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Eastern Graduates 1,250 in Virtual Commencement Ceremony

Published on May 20, 2020

Eastern Graduates 1,250 in Virtual Commencement Ceremony

Eastern President Elsa Nunez

Commencement speaker Mark Boxer, executive vice president and chief information officer at Cigna

Emily Kerfoot, senior class vice president

More than 1,250 undergraduate and graduate students watched from home as Eastern Connecticut State University conducted its 130th annual Commencement Exercises via YouTube on May 19. In addition to 1,175 undergraduates, 85 graduate students received their degrees.

Amidst the turmoil of COVID-19, Commencement speaker Mark Boxer of Cigna encouraged the graduates to find ways to give back to society, turning to legendary children’s television personality Mr. Rogers for inspiration: “‘There are three ways to ultimate success — the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind, the third is to be kind.’”

Boxer joined Eastern President Elsa Núñez and other university officials on the same day the University had originally planned to hold its graduation ceremony at Hartford’s XL Center. The proceedings were delivered virtually over the University’s You Tube channel in keeping with State of Connecticut guidance banning large gatherings during the pandemic. Provost Bill Salka, University Senate President Andrew Utterback and Senior Class Vice President Emily Kerfoot also participated in the formal program.

Serving as Cigna’s executive vice president and chief information officer, Boxer said that his company’s mission to improve global health and wellness has never been more important than it is today in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  He extolled the value of higher education, recounting his own journey and telling the graduates, “The knowledge you gained here at Eastern is the fuel that will propel you to make a truly meaningful impact.”

Boxer’s parents did not have the opportunity to go to college, but he and his sister were encouraged to do so. Calling his college education “the right choice,” Boxer said, “It became the springboard for everything good in my life — personally and professionally.”  He urged the graduates to continue their quest for knowledge, noting that he had continued learning in some educational setting each year since he first graduated from college more than three decades ago.

Prior to joining Cigna in 2011, Boxer held senior executive positions with the Xerox Corporation, Anthem, Healthsource, and Hewlett Packard. He is a University of Connecticut Board Trustee and sits on the Board of the Connecticut Children's Law Center.

Class of 2020 freshman photo
The Class of 2020's freshman photo, taken four years ago during the first week of the fall 2016 semester.

Boxer earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physics from the University of Hartford. He also holds a Master of Business Administration degree in Finance from the University of Connecticut and a Master of Science degree in Information Systems from Drexel University, as well as doctorates in Health Administration from the Medical University of South Carolina and in Global Public Health from Arizona’s School of Health Sciences. 

In her charge to the graduates, President Núñez said, “Since you arrived four years ago for summer orientation, the faculty and I have been telling you that the liberal arts skills you learn at Eastern will serve you well throughout your careers and your personal lives.”

She cited critical thinking, professional communications, ethics, collaboration as competencies highly sought by U.S. employers. “Those same skills are critically needed today as we seek to get beyond COVID-19.  I know each of you has the skills and the courage to find your place in this new world, where you will keep your head on your shoulders, keep your chin up, and make a unique contribution to society . . . Go forth now with confidence, compassion, and commitment.  Come back and visit us when it is safe to do so.  In the meantime, let us know if we can help you in any way.  God Speed!”

Senior Class Vice President Emily Kerfoot gave President Núñez the class gift, a check to establish a scholarship in the name of the Class of 2020.  Kerfoot told her classmates, “As you sit with your family at home, watching this commencement, tell yourself you did it. You made it. Through all the challenges you have faced, you can be proud to be an Eastern alumnus. Be proud that you will go on in life knowing that you are going to accomplish such amazing things.

Commencement packages
Commencement packages mailed to graduates in advance of the ceremony included a diploma cover, two copies of the evening's program, and their mortarboard and tassel.

“It was a challenge, and the Class of 2020 met that challenge with courage and determination. We learned we are capable of more than we might have realized. Resilience — the ability to survive and thrive during adversity — is something we all can be proud of. As the famous physicist Albert Einstein once said, It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.’ Let’s stick to it, Class of 2020!”

More than 40 percent of the Class of 2020 are the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree. Approximately 90 percent of Eastern students are from 162 of the state’s 169 towns, with more than 80 percent of graduates staying in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families. The University also draws students from 34 other states and 19 countries.

This year’s event was videotaped in Eastern’s otherwise empty Concert Hall in the Fine Arts Instructional Center, with each speaker taping their remarks separately in keeping with safety guidelines. Even as a virtual event, the graduation ceremony maintained an atmosphere of grace and dignity, with the stage a replica of the one used at the XL Center and “Pomp and Circumstance” and “America the Beautiful” played during the proceedings. At the end of the formal program, graduates watched as their names scrolled on the screen, sharing the celebration safely at home with their families.

Prior to Commencement, the university sent each graduate their diploma cover, two copies of the evening’s program, and their mortarboard and tassel to make their family’s festivities more complete.

People unable to view the graduation ceremony on May 19 may still watch it by visiting

Written by Ed Osborn

Categories: Academics