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Eastern graduates 958 at 2022 Commencement Exercises

Published on May 18, 2022

Eastern graduates 958 at 2022 Commencement Exercises

CRT’s Lena Rodriguez gives commencement address

Happy Graduates
Eastern returned to the XL Center on May 17 for its 2022 undergraduate commencement ceremony.

Eastern Connecticut State University returned to the XL Center in Hartford, CT, on May 17, for the first time in three years to hold graduation exercises. Looking out at the graduates and upwards of 10,000 guests, commencement speaker Lena Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Community Renewal Team in Hartford, said, “The pride and joy emanating in this XL Center is exhilarating. From here I see a sea of happiness and anticipation!” 

Lena Rodriguez
Commencement speaker Lena Rodriguez, CEO of the Community Renewal Team 

A total of 958 undergraduates received their degrees at Eastern’s 132nd Commencement Exercises, with 590 in the School of Arts and Sciences and 368 in the School of Education and Professional Studies.

More than 30 percent of the undergraduates 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, with approximately 85 percent of graduates staying in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Rodriguez offered the graduates words of wisdom regarding four important personal attributes — perseverance, courage, confidence and service. “Know that you will fail at something, at some point — we all do . . . but you must rise and persevere. Learn from failure and move on.”  Rodriguez quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, who wrote: “. . . look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”

The commencement speaker also told the graduates that Eastern had prepared them well for their journey. “Take every skill you have acquired throughout these four years, place them in your personal toolbox, and lead with confidence and courage, as you are prepared.”

Finally, Rodriguez acknowledged the work that Eastern students perform in the local Willimantic community — providing more than 200,000 hours of service since the University opened the Center for Community Engagement in 2009. Noting that CRT has more than 800 volunteers who donate more than 50,000 hours of service to the Greater Hartford community each year, she said, “The gift of service is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. Through service, we discover and live our values. When you climb the ladder of success, lower the ladder, and stretch out your hand to help someone else climb up.”

Make A Wish Fountain
Graduates continue an Eastern tradition by tossing a penny into a fountain and making a wish, commemorating a chapter of new beginnings and the start of future success. 

Rodriguez also received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises.  As CEO and president of CRT, she has led a range of large-scale, innovative programs created to support people in need in Greater Hartford, including CRT Generations, a housing development in Hartford for grandparents with legal custody of their grandchildren; Veterans Crossing, a transitional residence for homeless veterans in East Hartford; and The Retreat, an assisted living facility in Hartford for low-income seniors. CRT’s Behavioral Health Services unit and Women’s Empowerment Center are other examples of CRT’s services in the community. Prior to joining CRT, Rodriguez was director of finance in the New York City Board of Education’s Division of Special Education. 

Elsa Nunez
Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Other speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Holly Howery of the Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Karina Torres, senior class president, who also presented President Núñez with the class gift.

Núñez gave her charge to the assembled graduates, telling them, “Tonight is a time for new beginnings . . . Each of you has a dream, talents you were born with. Your Eastern education has honed those talents and prepared you for the world ahead.  Grasp your future with both hands.

“Be prepared to adjust your grip. Wake up each day committed to grow, to learn more, to make a difference in the world.  Do all of this with a smile and the confidence that you can succeed.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of New England’s greatest philosophers wrote almost 200 years ago, ‘Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.’”

 Senior Class President Torres described a visit to campus in spring 2018 when she was introduced to an enthusiastic faculty member as a defining experience: “That was the moment I knew I wanted to come to Eastern in hopes that it was full of individuals like Dr. Switchenko, who were not only dedicated to their fields, but also committed to working toward the success of those around them . . . The world is an unpredictable place and all I can say is take it day by day. It is up to each of us to be in charge of our journey . . . find your voice. Use that voice in your next chapter to speak up for what you believe in . . . Let’s use our newfound voices to fight for what’s right and make it a better place.”

Karina Torress
Senior Class President Torres

Regent Howery called the graduates “the future of Connecticut,” and said the graduation event was “a unique commencement because of everything our students have done to this point — and your support network has been more important than ever in recent years. Today is a significant milestone in achieving your higher education goals, and the Board of Regents could not be prouder of your hard-earned success.”

Video greetings were shared on the Jumbotron from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal; Board of Regents Chair Matt Fleury; and Terrence Cheng, 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 A.M. LaPointe; and other Eastern officials.

The return to the XL Center included several Eastern commencement traditions, ranging from the colorful Governor’s Foot Guard in attendance to the opening musical stylings of the Thread City Brass Quintet. Graduates also tossed a penny into a special fountain in keeping with the University’s “Make a Wish” tradition. Seniors Emily Gillespie, Nina Griffin, Sarah Potter and Samantha Warshauer sang “America the Beautiful.”  A new twist to Commencement was a special composition by Eastern’s World Percussion Ensemble, which was performed as the platform party processed in.

Grand Marshal Andrew Utterback presided over the commencement exercises; senior Cristhian Rodriguez gave the invocation; and History Professor Caitlin Carenen was recognized as the 2022 Distinguished Professor.

Written by Ed Osborn