NEW BRITAIN – Central Connecticut State University bid goodbye to its Class of 2022 Saturday as graduating students took their next steps into a wider world, having overcome the unique challenges of education set in a pandemic.
Over 2,600 students became CCSU alumni after the day’s commencement ceremonies set in Arute Field where their names were read out loud over the course of two events. Graduates from the Carol A. Ammon College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences along with the School of Business were honored in the morning and listened to ABC News Executive Editor Troy McMullen as a keynote speaker. Michele “Mickey” Perez, an industrial manager at Pratt and Whitney and founder of the nonprofit STEM organization Super Jet Brunette, served as the second ceremony keynote speaker in the afternoon.
CCSU President Dr. Zulma Toro praised the work of students and listed the many notable graduates who had walked the halls of the university. Toro is the university’s first woman and Hispanic president.
“Your time at CCSU during a pandemic has cultivated an unexpected competency,” she said. “Think back to how quickly you had to adjust to a new way of life and all its complexities, the strict COVID protocols, and online learning. But you pushed through it. You learned how to learn; how to ask insightful questions; how to evaluate evidence, how to pivot on a dime and cope with change. The fact that you persevered to complete your degree proves you are capable of triumphing in the face of adversity.”
During the morning event, Toro introduced McMullen as a university alumnus “grounded by a sense of service and responsibility.”
“The pandemic changed so many things for us, but those campus lockdowns upended your college experience, sending most of you home for months to sit in front of your computers to enjoy endless Zoom lectures,” he said.
He congratulated graduates on their ability to adapt in such a time.
“It’s also not an exaggeration to say that you are graduating at a time when your ideas and influence have never been greater or more important,” he continued. “The past few years have seen a real reckoning in our society - politically, socially, culturally - and much of that has been fueled by your generation.”
In the afternoon, Toro introduced alumna Perez as “inspirational” because she had achieved success while overcoming homelessness and many other life challenges.
Perez likened graduates to her padawans, Jedi apprentices in the Star Wars franchise, and quoted the mentor character Yoda, saying, “Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery but weakness, folly, failure also. The greatest teacher, failure is.”
She encouraged graduates to learn and to not be afraid of their challenges and failures in the future as that would be the only way they could achieve their potential.
Perez said graduates should attempt to be the “dumbest person in the room.”
“If you are not the smartest or the one with the biggest portfolio, it will keep you striving to be better, because then you will learn so much from everyone around you. In a sense, it makes you the smartest and richest person in the room,” she said.