NEW BRITAIN - Sen. Richard Blumenthal joined Central Connecticut State University faculty, including President Zulma Toro, in congratulating the graduating Class of 2017, leaving them with sage advice to take on the next step of their journey.
The university’s 168th graduation was held in the XL Center in Hartford, where friends and family members packed the seats to capacity. Live feeds of the stage and the floor played on giant screens, giving those in the far-back seats a chance to see the graduates.
Graduates were met with cheers, applause, whistles, air horns, flashing cameras and in the case of one family, giant photos of their graduate’s face on sticks waved at them. Several graduates called their parents on their cell phones while their classmates were still filing in, with the screens capturing glittery messages written on their caps. “That’s All Folks,” one cap read while another featured a picture of the Power Rangers with the caption “It’s graduation time.” One student’s cap was decorated simply with “Viacom, Hire Me!”
During the ceremonial proceedings, graduates bounced beach balls back and forth among their seats, seemingly unable to restrain their excitement. Frequent chants of “C-C-S-U!” showed their school pride.
Susan E. Pease, interim provost and vice president of academic affairs, welcomed the graduates and presided over the ceremony.
“More than 2,500 undergraduate students will be receiving degrees today, 96 percent of which are Connecticut residents but 23 of which are from other states and 13 of which are from other countries,” she said. “Today is your day and you have good reason to celebrate. This is the culmination of years of struggle and sacrifice.”
Pease spoke of two graduates in particular.
Southington resident Paul Small’s mother died when he was 8, and he was abandoned by his father. Despite this rough start, he found discipline, she said, by working with his football coaches. He later entered the Marines and served for two tours in Afghanistan over five years. A history and political science major, he was a member of the veterans’ organization on campus and will be attending law school this fall.
Christopher Marinelli, of Plainville, was nine when he and his sister were put into foster care. After struggling at home and in school, he received guidance from Jeff Blanchette, the high school drama teacher. He received a state grant to attend college for three years at Tunxis Community College and then attended CCSU. He majored in journalism with a minor in linguistics and became the editor of the student newspaper as well as a social activist.
“As I walk down the aisle what I see is America in all of its diversity of races, religions and backgrounds,” said Blumenthal as he took the podium. “If anyone has any question as to the greatness of America they should come to Central and see the class of 2017.”
Blumenthal called CCSU a “paragon of learning in America” and promised to fight for free tuition and debt free college.
Later, class President Erica Ostrowski congratulated her graduating peers and said that after four years many of them had become like family to her.
“College brings happiness, determination, lots and lots of stress and occasionally sadness,” she said. “Be mindful of who you spend your moments with and what you spend your moments doing. Every day is a new start. As you sit there reminiscing about your time in college I ask you to stop, pause, listen to the silence in the air and live in the moment. We all earned it. Congratulations.”
School President Toro then spoke to the class.
“We are celebrating your achievement of an important milestone,” she said. “For some of you, you are the first members of your families to graduate from college. Others struggled to balance work and other responsibilities. Some of you came in as teenagers with no clue about the world and are now leaving as adults with clear professional goals. Central has transformed you and will continue to have an impact on your lives.”
Toro said the graduates were now among the 33 percent of the U.S. population to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. She also encouraged students to help shape their communities, be tolerant of differences of opinion, advocate for diversity and treat everyone with kindness and dignity.
“You can create your own path to success,” she said. “You can create your own destiny. Each one of us is different and has our own personal struggles. Life is too short so I encourage you to enjoy your personal and professional endeavors. I offer you my best wishes for a happy, successful and professional journey. Congratulations.”
Finally, students were invited to stand up and one by one receive their degrees.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at or .