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President Harrison's Commencement Remarks

Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony

Thank you, Lucille, and welcome, everyone, to the commencement exercises for the remarkable University of Hartford class of 2015! There are approximately one thousand of you here today. All of us—members of the Board of Regents and deans and vice presidents of the University seated on stage, faculty and staff of the University, seated just before me here, and family and friends of the graduates—gather together to celebrate a major accomplishment in your lives. You have worked hard to achieve this success, you’ve been challenged and supported by some of the best teaching faculty and most dedicated staff in the world, and you have achieved success. This is a major accomplishment.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me for one large cheer for the class of 2015!

Now, may I ask all the members of the class of 2015 to get on your feet and join me in big round of applause to all of your friends and family members who have done so much to help you achieve the success we celebrate today! Let’s show them how much they mean to us!

< Finally, let me call attention to a group of graduates of the University who are celebrating their fiftieth reunion today, the Golden Hawks of the University of Hartford class of 1965. The men and women who are with us today graduated from the University when it was eight years old. Their commitment to this university was an act of faith in the future. When they graduated there were four buildings on this campus—North Cottage (what we now call Bates House); University Hall (what we now call Hillyer Hall), and the original buildings of the Hartford Art School and the Hartt School, both of which had been open for just about a year. Many of them attended classes in downtown Hartford, on Hudson Street and elsewhere. One of the members of this class, John Carson, has devoted much of his professional career to serving the University. You’ll hear more about him in a few minutes, but every member of this class has achieved great things, and we honor them all today. Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for the class of 1965!

Those of you among us who were here yesterday—those of you behind me and in front of me—know that I have been greatly impressed by the most recent book I have read, The Road to Character, by the New York Times columnist, David Brooks. In this book, Brooks argues that the most important lessons we learn in life are those that form our heart, and we learn these lessons that warm our heart by coming into contact “with people we admire and love and we consciously and unconsciously bend our lives to mimic theirs.”

To illustrate this, Brooks quotes an e-mail he received from a veterinarian named Dave Jolly:

The heart cannot be taught in a classroom intellectually, to students mechanically taking notes . . . Good, wise hearts are obtained through lifetimes of diligent effort to dig deeply within and heal lifetimes of scars . . . You can’t teach it or email it or tweet it. It has to be discovered within the depths of one’s own heart when a person is finally ready to go looking for it, and not before.

The job of the wise person is to swallow the frustration and just go on setting an example of caring and digging and diligence in their own lives. What a wise person teaches is the smallest part of what they give. The totality of their life, of the way they go about it in the smallest details, is what gets transmitted. Never forget that. The message is the person, perfected over lifetimes of effort that was set in motion by yet another wise person now hidden from the recipient by the dim mists of time. Life is much bigger than we think, cause and effect intertwined in a vast moral structure that keeps pushing us to do better, become better, even when we dwell in the most painful confused darkness.

Today we celebrate your academic, artistic, and intellectual accomplishments, but I am convinced that during your time here—from your friends and fellow classmates, from the University’s staff, and most of all from our talented and wise faculty—you have learned some of these lessons of the human heart, that will last you a lifetime. I know these character-building moments help define a University of Hartford education. Most-importantly, they are just a beginning, an invitation to live a life of purpose, a life spent serving your fellow human-beings. I am so proud of you, members of the class of 2015! I can’t wait to watch all of the good you will do with your lives!

Today we will begin by honoring some of your classmates who have distinguished themselves during their careers here and then five of our faculty members who have inspired you by their wisdom and talent and taught you some valuable lessons of the human heart. We will honor three of our alumni: Leonard Epps, who will receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award, and two alumni—John Carson and Thomas Perra, who have both spent long careers serving generations of University of Hartford students. By happy coincidence, all three of these alumni have devoted their lives to education, which defines for me one of the highest forms of service to others.

Then we will honor and listen to Caryl Stern, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, the United Nations program that has done so much to serve the most vulnerable children of the world and bring them the promise of a better life. And finally, we will hear the charge to the class by Ariella Torv.

And then we come to your turn—when we confer on each of you the degree you have earned in your years here. I wish you a lifetime of learning, and a lifetime of service to other human beings. Your lives will do credit to the University of Hartford and bring comfort and joy to generations of people around the world.

Graduate Commencement Ceremony

Thank you, Lucille, and welcome, everybody to the University of Hartford’s graduate commencement exercises. On behalf of all of the University’s faculty, staff, and alumni—and most especially on behalf of its Board of Regents—I congratulate you all on the graduate degrees or certificates you have earned and will be awarded today. Let’s begin our ceremonies today by giving a great big hand to all of our graduate degree recipients today.

I hope your graduate study here has been a rewarding intellectual experience. I hope you have acquired the knowledge and skills through your graduate education that will last a lifetime. Even more importantly, however, I hope you have learned some lessons of character that will lead to rich and rewarding lives of service to others.

Paul Higgins, one of our most colorful and dedicated faculty in our rehabilitation sciences program, told me of one of these lessons of character that he includes in his “Business of Health” course for graduate students in physical therapy. Imagine, he says, that you are going to a funeral. When you get there, you peer into the coffin, and you are shocked to discover that the corpse inside the coffin is you! What are three things that people who are attending the funeral will say about you?

I love this question in the context of graduate education, especially in the types of graduate programs we offer, which are primarily focused on education in the professions and arts. You do learn professional and artistic skills here, but this question focuses directly on the questions of character that will not only help you to be successful in your career, but also help you shape a career—whether that is in business, communication, health care, neuroscience, education, psychology, or the arts—that puts service to others ahead of personal success. David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, makes the same point in his recent book, The Road to Character, when he distinguishes between what he calls “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.”

Here’s what Brooks says:

“The resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success. The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kinds of relationships you formed.”

I am confident that you learned both types of virtues here. I am proud that our faculty in every one of our graduate disciplines brings this commitment to life-long values to your experience here. Universities exist not only to improve our students’ lives but also to inspire our students to live lives of value and service to all of humankind.

Today we honor four people who have brought this commitment of service to everything they have done during their long careers in a number of disparate disciplines: business, acting, architecture, and music. Each of them—Maria Livanos Cattuai, Clifton Davis, Tai Soo Kim, and Sonny Rawlins—is a leader in their respective field which we celebrate today, but each has also devoted his or her life to the service of others and to a career marked by character.

After honoring them, we will honor you for your accomplishments, and we will look forward to watching you continue this tradition. Of course, we wish you artistic or professional success. That goes without saying. But today I hope you will also reflect on the duty we all have to make this a better world by living lives of humility. As Jewish tradition says, “we all have a duty to repair the world.” All of us here—not only those of us in the University community but all of your friends and family—look forward to watching you do your part to make this a better world.