Local Business Leaders Address Graduates at University of Hartford Commencement Ceremonies
Two distinguished corporate executives from the greater Hartford region stood on the podium at the XL Center in Hartford during separate ceremonies on Sunday, May 15, to motivate and inspire.
It was all part of the 2022 Commencement exercises for University of Hartford graduates—but what stood out as much as the motivation and the inspiration was the ample amount of pride expressed by both eminent business leaders.
“I know firsthand all the sacrifices you have made to achieve these advanced degrees,” said Greg Toczydlowski (M'95), executive vice president of the Travelers insurance company and president of its Business Insurance division, during the morning ceremony for recipients of master’s and doctoral degrees. “I can tell you that the dividends I have received from my own UHart graduate degree have been voluminous, and I am confident yours will be, too.”
“You did it,” echoed Karen S. Lynch, president of CVS Health, Commencement speaker for the afternoon program. She noted how the hard work by all the graduates—which included two years of dealing with an unprecedented health crisis—resulted in their ability to take on the next phase of their lives with assurance. “This incredible institution is delivering another class of well-trained, highly-skilled professionals who are poised and ready to create change in the world when it is needed most.”
More than 1,200 graduates—from 34 states and 32 countries—accepted their degrees as eagerly as they accepted the informed guidance of Toczydlowski and Lynch, both of whom have made incredible contributions to their companies and communities.
Toczydlowski received his MBA from UHart’s Barney School of Business. Among other affiliations, he is a member of Hartford Healthcare’s board of directors, served on the board and as chair for United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, honorary chair of the Urban League of Greater Hartford’s Equal Opportunity Day Celebration, and is influential in Travelers’ annual employee giving and community connection campaigns.
His advice to the graduates was to grab onto some of the most treasured of human values and make them the center of their professional endeavors. These include integrity, mindfulness, enthusiasm—even some risk.
“Your last name can be Einstein and you can have an IQ of 180, but if you don’t have honesty and integrity, nobody will follow you,” said Toczydlowski, who is an advocate of wearing professional passion as a badge of honor. “Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that nothing great in this world was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
In a similar vein, Lynch spoke about confidence and the need to become obsessed with purpose. The CVS Health leader, who previously held executive positions at Cigna, Magellan Health, and Aetna—where she was the company’s first female president—says that her own obsession is the need to transform health care into a benefit people can access with unparalleled convenience and personalization.
She told the graduates that when she was a young woman, her beloved aunt, who raised her and who she regarded as her hero, died of cancer. “I remember sitting in the hospital feeling powerless,” she shared. “I didn’t understand what the doctors were telling me. My frustration and my anger were a profound spark to want to do something different. I wanted to do something about it. I became obsessed.”
Along with that obsession came conviction for Lynch. “People follow confidence, not confusion,” she said, adding that listening to other people’s stories always helps, as well. “It is impossible for you to know the needs of others without allowing them to tell their stories. And everyone has a story.”
Lynch was awarded an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science degree in honor of her leadership, commitment to a better health-care system, and her work toward the elevation of diversity among business executives.
Lucille Nickerson, a former vice president and corporate secretary at Aetna and co-founder and president of Nickerson-Zegarelli Consultants, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Nickerson is chair emerita of UHart’s Board of Regents.
Rabbi Philip Lazowski (Hon. '16), a Holocaust survivor and community leader, delivered the Invocation during the morning ceremony. “You as graduates must strive to be very concerned with the level of evil to which people can descend,” he told the assembled graduates and guests. “Injustice, hatred, ignorance, and prejudice are the ingredients that produce tyrants, tyranny, and war. On you is laid the obligation to make a difference in this world, no matter how hard it may be.”
Student Government Association President Valentina Jimenez ’22 reminded the graduates that what they were celebrating at the XL Center is not something that’s attainable by many people around the globe. “We are among the fortunate few,” she noted, humbly sharing what an incredible opportunity it is to receive a degree at a university like the University of Hartford.
This was also the final UHart event for a familiar face on campus, Fred Sweitzer, who has served in many leadership roles over the course of three-and-a-half decades, the last several years as provost. An accomplished teacher and nationally recognized scholar, Sweitzer is retiring after 37 years at the University.