Written by Ed Osborn
Eastern Graduates 1,238 at XL Center
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?’”
The 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.
In 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.
Other 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.
Nunez 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.”
Lastly, 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.” Noting 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.”
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 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.”
Mark 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.”
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 Eastern’s Commencement traditions.
University 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.