NEW BRITAIN - Central Connecticut State University presented more than 2,800 graduate and undergraduate students with their degrees at the XL Center in Hartford Saturday.
The morning ceremony was for students from the Ammon College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and the School of Engineering, Science, and Technology. The afternoon ceremony was for the School of Education and Professional Studies and the School of Business.
Gov. Ned Lamont was the keynote speaker for the morning ceremony, having been appointed distinguished professor of political science and philosophy at the school in 2006. He is still listed on the school’s faculty as an adjunct professor.
CCSU President Zulma Toro presented him with the CCSU President’s Medal, which is awarded “to persons who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and service” to the university.
Connecticut may not have natural resources like natural gas or silicon, Lamont told the graduates,“but we have the best trained, the best educated work force in the world.”
He recalled that when he first graduated he moved up to the small town of Ludlow, Vermont, which was recovering after its main employer, General Electric, left town. As a newspaper editor, he covered the town “pulling itself up by its bootstraps, one small business at a time, one new family moving back at a time, people looking out for each other, like a barn raising.”
“I feel this is a state with the wind at its back, stepping up, ready to go,” Lamont said. “This is a state of great opportunity. There are tens of thousands of really good jobs, we need you.”
Kimberly Gonzalez, who was graduating from CCSU’s newest doctoral program, the Doctorate in Nurse Anesthesia Practice, spoke on behalf of the morning graduate students.
Helena Swanson, who received her bachelor of arts in psychological science, spoke for the undergraduates.
“It is easy to worry about the mountain of journeys that lie ahead; however, today is the day where you should turn around and recognize the mountains you’ve climbed to get here,” she said.
The afternoon’s special guest was Scott Pioli, a 1988 CCSU graduate who played as a defensive tackle for the Central Blue Devils, went on to be a three-time Division II All-New England selection, and a 26 year career as an NFL executive, during which he won three Super Bowl rings.
Toro awarded him the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.
“I love this school more than you’ll ever realize,” Pioli said. “My life changed here. It changed because of the people, the friends, the teachers, the educators, the coaches, the roommates, the friends, who helped me grow up and become a man. I can never give back more to this university than what I’ve gotten from it, and I hope 30 years from now many of you feel the same way.”
Pioli offered three pieces of advice: “be a servant, be resilient, and be loving and graceful.”
“We all have the opportunity to serve in life, regardless of what our role is, regardless of what our position is. We can serve in the workplace, we can serve in the community, we can serve in our own homes,” he said.
As for being resilient, he described his period of epic failure, when he was fired as general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, right after witnessing the suicide of a friend - a player who had murdered his girlfriend.
“Failure is coming one day, you just don’t know when and you’ll never be prepared. Sometimes it will be a small failure, sometimes it will be epic,” he said. “I encourage you when that happens, be still, listen, pray, and move forward.”
Leah Lorraine-Zena Forlivio, who received a doctorate in Educational Leadership, spoke on behalf of graduate students at the afternoon ceremony.
She referred to a Swahili expression, “poley, poley,” meaning “slowly, slowly,” which she learned when achieved the grueling feat of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, after five days of acclimatization to reach the peak at 19,300 feet.
“The way there? By perseverance. How does one ever achieve a goal? By going poley poley,” she said.
Forlivio spoke of growing up in northern New Jersey, one of seven children to working class parents, and being the first generation of her family to attend college. Two years into college, the money ran out and she had to leave.
Eventually she landed a job tutoring English to kids, and decided to take a course to further her skills. That led her to CCSU, where she attended part-time, juggling family responsibilities, and finally after seven years graduated with a bachelor’s degree and certification to teach English.
Despite more life challenges, 10 years later she received her master’s degree in English from CCSU, and then still later her doctorate.
“For me, for my fellow graduates,” she said, “we chose to stay the course, to endure the difficulties, to make sacrifices, because we chose to stand here before you numbered in the registry for having made it. How? By going poley poley.”
Connor DeLaney, president of the Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society and who received his bachelor of science degree in marketing, spoke on behalf of the undergraduates.
He talked about how he overcame his fear of public speaking by taking a class in his senior year of high school. It taught him the value of taking himself out of his comfort zone, he said.
That included being elected leader of the Central Marketing Association and growing it from four members to becoming a top five collegiate small chapter in the country.
“I was lucky to lead such an ambitious and motivated group of students, all of whom had the same mindset: ‘We won’t stop until we are successful.’ This is what will make you stand out as a graduating Blue Devil. Every challenge you face, see it as a chance to prove yourself.”
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or email@example.com.