa Jordan, a certified public accountant at Nicola, Yester & Company. “As an Eastern alum I think it’s so important to promote employer and student interaction. This event helped us connect and relate with students.”

Eastern Breaks Into List of Top 25 Public Regional Universities

Written by Ed Osborn

eastern_front_entranceFor the first time, Eastern Connecticut State University made the list of the top 25 regional public universities in the North in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 edition of “Best Colleges.” Eastern was the highest ranked university among the four Connecticut state universities. The annual rankings were released on Sept. 12.

•Theatre students perform Cervantes' "Pedro, The Great Pretender," as the first production in the Proscenium Theatre of Eastern's new Fine Arts Instructional Center

• Theatre students perform Cervantes’ “Pedro, The Great Pretender,” as the first production in the Proscenium Theatre of Eastern’s new Fine Arts Instructional Center

Regional universities such as Eastern are ranked on the basis of 16 criteria that include peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, admissions selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving. The North Region includes colleges and universities from New England, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

•Biology major Elizabeth DelBuono '17 is in the graduate program in Genetic Counseling at Sarah Lawrence College.

• Biology major Elizabeth DelBuono ’17 is in the graduate program in Genetic Counseling at Sarah Lawrence College.

“I am gratified to see Eastern ranked in the top 25 public institutions in the North in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 Best Colleges report,” said Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “Our commitment to high standards, our focus on providing students with personal attention, and the introduction of new academic programs have resulted in our favorable ranking. Students and their families turn to the Best Colleges rankings to help decide where to attend college.  These newest rankings reaffirm that Eastern is providing a relevant and high quality education on our beautiful residential campus.”

This year’s U.S. News and World Report rankings included reviews of 1,389 schools nationwide and are available at www.usnews.com/colleges. They will also be published in the Best Colleges 2017 Guidebook, published by U.S. News & World Report and available on newsstands on Oct. 10.

For the past 33 years, the U.S. News and World Report rankings, which group colleges based on categories created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, have grown to be the most comprehensive research tool for students and parents considering higher education opportunities.

Eastern Named a ‘Great College to Work For’ for Eighth Time

Written by Michael Rouleau

2013GCWF_4CsingularWILLIMANTIC, CT (07/17/2017) Eastern Connecticut State University has again been named a “Great College to Work For” by The Chronicle of Higher Education, a top trade publication for colleges and universities. Released today by The Chronicle, the results are based on a survey of 232 colleges and universities. This is the eighth time Eastern has received “Great Colleges” distinction since it first began participating in the program in 2009.

Only 79 of the institutions that applied for the program achieved “Great College to Work For” recognition this year. Eastern was also named to the national Great Colleges “Honor Roll,” one of only 42 institutions named to this exclusive club. This is the third year in a row that Eastern has been named to the honor roll. Eastern was also the only public four-year university or college in New England to gain “Great Colleges” distinction.

The Chronicle’s Great Colleges to Work For survey is the largest and most comprehensive workplace study in higher education. Now in its 10th year, it recognizes the colleges that get top ratings from their employees on workforce practices and policies.

The survey results are based on a two-part assessment process: an institutional audit that captured demographics and workplace policies, and a survey administered to faculty, administrators, and professional support staff. The primary factor in deciding whether an institution received recognition was employee feedback.

Eastern won honors in six survey categories this year: Collaborative Governance; Compensation and Benefits; Facilities, Workspaces, and Security; Confidence in Senior Leadership; Teaching Environment; and Tenure Clarity and Process.

“It is gratifying to know that our employees continue to value the positive working atmosphere we share on our campus,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “The ‘Great Colleges to Work For’ recognition is not only a symbol of the common purpose found among our faculty and staff, it represents the welcoming and supportive environment that our students experience every day.

“To know that Eastern has consistently received this honor – winning ‘Great Colleges’ recognition in each of the eight years we have participated – is an indication that our commitment to campus unity is an enduring value firmly embedded in our culture.”

“Ten years in, the ‘Great Colleges to Work For’ distinction is well-known by academic jobseekers as a sign that an institution’s employees are valued and given opportunities for growth even when they face financial constraints,” said Liz McMillen, editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Any college or university that’s on the list is showing that they emphasize one of their most valuable assets: their faculty and staff.”

To administer the survey and analyze the results, The Chronicle worked with ModernThink LLC, a strategic human capital consulting firm that has conducted numerous “Best Places to Work” programs, surveying hundreds of thousands of employees nationwide. “It’s easier to be a great workplace during good times, but it’s when times are tough that the commitment to workplace quality really gets tested,” said Richard K. Boyer, principal and managing partner of ModernThink LLC. “Those institutions that measure up during times of economic hardship reinforce their already strong cultures and put even more distance between them and their peer institutions for whom they compete for talent.”

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About Eastern Connecticut State University

Eastern Connecticut State University is the state of Connecticut’s public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,300 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 163 of Connecticut’s 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 23 other states and 20 other countries. A residential campus offering 39 majors and 64 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Ranked the 26th top public university in the North Region by U.S. News and World Report in its 2017 Best College ratings, Eastern has also been awarded “Green Campus” status by the U.S. Green Building Council seven years in a row. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu.

About The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education is dedicated to serving the higher-education community with insights, understanding, and intellectual engagement. Academic leaders and professionals from around the world trust The Chronicle’s analysis and in-depth exploration to make informed decisions.

About ModernThink LLC

As a research and consulting leader in workplace issues, ModernThink has supported a wide variety of “Best Place to Work” initiatives. Through these programs, the firm has gained substantial survey and industry expertise, including specific insight into higher education. ModernThink knows what it takes to build a great place to work and shares that know-how with its clients. The ModernThink team of organizational development experts is dedicated to helping colleges follow through and capitalize on feedback from employees and benchmark data from peers to drive meaningful change at their institutions. Learn more at http://www.modernthink.com.

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Former Washington Post Publisher Addresses Eastern Graduates

Written by Ed Osborn

                                                     Eastern Graduates 1,238 at XL Center

David Graham

David Graham

Hartford, CT — Former Washington Post Publisher Donald Graham told the graduates at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 127th Commencement exercises to “treasure this college. Eastern has given you a wonderful education . . . once you are making a living, give something back so that you can help Eastern continue to be great in the future.”

The annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 17, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,180 undergraduates and 58 graduate students received their diplomas.

Graham also told the graduates, “Throughout our history, American leaders have stood up in times of peril — during the American Revolution, during the Civil War, confronting Hitler, standing up to Communism, and advancing civil and women’s rights.  At some time in your life, you will be asked to stand up for what is right, and I know you will answer the call.” Noting that the American political system has worked very well for more than 200 years, Graham said, “Future politicians will say, ‘I will fight for you.’  That’s fine. But ask them, ‘What will you do when you are done fighting?’”

Commencement 2017 Crowd_7167The commencement speaker also received an honorary degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises. Graham is chairman of Graham Holdings Co., formerly the Washington Post Co. A graduate of Harvard College, he is a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving as an information specialist with the First Cavalry Division from 1967-68.  He later served as a patrolman on the Washington, D.C., police force before joining the staff at the Washington Post in 1971 as a reporter.  Graham assumed the position of publisher of the Washington Post in 1979, following in the footsteps of his mother, Katherine Graham, who led the newspaper following her husband Philip Graham’s passing in 1963. In 1991, Donald Graham took over leadership as chief executive officer of the Washington Post Co.

Commencement 2017 Nunez and BabyIn 2013, Graham and his wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Amanda Bennett, joined Carlos Gutierrez, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and Henry R. Munoz III, chairman of Munoz & Company, to co-found TheDream.US, a national scholarship fund that helps undocumented immigrant youth get access to a college education. Since its founding, TheDream.US has raised $91 million in scholarship funds, providing financial support to 1,700 college students nationwide. Graham also co-founded and served as chairman of the District of Columbia College Access Program; he remains a member of the board.  The program has helped double the number of District of Columbia public high school students going on to college and has helped triple the number graduating from college.

Commencement 2017 Nunez Shakes HandOther speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Nunez; Matt Fleury, chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education; Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and University System; and Senior Class President Abigail Caselli, 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.

Commencement 2017 BEST BalloonNunez told the graduates she was confident they would impact the world in three ways,  first as professionals in the workforce, equipped with “. . . a highly desired set of skills” sought by the majority of American employers — “analytical thinking, teamwork and communication skills, the broad intellectual and social competencies available through a liberal arts education.” Nunez also urged the graduates to give back to their communities, quoting Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, who once said, “Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.”

Waving BESTLastly, Nunez encouraged the Eastern seniors to “. . . exercise your duties and rights as American citizens. Our nation remains a beacon of freedom and a guiding light for other nations to follow, not because of our military might or our economic power, but because of the political, religious and personal freedoms we enjoy.”

Commencement 2017 Four LadiesNoting those freedoms must be protected, Eastern’s president went on to say, “Being a citizen of this great nation is clearly an investment of time, but it is the only way we can protect the freedoms we hold dear. Never abdicate your responsibilities as a citizen to someone else.  Be willing to question the status quo.  And stand up for the values you believe in.”

Commencement 2017 FamiliesMore 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 163 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.

Commencement 2017 Student PresidentSenior Class President Abigail Caselli presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez — an annual Class of 2017 scholarship — and thanked her classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. “To a room filled with the next great doctors, nurses, actors and actresses, genetic counselors, presidents of universities, human resource managers and professors, just to name a few of the success stories to be written about my fellow graduates, I encourage you to use the opportunities that Eastern has given you and make the world around you better.  As someone once said, ‘Service is the highest form of leadership.’ May each of you find and share that leadership within you.”

Matt Fleury, president and CEO of the Connecticut Science Center, spoke on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education. “Today is a significant milestone for you,” he said. “We are proud of your accomplishments and applaud the many sacrifices you have made to get here. Your journey to this point was not easy, but for that reason, it is so much more satisfying. Whatever path you have chosen, you can make a difference.”Commencement 2017 SelfiesMark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, also spoke to the graduates. “You have come a very long way since the first day you arrived at Eastern,” said Ojakian. “Life will take you in many different directions after you leave here tonight. The road in front of you is undefined. But I am hopeful that our state and our nation will be in a better place — as you become your future.”Commencement 2017 Christina

Commencement 2017 Foot GuardFrom 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 Eastern’s Commencement traditions.

Commencemetn 2017 SingersUniversity Senate President Maryanne Clifford presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Abigail Perreira and Kristin Uschkureit sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Leigha Grushkin gave the invocation; and Environmental Earth Science Professor Peter Drzewiecki was recognized as the 2017 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

Dining Hall Institutes Programs to Eliminate Food Waste

dining hall shotWith the cooperation of students, faculty and staff, Eastern Connecticut State University’s Hurley Dining Hall has taken steps to help eliminate waste by cutting back on the trash that the dining hall produces each day.

The first step was the elimination of trays. In the past, students grabbed a tray and loaded as much food on as many plates as they wanted. Over the past two years trays have been removed, forcing students to take only the food they can carry. “This was a good move for us,” said Jeffrey Kwolek, senior director of dining services. “Students were wasting full plates of food because they thought they were that hungry. Now not as much food is wasted.”

The second step the dining services took was the “Food Recovery Program,” which repurposes leftover food. “I don’t like to see food thrown away,” said Kwolek. “We have a leftover rack that at the end of the day would just get tossed, so I thought why not let someone else eat it.”

Eastern has a strong partnership with the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic; students, faculty, sports teams and other Eastern community members volunteer their time to help those in need at the kitchen. Now, Hurley Hall has partnered with the Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE) to arrange for the leftover food to be repurposed and sent to the soup kitchen twice a week. “More than 400 portions of food are sent every week,” said Kwolek. “This has definitely made a positive impact. Our wasted food isn’t going into the trash anymore; it’s going to people who can use it.”

The last program Hurley is participating in is a “Compositing Program.” This program is used to turn the waste that Hurley generates into energy and fuel. Instead of the trash being sent to waste management systems it is being sent to the Bio Power Plant in Southington CT.

“It’s important we do as much as we can to become a good partner with the community,” said Kwolek. “The programs we are trying are good ways to support that.”

 

The Courant Names Eastern a 2016 Top Workplace

Written by Michael Rouleau

Top Places LogoWillimantic, CT — For the fifth time in the past six years, the Hartford Courant has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University in its “Top Workplaces” survey. With 961 employees, Eastern ranked fourth in the “large” category, and was the only higher education institution to be recognized among 61 organizations in Hartford, Middlesex, Tolland, Windham and New London counties. Results were published on Sept. 18 in the Hartford Courant.

Surveys were administered on behalf of the Courant by WorkplaceDynamics LLP, a research and consulting firm that has compiled top employer lists for some of the nation’s largest media outlets. Rankings were based on confidential survey results completed by employees of the participating organizations.
The survey included 24 statements, with employees asked to assess each one on a scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” Topics included organizational direction, workplace conditions, effectiveness, managers and compensation. Each company was assigned a score based on a formula.
Survey statements included: “This company operates by strong values and ethics”; “I have confidence in the leader of this company”; “I have the flexibility I need to balance my work and personal life”; for example.

“We are honored to be recognized as a top workplace in Connecticut,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “While Eastern was recognized in the large organization category, our campus has always prided itself on its sense of community and for being a welcoming, inclusive environment for students, their families and the community-at-large. This announcement is a wonderful reminder that Eastern is a great workplace for our faculty and staff and I am delighted that we were among those recognized.”

Eastern Jumps Seven Places in U.S. News and World Report Rankings

Written by Ed Osborn
US News and World Report-FlagsEastern Connecticut State University moved up seven places among regional universities in the North in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 edition of “Best Colleges” to 85th overall; Eastern was also tied for 26th place among public universities on the list. The annual rankings were released on Sept. 13.

Eastern was the highest ranked university among the four Connecticut state universities, and this year’s ranking was Eastern’s best ever.

Regional universities such as Eastern are ranked on the basis of 16 criteria that include peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, admissions selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving. The North Region includes colleges and universities from New England, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

US News and World Report-Campus Scene“I am gratified to see Eastern achieve its highest ranking ever in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best Colleges report,” said Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “Our commitment to academic excellence, our focus on student engagement and the introduction of new majors have resulted in strong scores for such criteria as academic reputation, student selectivity, faculty resources and alumni giving. Students and their families turn to the Best Colleges rankings to help decide where to attend college.  These new rankings reaffirm that Eastern is providing a quality, affordable liberal arts education on our beautiful residential campus.”
US News and World Report- Residential Halls ExteriorThis year’s U.S. News and World Report rankings included reviews of 1,374 schools nationwide and are available at www.usnews.com/colleges. They will also be published in the Best Colleges 2017 Guidebook, published by U.S. News & World Report and available on newsstands on Oct. 4.

Eastern Hosts Largest Day of Giving Yet

Written by Michael Rouleau

Willimantic, Conn. – Eastern Connecticut State University hosted its busiest Thanksgiving celebration ever on Nov. 25 at the ninth annual Day of Giving. More than 620 Willimantic residents came to campus for a hot meal with all the traditional fixings, people who otherwise may not have been able to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner. In conjunction with the Day of Giving, members of the Eastern community donated 4,873 food items for local food pantries and shelters. “This goes to show that Eastern’s commitment to the community is not superficial; it’s very deep,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez.

“I don’t think there’s a nicer thing that any university could do for its community,” said retired Connecticut State Senator Edith Prague ’65. Speaking to the quality of the spread, she said, “The people get a full meal, they sit at a table with a tablecloth, they eat off nice plates and have regular silverware. I’m proud to say I graduated from Eastern.”

The Day of Giving is sponsored by Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), which partners with the Covenant Soup Kitchen and other social service agencies in Willimantic that help to promote the event and provide transportation to Eastern.

“I’m so impressed,” said Avery Lenhart, shelter manager at Willimantic’s No Freeze Shelter. “To me, this is above and beyond. I recognize a lot of the people here. It’s amazing that the doors are open and this is free for the community.”

The Day of Giving usually serves around 400 community members. This year more than 600 attended. “This is the largest crowd we’ve had,” said Kim Silcox, director of the CCE. “We just really appreciate everyone who comes out to help serve, clean, provide buses and do all things that need to happen in order to make this a happy day for everyone.”

Speaking to the relationship between Eastern and Willimantic, Silcox said, “I think people know that we’re happy to be partners, to work together. This event is just about helping people to celebrate Thanksgiving, especially for those who otherwise might not have a Thanksgiving meal.”

Eastern’s fleet of Day of Giving volunteers.

The menu included turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and squash, cranberry sauce, stuffing, rolls, salad and more. All the food was donated by Chartwells, Eastern’s food provider. “Chartwells and Eastern are intermeshed with the common theme of being community involved,” said Jason Coombs, director of food service. “We get a bigger turn out every year, which is a double-edged sword. You don’t really want the number (of people in need) to be that high. We start getting phone calls in September asking if we’re going to do it again. This shows that there’s a definite need in the community.”

Eastern students have a big role in the Day of Giving, serving food, escorting guests and cleaning up after the event. “We’re here today to give hundreds of people food to eat, to better the lives of the people in the community,” said Dajoun Jones ’18, a student leader with the CCE. “We have people here, less fortunate, who wouldn’t be able to have a Thanksgiving meal. They know they can come here and feel appreciated.”

“I come every year. It makes me happy,” said Willimantic resident Katie Ellis. “It’s wonderful what Eastern does for us. The school is important to the town.” Phillip Pisani, another community member, added, “The food is excellent. I look forward to this every year. The students are very courteous.” Annie Diaz, a local resident, said, “I’m happy. I got friends around. Seeing the people that need help, it’s a beautiful Thanksgiving.”

Recent Eastern graduate Lily Egan ’15, a former student leader with the CCE, attended the event. She has just returned from a cross country road trip, and said, “This is such a good thing to come back to. This is how I want to share the spirit and spend my Thanksgiving. The line grows longer every year, and the relationship between Eastern and the community grows stronger.”

The Day of Giving was founded by alumnus Jason Budahazy ’09 in 2007. He currently lives in California, but in his absence, his father, Jay Budahazy, attended the event. “I don’t think anybody ever anticipated this getting so huge,” said Jay Budahazy. There’s more and more of a call for it every year. This is probably the best meal some of these people will have all year. With the lines out the door, I was worried they were going to run out of food.”  Thanks to Chartwells and Eastern, food supplies did not run out.

The idea for the Day of Giving emerged from a familial competition between Budahazy and his sister, who would boast of her volunteerism at a hospital in Washington, DC. “’I can do better,’” joked his father, speaking from his son’s perspective. “People say one person can’t make a difference. I think this goes to show that yes they can.”

Eastern Graduates 1,200 Students at XL Center

Written by Ed Osborn

Hartford, CT — More than 13,000 family members and friends filled the XL Center in Hartford on Tuesday, May 12, to cheer on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,130 undergraduates and 70 graduate students received their diplomas at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 125th Commencement exercises.

Award-winning author and distinguished Eastern alumna Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ’01 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa during the Commencement Exercises, and offered remarks following presentation of her honorary degree. Adichie graduated summa cum laude from Eastern in 2001 with a degree in Communication. She was also awarded Eastern’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004.

Adichie is the author of a collection of short stories, “The Thing around Your Neck,” and three novels. Her latest novel, “Americanah,” was published in 2013, earning recognition as one of The New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year. Last month, Ms. Adichie was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

In her remarks, she told the graduates that she cherished the bachelor’s degree she received at Eastern. “You are very fortunate to have received your education at Connecticut’s public liberal arts university, where professors are keen to see you succeed.”

Adichie recalled that when she graduated 14 years ago, “I had doubts and worries. ‘What next?’ was the question on my mind. You are worried today just as I was. You should be worried, because it shows that you care.  It is okay not to have all the answers.”
In concluding her remarks, Adichie encouraged the graduates to “make an effort and speak the truth.  It is okay to say, “‘I am wrong’ or ‘I don’t know.’  Life on Earth is short.  Each moment that we are not truthful to ourselves, we are wasting our time on Earth.”

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 Dane Paracuelles; and Matthew Hicks ’15, 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.
Nunez told the audience that this year’s event was Eastern’s 125th Commencement Exercises. “Our campus has grown from four rooms to more than 50 buildings on 82 acres and a campus footprint of almost two million square feet.  In 1891, we graduated 22 students; today we have almost 1,200 graduates, and we are closing in on 30,000 alumni.”

Turning to the graduates, Nunez told them, “Our nation and the global society we live in are looking to you for leadership.  As you embark on 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.  As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote, “‘From caring comes courage.’”

“Amidst your joy and celebration, I ask you to spend some time today in reflection—please step back for a moment to think about your past four years, what you have learned, and what you are taking from Eastern as you continue your journey.”

Senior Class President Dane Paracuelles presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez—an annual Class of 2015 scholarship—and said the Commencement ceremony “symbolizes more than just earning a degree. It exemplifies the goals we have accomplished through personal growth, strength and ambition.”

David Jimenez spoke on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.  “Today is a significant milestone in your life,” he said, “for which you should be incredibly proud. Whatever path you have chosen, you can make a difference. Pursue your goals with the same dedication that brought you to this day.”

In his Senior Class Address, Matthew Hicks said, “To be here is no small feat, each of us has sacrificed a great deal of time and energy to walk across this stage.” Noting that he and his classmates had endured a challenging four years at Eastern and “have come out critical thinkers, determined activists, and dedicated leaders,” Hicks concluded his remarks by saying, “Let us enter this new (challenge) with our heads held high, ready to take what we have learned here and change the world, and most of all, let us never forget the amazing people and memories we have made while discovering who we are.”

Other graduates were reflective in describing their Eastern experiences.  English major Kathryn Shpak, a native of Oxford, CT, said her time interning for the English Department, as well as her student employment job in the Office of University Relations, helped develop her writing and editing skills, which she hopes to use in the fitness/nutrition industry.

Jonah Sanchez, from Newington, majored in business administration minored in accounting and business information systems. For the past three years, Sanchez served as a Benefits Finance intern with United Technologies. Sanchez says Eastern has helped him grow in many ways. “Being a part of and serving as president of the Organization of Latin American Students has opened up many doors for leadership and networking opportunities. Also, on campus job opportunities have been plentiful. I have worked as a resident assistant and a program assistant in the Intercultural Center. I like the fact that Eastern allows it’s students to be active and involved around the campus.” After graduation, Sanchez will begin full-time with United Technologies as an associate in the Financial Leadership Program at United Technologies.

Aaron Daley, from Bloomfield, majored in political science and minored in business information systems and pre-law. “My liberal education helped me to enhance my critical thinking skills, and built up my confidence; I now know that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to achieve.”