Eastern Alumna Salutes Inclusive Excellence Award Winners

On May 9, Eastern recognized more than 100 students with a 3.5 cumulative grade point average or higher, and an additional 11 students who have demonstrated exemplary co-curricular engagement at the University’s Seventh Annual Inclusive Excellence Student Awards Ceremony. The ceremony recognized the achievements of African, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) students at Eastern.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez said the ceremony was not just about inclusion, but also spoke to the University’s other core values of academic excellence, integrity, social responsibility, engagement and empowerment. “It is important for each of you to stand tall and be proud of who you are and what you are capable of. Never, ever, ever let anyone attempt to diminish your worth or your talents.

“Today’s honorees join thousands of other successful Eastern alumni who are making their own personal contributions out in the real world, including our guest speaker today, Dr. Kawami Evans. Today, we show respect and celebrate the accomplishments of students who too often have been forgotten in the past.  Thank you for being part of this celebration; to our honorees, congratulations.  We are very proud of you.”

Keynote speaker Evans ’97 serves as associate director at the Center for African Diaspora Student Success at the University of California at Davis. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history and social science at Eastern, her Master of Education in educational policy and research administration from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a doctorate in educational management and leadership from Drexel University.

Evans encouraged the students to use their curiosity and optimism to persevere through unseen psychological struggles that can become their staunchest challenges. She said many high- achieving students fall prey to chasing individual achievements, accolades or material gain as their goal, even confusing their self-worth with what they can accomplish.

“This is dangerous; it can lead to anxiety and depression. Don’t let this be your reality or focus,” said Evans. “Who you are is what we are celebrating today. All the earned accolades you are receiving are but a byproduct of the brilliance within you . . . You are the promise of our ancestors’ prayers and walk with the wisdom and swag of those who have grit, resilience, the social and emotional intelligence, curiosity and hope.”

Evans told the students the most important element they need to resurrect in discussing their future success is their spirituality, ways in which students discover their destiny — answers to the big questions of who they are, what is their life purpose and how do they make difference in the world.

“Much of the world right now is relegated to systems and polices. We have to raise the bar with our vision of what’s possible,” Evans said. “It will take hard work, community, love, bravery, unrelentless effort and celebration.  I sincerely believe that we can create a world that works for all.”

A total of 280 students qualified for an Academic Excellence Award with a 3.5 cumulative GPA or higher, and more than 100 of them were able to attend the May 9 event. During the ceremony, several students received service awards. Adrianna Arocho and Mayra Santos Acosta was presented the Volunteer Service Award; Aiyana Ward, the Athletic Excellence Award; Kimberly Allen and Sommer Bachelor, the Career Development Award; Jenilee Antonetty, the Resident Assistant Diversity Impact Award; Rafael Aragon, the Residential Community Leadership Award; Tristan Perez, the Social Justice Advocacy Award; Emma Costa, the Inspirational Leadership Award; Ishah Azeez, the Resilient Warrior Award; Kimberly Allen and Vishal Jungiwalla, the Advisor’s Choice Award; and the Freedom at Eastern Club, the Building Bridges Award.

By Dwight Bachman

Eastern Graduates 1,250 Students at XL Center

Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba

Hartford, CT — Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, told the 1,259 graduates at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 129th Commencement to “Allow yourself the faith to ‘dream ahead’ as you embrace the next chapter in your journey.” Noting that college graduates have greater job security, live longer and have greater social mobility, Malerba told the graduates that they had made “a smart decision” in pursuing their educational dreams.

The annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 21, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,175 undergraduates and 84 graduate students received their diplomas.

Malerba told the graduates “Your education has just begun, as you have ‘birthed’ a career that will only grow and mature over time.” She also reminded graduates to set aside time for the “keepers of your heart” — family and friends who share life’s challenges. “When you meet others on the path of life, offer a kind word, encourage someone, comfort someone, and celebrate someone’s joy.”

The commencement speaker also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises. 

Malerba was appointed the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe in August 2010, becoming the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. She previously was chair of the tribal council and executive director of health and human services for the tribal government.

Prior to her leadership roles in the Mohegan Tribe, Malerba served as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice from Yale University and her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Connecticut.

In addition to a distinguished career as a registered nurse and her leadership positions with the Mohegan Tribe, Malerba is also a national advocate of health issues and the welfare of Native Peoples. She serves in a number of national roles, including positions with the Federal Indian Health Services; the U.S. Department of Justice; and the National Institutes of Health.

Other speakers at the Commencement exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Merle Harris, vice-chair of the

President Elsa Núñez

Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System. Additional members of the platform party included Justin Murphy ’98, president of the ECSU Foundation; Father Laurence LaPointe; and other Eastern officials.

“The most important lesson I hope you have learned at Eastern is the knowledge that our great American democracy is only great because of the involvement and participation of our citizens,” said Núñez. “Being a citizen means debating the issues with your friends and in public forums — wherever you get a chance to voice your opinion. Most importantly, be willing to say no to whatever doesn’t feel right.

“You have learned how to think critically on our campus. You have learned how to ask questions, conduct research and analyze the results.  Do this in your workplace, in your community, and as a citizen of our great country.  I know you can do it . . . and I am counting on you to do so.  We need your enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge more than ever.”

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 160 of the state’s 169 towns, with approximately 85 percent of graduates staying in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Michael Theriault (right)

Senior Class President Michael Theriault presented the Senior Class Gift to President Núñez — an annual Class of 2019 scholarship — and thanked his classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. He recalled registering for classes in the early morning hours, “trying to stay silent on the third floor of the library” and Thursday night pancakes. Looking to the future, Theriault said the arena floor was a sea of graduation caps, but “While they may look the same from the outside, the reality is that we all will wear different hats. Some of us will go on to be future educators and make differences in the lives of students. Others will become journalists, historians, psychologists, broadcasters and so much more. No matter what hat you will wear, we will all be Eastern Warriors now and forever.”

In speaking on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, Vice-Chair Merle Harris reminded the audience that “commencement” means “beginning.” She told the graduates they “have gained the skills needed to make wise decisions. . .” and were ready to “make your community, our state, and our nation a better place. I am gratified that I can greet you tonight as you begin the next phase of your life’s journey.”

CSCU President Ojakian also offered remarks. Pointing to the “transformational academic journey you have just completed,” he called the graduates “change agents for the future and the next generation of leaders.” Ojakian went on to say, “Connecticut needs bright, talented individuals to stay here, fill the jobs of the 21st century, purchase homes, and raise their families here in the state. Connecticut needs your creativity, your entrepreneurial spirit and your ingenuity. You are the future of Connecticut — and because of that, Connecticut’s future is bright.”

From the colorful Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard in attendance, to the piercing 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 reflected Eastern’s longstanding Commencement traditions.

University Senate President Andrew Utterback presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Andrew Hofmann, Tiara Lussier, Austin Stone, Ryan Michaud and Sara Ann Vega sang “America the Beautiful”; senior Shawn Ray Dousis gave the invocation; and Environmental Earth Science Professor Dickson Cunningham was recognized as the 2019 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

Written by Ed Osborn

Lavender Graduation Honors LGBTQ Seniors

The fourth annual Lavender Graduation was held on May 9 to recognize seniors who exemplify the values of Eastern Connecticut State University and support the campus’s LGBTQ+ community. Emma Costa, Shannon Carroll, Rebecca Cyr, Angelique Greenberg, Priscilla Leon, Rebecca Loh, Paige Matheson, Bria Nicole Prentice and Zac Troiano were all recognized. In addition, Cyr received the LGBTQ+ Campus Community Award, while Prentice received the Academic Excellence Award.Julia Golden-Battle, assistant dean of student affairs at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, was the keynote speaker. Golden-Battle was the first queer person of color to create a national Trans and Queer Person of Color safe training program.

Eastern’s Pride Center — expanded in 2016 — continues to provide leadership in advancing awareness sand support of LGBTQ+ issues on campus. In addition to seeing an increase in Pride Center visitors, the center sponsored a range of programs this past year, including participation in National Coming Out Day, International Pronouns Day, and the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Events specific to Eastern included a World Aids Day lecture, a Transgender Day of Visibility panel discussion attended by CSCU President Mark Ojakian, and Rainbow Connections, an open mike night that takes place three times each semester.

The Lavender Graduation was instituted by Ronni Sanlo in 1995 and is now celebrated by more than 100 colleges and universities across the country.

Mohegan Tribal Chief Named Eastern’s Commencement Speaker

 Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, will be the Commencement Speaker at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 129th Commencement Exercises on May 21 at the XL Center in Hartford. Malerba will also receive an honorary doctorate degree at the ceremonies.

Malerba has achieved an exemplary career in the health care and tribal governance fields. Not only has she served her community with distinction, she has brought national recognition to the State of Connecticut.

Chief Mutáwi Mutáhash (Many Hearts) Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba became the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe on August 15, 2010, and is the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. The position is a lifetime appointment made by the tribe’s council of elders. She previously served as chairwoman of the tribal council and was also executive director of health and human services for the tribal government.

Prior to her work for the Mohegan Tribe, Chief Malerba had a distinguished career as a registered nurse and served as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Yale University and was named a Jonas Scholar. She holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Connecticut, and has an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford.

Chief Malerba has achieved a national reputation as an advocate and supporter of health issues and the welfare of Native Peoples. She is chairwoman of the Tribal Self-Governance Advisory Committee of the Federal Indian Health Services; is a member of the U.S. Justice Department’s Tribal Nations Leadership Council; serves on the Tribal Advisory Committee for the National Institute of Health; is a member of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Tribal Advisory Committee; and serves as a technical expert on the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. She also serves as the United South and Eastern Tribes board of directors secretary, and is a member of the board of directors for the Ms. Foundation for Women.

In Connecticut, Chief Malerba serves as a trustee for Chelsea Groton Bank, as a board member for the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, as an advisory committee member for the Harvard University Native American Program and served on the board of directors for Lawrence Memorial Hospital for 11 years.

More than 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students will receive their diplomas at Eastern’s graduation exercises on May 21, with an audience of more than 10,000 family and friends expected. In addition to Malerba, dignitaries expected to attend include Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System; and Merle Harris, vice-chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.

Written by Ed Osborn

Eastern’s Walter Diaz Wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Walter Diaz, vice president for student affairs at Eastern Connecticut State University

Written by Ed Osborn

WILLIMANTIC, CT (12/10/2018) The Connecticut Association of Latinos in Higher Education (CALAHE) presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to Walter Diaz, vice president for student affairs at Eastern Connecticut State University, at the CALAHE annual meeting on Dec. 7 at the University of Hartford.

The award was given in recognition of Diaz’s commitment to CALAHE’s mission and for his dedication to helping students achieve their academic potential.

Diaz has served Eastern in a variety of capacities since arriving on campus in July 1999. In addition to serving as the director of career services, he also served for two and a half years as acting director of the Office of Housing and Residential Life, before becoming the dean of students in 2010.

He has more than 30 years of higher education experience, having also served at Tunxis Community College, Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering, SUNY’s Institute of Technology, and the University of Connecticut, before coming to Eastern.

In his various capacities at Eastern, Diaz has implemented a number of innovative programs, including Haven training on sexual misconduct; “Tell Somebody,” a campaign to improve the reporting of student behavioral concerns; the Academic Performance Notification System; the Occupancy Management Group, which increased retention and occupancy rates for on-campus housing; the Warriors’ Cup to promote the campus culture; Friday After Dark, which provides weekend activities for resident students; the Priority Points System for preferred housing; and an expanded Cultural Calendar that has seen a 50 percent increase in diversity and social justice programs.

In addition to his administrative duties, Diaz is known around campus for his commitment to students. He has mentored hundreds of students as an advisor to the MALES and OLAS student clubs and through his support of the Unity Wing, STEP/CAP, and other University initiatives. Diaz has also provided leadership on a number of University committees, including as chair of the Enrollment Management Committee, the Professional Development Committee, and the SUOAF Minority Mentoring and Recruitment Committee.

He is also active in national organizations associated with student affairs professionals, including the American Association of Latinos in Higher Education; NASPA, the national association for student affairs administrators in higher education; and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. More locally, Diaz was a member of the Latino Endowment Fund of the Hartford Foundation of Public Giving, and is past vice president of CALAHE.

Diaz earned his bachelor’s degree at Central Connecticut State University, his master’s degree at the University of Connecticut, and his doctorate at Johnson & Wales University. In 2016, he completed a fellowship with the New Leadership Academy, coordinated by the University of Michigan on behalf of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education and the National Center for Institutional Diversity.

ScholarMatch Recognizes Eastern’s Support of Low-Income Students

Written by Ed Osborn

Eastern Connecticut State University was recognized by ScholarMatch as one of the standout colleges in the United States providing support for first-generation and low-income students. ScholarMatch is a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization founded in 2010 by author Dave Eggers. Its mission is to make higher education possible for young people from modest backgrounds.

Each year, ScholarMatch analyzes 1,400 U.S. colleges and universities, using public data and information from College Scorecard, to determine which schools offer the most supportive environments for students whose families earn less than $50,000 per year. ScholarMatch publishes its findings in its College Honor Roll, which recognizes 375 schools that are offering robust student support and are achieving excellent outcomes for this student population.

ScholarMatch also features schools recognized on its College Honor Roll in ScholarMatcher, the free interactive college search tool created by ScholarMatch to help underserved student populations find their best fit college in just a few simple clicks. Read more about ScholarMatch at www.scholarmatch.org.

Summer Fellowships Delve into Industrial Psych, Music Performance

Among her percussion instruments, Emily Miclon trained with the marimba during her summer fellowship.

Two Eastern students participated in Undergraduate Research/Creative Activity (UGRCA) Fellowships this summer, which are intensive research experiences on the Eastern campus that pair students with faculty mentors. Psychology major Kelly Bielonko ‘18 conducted a project on employee support groups while music major Emily Miclon ‘18 prepared for advanced percussion performance.

Bielonko partnered with Professor Peter Bachiochi to execute her study titled “The Relationship Between Employee Resource Groups and Occupational Health Outcomes.” She has prior experience as a research assistant in Bachiochi’s industrial and organizational (I/O) psychology lab. I/O psychology focuses on human behavior in relation to work.

Bielonko attended the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology conference this past April in Chicago.

“I became personally interested in I/O psychology over a year ago when I realized we spend nearly one-third of our lives working,” said Bielonko. “I’ve always been one for statistical representations or nuanced ways of looking at everyday occurrences, and this one hit home. Workplace behavior and health are very interesting topics that are often overlooked, yet they are a critical component of any successful business infrastructure.

“Within any workplace, there are a variety of backgrounds, from gender to race, ethnicity, religion, talent, disability and more,” she added. “The question is, how can an employer support such a diverse workforce?”

Miclon, on the other hand, partnered with Music Professor Jeff Calissi on a project titled “The Preparation and Performance of Advanced Percussion Repertoire.” Their research included preparing advanced pieces of music on marimba, snare drum and timpani.

“Throughout the program, I had intensive lessons that focused on performance practice, with the goal of preparing me as a musician for performance and competition,” said Miclon. “This advanced repertoire — including transcription works — helped me properly understand how to approach the instruments in a musically effective manner to be presented in front of audiences.

“I believe this will help my contribution to the ensembles I play with at Eastern,” she continued. “Musical performances can unite people and communities, and I hope that I can use my skills to impact others.”

With each fellowship experience came different goals, ranging from personal development to enhancing the lives of others. Miclon, for instance, wants to move on with increased confidence as a performer.

“Musical performance can be a vulnerable thing,” she said, “and I hope to not only feel comfortable taking on challenges in my musical career, but also to feel more comfortable presenting myself as a musician.”

Bielonko noted the possibility of refining workplace environments through her analysis, calling attention to the effectiveness of employee support groups (ERGs). “Not feeling supported by an organization can lead to negative outcomes for both employer and employee. We want individuals to feel happier and healthier in their place of work, and we hope to highlight with our study that the conceptual framework of an ERG can enhance everybody’s experience.”

She also acknowledged her own professional growth. “Going through the entire grant and fellowship process, along with generating an I/O research study from beginning to end, has allowed me to better understand the life of a psychology researcher in academia. The ultimate goal is to publish and present our findings at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology conference next spring.”

Miclon concluded, “Working closely with faculty over an extended period of time is an incredible opportunity. Professors at Eastern are so willing to spend time doing research with students, and it’s amazing that the school provides opportunities like this fellowship.”

Those selected for the competitive UGRCA fellowships each receive a stipend of $1,000 and $250 to be used for their projects or travel to present/exhibit their projects. Students and faculty members must apply as a pair.

Written by Jordan Corey

Eastern is Top School in New England for NCUR Participation

• Eastern student Yohan Krumov ’18 presents “Divided Attention and Learning Without Awareness” at NCUR 2018.

Eastern Connecticut State University was New England’s most prolific representative at this year’s National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). Held April 4-7 at the University of Central Oklahoma, the conference was among the premier gatherings in all of U.S. academia, with more than 3,500 students representing more than 460 colleges and universities from across the country. Remarkably, Eastern was the 12th institution in terms of participation, with 45 students presenting research – the most in all of New England.

Of the top 12 schools, only four have student bodies of 6,000 or below – Eastern’s enrollment is a modest 5,300. The rest range from 9,000 to 35,000 students, and two of them are based in Oklahoma. In the past five years, Eastern has sent more than twice as many students to NCUR as all other Connecticut schools combined.

“Undergraduate research is clearly a strength of Eastern,” said Carlos Escoto, psychology professor and director of Eastern’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity. “We had students from 15 different departments represented and the majority of presenters were students outside of the university’s Honors Program.”

Departments ranged from Environmental Earth Science to Music, Economics to Health Science, Mathematics to Visual Arts. Research topics included global water shortages; media and mental illness stigma; childhood poverty and educational outcomes; non-drug therapies and cancer patients; political rhetoric; and much more.

• Eastern student Elizabeth Hilton ’18 presents “Sleep Hygiene, Psychological Distress and Acceptability of Sleep Hygiene Practices in College Students” to a packed room at NCUR 2018.

Escoto continued: “This ranking, coupled with our first Goldwater Scholar (Jacob Dayton ’18), a second Fulbright award recipient in two years (Adam Murphy ’18), and many more students succeeding in the realm of research, speaks to the quality of instruction and faculty mentorship at Eastern.”

Reflecting on her experience at the 2017 NCUR conference in Memphis, TN, communication major Olivia Godin ’19 said, “Presenting at NCUR has been one of the most valuable experiences in my collegiate career. I was able to give an oral presentation to several students and professors about my research, which discussed the differences between how men and women communicate – a project I spent several months working on with my advisor.”

“Learning to conduct research is a major component of a liberal arts education,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “That is why Eastern is committed to supporting our undergraduate students so they can conduct research and present it at regional and national conferences. We know that students who are engaged in applied learning activities such as research projects get better grades and graduate at higher rates.”

The National Conference on Undergraduate Research was established in 1987. From a pool of several thousand applicants, students are accepted into the conference if their research demonstrates a unique contribution to their field of study. NCUR offers undergraduates the opportunity to present their research findings to peers, faculty and staff from colleges and universities across the nation, providing a unique networking and learning opportunity.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Named a 2018 College of Distinction

WILLIMANTIC, CT (06/18/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University has been recognized as a 2018-19 College of Distinction by the college-guide/ranking organization Colleges of Distinction.

The organization praised Eastern for its student-centered approaches and high-impact educational practices. High-impact practices of note include Eastern’s community-based learning programs, intensive writing courses, living-learning communities for residents, undergraduate research, internships and other hands-on learning experiences.

“We are absolutely thrilled to recognize Eastern Connecticut State University as a College of Distinction for its effective dedication to student success,” said Tyson Schritter, CEO for Colleges of Distinction. “Colleges of Distinction is so impressed with Eastern’s curriculum, which is enriched with the kind of high-impact educational practices that are most crucial for student development. Such innovative engagement is preparing the next generation of young adults to thrive after college.”

Colleges of Distinction’s selection process consists of a review of each institution’s freshman experience and retention efforts alongside its general education programs, alumni success, strategic plan, student satisfaction and more. Schools are accepted on the basis that they adhere to the Four Distinctions: Engaged Students, Great Teaching, Vibrant Community and Successful Outcomes.

“Colleges of Distinction is far more than a ranking list of colleges and universities,” said Schritter. “We seek out the schools that are wholly focused on the student experience, constantly working to produce graduates who are prepared for a rapidly changing global society. Again recognized as a College of Distinction, Eastern Connecticut State University stands out in the way it strives to help its students to learn, grow and succeed.”

Top U.S. Mental Health Official Speaks at Eastern’s 128th Commencement

                                                                            Eastern Graduates 1,200 Students at XL Center

Written by Ed Osborn

Elinore McCance-Katz

Hartford, CT — Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), told the graduates and their families at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 128th Commencement exercises that the current opioid crisis facing the United States is “the nation’s greatest medical challenge since the AIDS epidemic of the 1990s. It is a tragedy of major proportions, and we need to work together to help those addicted get treatment and recover from this disease.”

Eastern’s annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 15, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,105 undergraduates and 85 graduate students received their diplomas.

McCance-Katz told the audience that Eastern had grown from a small college when she attended Eastern Connecticut State College in the 1970s to become “a comprehensive university that has flourished.”

The commencement speaker also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises.  She graduated magna cum laude from Eastern in 1978 with a degree in biology. Following a sterling career in medicine, psychiatry, academic achievement and public administration, McCance-Katz’s DHHS appointment in August 2017 made her the first assistant secretary-level director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

After earning her degree from Eastern, Dr. McCance-Katz went on to earn a Ph.D. at Yale University in Infectious Disease Epidemiology in 1984, and then received her M.D. from the University of Connecticut in 1987. 

After completing a residency in psychiatry, she held teaching positions at the Yale School of Medicine, Brown University, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of California in San Francisco, the University of Texas and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Prior to her HHS appointment, McCance-Katz was Chief Medical Officer of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals from 2015 to 2017, and served as professor of psychiatry and human behavior and professor of behavioral and social sciences at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University.

Describing how her professional journey had taken her from treating AIDS patients in the 1990s to her current national leadership role in treating substance abuse and mental illness, McCance-Katz described federal and state efforts to develop new recovery services and support services.  “We will turn the tide on this epidemic,” she said, urging graduates to get involved as medical professionals, nurses, counselors and social workers.

 “Be adventurous. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Be an advocate for those who have not had the advantages you have had.  There is no greater satisfaction than helping others.”

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Other speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Yvette Meléndez, vice-chairof the Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State College and Universities System. Additional members of the platform party included Justin Murphy ’98, president of the ECSU Foundation; Father Laurence LaPointe; and other Eastern officials.

Núñez told the graduates their liberal arts education at Eastern was highly prized by American employers.  “In five separate surveys conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities over the past decade, the vast majority of employers — over 90 percent! — say they are less interested in specialized job proficiencies, favoring instead analytical thinking, teamwork and communication skills — the wide-ranging academic and social competencies available through a liberal arts education.”

Núñez also urged the graduates to give back to their communities, saying, “I know that the majority of our seniors have found ways to donate their time and good will to making our community a better place to live.  Wherever you end up — in Connecticut or beyond — make sure you continue to give a portion of your time to make a difference in your community.” 

Lastly, Núñez encouraged the Eastern seniors to be active citizens as they participate in the American democratic system of self-governance. She quoted New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who has written that disagreement is “the most vital ingredient of any decent society. It defines our individuality, gives us our freedom, enjoins our tolerance, enlarges our perspectives, makes our democracies real, and gives hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere.”

“So never abdicate your responsibilities as a citizen to someone else,” said Núñez. “Be willing to question the status quo.  And stand up for the values you believe in.”

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 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.

Senior Class President Charlotte MacDonald presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez — an annual Class of 2018 scholarship — and thanked her classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. Recalling the Eastern tradition where freshmen toss a penny into a fountain on campus as they make a wish — presumably to graduate in four years — MacDonald shared her own three wishes with her classmates. “My first wish is that you go confidently in the direction of your passions . . . the education you have received at Eastern has prepared you for this.  My second wish is for you not only to better yourself but others around you. Contribute to your community, offer things you no longer use to those in desperate need, volunteer your time . . . My last wish is that you find a path to happiness. . . your willingness to conquer challenges is what will separate you from the majority.”

Meléndez, former vice president of government and community alliances for Hartford Hospital, spoke on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, expressing gratitude to all who had supported Eastern’s graduates — parents, family, friends and especially Eastern’s faculty. “Their commitment to your success is what makes this university so special. Today is a significant milestone.  We hope today is merely a catalyst for a fulfilling life as each of you pursues your goals.”

Michele Bacholle, Distinguished Professor of the Year

 

Ojakian also offered remarks, commending Eastern President Núñez, her administrative team and “an exceptional faculty that guided you onyour journey to get to today.  The journey is now yours. It is your own path and your own truth that will motivate you . . .  Trust your instincts . . .  You have an obligation to leave this world a better place.  Take charge!”

This year’s graduation ceremonies again reflected Eastern’s Commencement traditions, ranging from the Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard, 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. University Senate President Maryanne Clifford presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Halie Poirier, Michael Beckstein and Hannah Bythrow sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Nathan Cusson gave the invocation; and French Professor Michèle Bacholle was recognized as the 2018 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.