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Eastern graduates 890 at XL Center commencement ceremony

Published on May 17, 2023

Eastern graduates 890 at XL Center commencement ceremony

Messages of purpose and unity propel graduates beyond Eastern

Optimism and jubilation filled the XL Center in Hartford on May 16 as 890 Eastern Connecticut State University students received their degrees during the University's annual graduation ceremony. With thousands of supporters cheering in the stands, the event was a momentous occasion for the newest graduates of Connecticut's only public liberal arts university.

Of the 890 undergraduates who received degrees at Eastern's 133rd Commencement Exercises, 540 came from the School of Arts and Sciences and 350 came from the School of Education and Professional Studies.

The graduating class of 2023 is a diverse group, hailing from nearly all of Connecticut's 169 towns, 18 other states/territories and 31 foreign countries. Notably, almost 30 percent of the graduates are the first in their families to earn a bachelor's degree, and approximately 33 percent are students of color. The class also includes 125 division III student athletes.

Thomas Gibson
Commencement speaker Thomas Gibson '96

The youngest graduate in the class of 2023 is 18 years old, while the oldest is 67. The five most popular majors among the graduates are psychology, business administration, health sciences, communication and criminology.

The undergraduate class of 2023 brings the number of living Eastern alumni to approximately 40,000.

Among those alumni is commencement speaker Thomas Gibson, a 1996 graduate who is now the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Gibson received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters at the ceremony.

"It feels surreal to be standing before you today, for only a short while ago I was sitting where you are," he told the graduates.

Gibson grew up in New Haven and was the first in his family to go to college. "My time on campus was instrumental to my life trajectory," he said, reflecting on Eastern's "open and inclusive campus" and his time as a peer tutor and student orientation counselor. "I learned firsthand the transformational impact of higher education."

After graduating with a degree in communication, Gibson thought he wanted to be a news anchor and found work at a TV station, but later realized helping people achieve their education goals was his purpose. Following began a dynamic career in higher education.

"Some of you might have come to Eastern with your purpose in mind. Some of you found your purpose while you were here. Many, like me, won't discover their purpose until later in life. Discovering your purpose doesn't follow a straight path or timeline. There are twists and turns," he assured graduates.

Elsa Nunez
President Elsa Núñez

"Draw on your education (during these times), and trust that Eastern has provided you a solid foundation for your future."

Eastern President Elsa Núñez opened her remarks with a story about the great American inventor Thomas Edison, who was alleged to have said "a college education is useless."

Who dare defy the brilliant and prolific Edison but Albert Einstein, who rebutted, "The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks."

Even in the early 1900s, Núñez says this anecdote illustrates the attacks on a college education - and particularly a liberal arts education - by "those who believe they did just fine without a college degree."

While there are many successful individuals without a college education, Núñez pointed to study after study that show higher earning potential and career satisfaction for those who are college educated. Furthermore, "you are more likely to vote, more likely to serve in government, more likely to volunteer," she said. "Yes, because of your Eastern liberal arts education, you are more likely to engage in acts of civic responsibility."

In her charge to graduates, Núñez said, "If you remember nothing else I say, remember this: Use your Eastern education to do good; embrace the differences you find in others; create opportunity; stand against hate; and lift each other higher. These are truly American values!"

Nora Ammouche
Senior Class President Nora Ammouche '23

Senior Class President Nora Ammouche '23 addressed her fellow graduates with a message of unity. "We are living in a time of great division and uncertainty that sometimes may lead us to feel isolated and at odds with one another," she said.

"Achieving unity is not easy. It requires us to put aside our own biases and learn to listen to the views of others, especially when they are different from our own."

Ammouche, who is graduating with a degree in mathematics, aspires for a career in aviation with the U.S. Marine Corps. To everyone's different career paths and goals, she said, "We all have different dreams, but that doesn't mean we can't respect the choices of others and encourage each other as we embark on our different paths.

"Let us embrace the idea that we have the responsibility to support each other through whatever obstacles we may face so we can foster a society where everyone is valued and respected."

Representing the governing body of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, Ari Santiago of the Board of Regents for Higher Education commended the graduates. "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.

"We extend our heartfelt congratulations along with the hope that each of you pursue your dreams with the same dedication and perseverance that brought you to this day of success and celebration."


The Commencement Exercises kicked off with piano accompaniment by music lecturer David Ballena, followed by the processional with the Governor's Foot Guard and Eastern's World Percussion Ensemble. Graduates tossed a penny into a special fountain in keeping with the University's "Make a Wish" tradition and graduates Abigail Fletcher and Melody Sopczak sang "America the Beautiful."

Grand Marshal Stephen Ferruci presided over the ceremony; graduates Jocelin Crisantos and Breanna Macias gave the invocation; English Professor Daniel Donaghy was recognized as the 2023 Distinguished Professor; and graduates Emily Barata and Judith Arroyo Cervantes were recognized as this year's Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award recipients.

Written by Michael Rouleau