Chronicle Staff Writer
STORRS - William Wilsonâ€™s mother raised him and his five siblings alone after his father died when Wilson was only 12 years old.
His family was poor and one of few black families in their small, western Pennsylvania town.
As one of Wilsonâ€™s colleagues once pointed out, the odds of him becoming a sociology professor at Harvard University were â€śprobably one in a million,â€ť he said.
But, as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences commencement speaker told an audience Sunday afternoon, his successes were about â€śbeing in the right place at the right time.â€ť
â€śPerhaps your background is more humble, perhaps more fortunate, but opportunities nonetheless served as a foundation that you built on with your own hard work in high school and here,â€ť Wilson told graduates during the CLAS undergraduate commencement ceremony at Gampel Pavilion.
He received an honorary doctorate during the ceremony.
According to the university, about 3,000 undergrads received diplomas between the two CLAS commencement ceremonies Sunday, with one held in the afternoon and one in the evening.
A total of 6,148 undergraduate students and 2,669 graduate students were expected to graduate in 15 total ceremonies, according to the university.
Most of those commencements took place over the weekend, with the last ceremony being May 19 at the UConn Law School in Hartford.
Wilson said, when he graduated from high school in 1953, he lacked confidence and was undecided about what he wanted to do with his life.
That all changed when he met Robert Howell, a student at Wilberforce University in Ohio, a historic black college, who inspired him to enroll at Wilberforce.
â€śNow when I say that I was in the right place at the right time when I enrolled at Wilberforce, I mean that it was the perfect environment for me to develop the kind of self-confidence and sense of efficacy that would help to propel me on to greater things in life,â€ť Wilson said.
He excelled at Wilberforce and was elected president of the junior class and president of the student body his senior year, eventually going on to get his doctorate at Washington State University.
Student speaker Odia Kane, a cognitive science and political science major, spoke about some of the accomplishments of UConn students.
Those included raising a record-setting $1.33 million for the Connecticut Childrenâ€™s Medical Center during Huskython and getting UConn officials to change the bus schedule.
â€śA typical UConn student is an advocate, a scholar and an active community member,â€ť she said.
Kane told her peers they may not have gotten the grade point average they wanted, but they still â€śmade it to the finish line.â€ť
â€śRemember, even if your umbrella hasnâ€™t, youâ€™ve conquered the Storrs wind,â€ť she said, an analogy appropriate on a rainy Sunday.
UConn graduates have a variety of post-graduation plans, with some choosing to take time off school before attending graduate school.
Hannan Mir, a biology major from Pakistan, said he will be conducting cancer research at New York University beginning this summer.
â€śCancer is a very booming field and thereâ€™s a lot of funding for it,â€ť he said.
Mir said he plans to attend graduate school in the future, though he is not sure if he wants to pursue a medical degree or another type of doctorate.
Chaplin resident Nicole Rusch, a cognitive science major, said she is planning to take a year off before attending graduate school.
She is interested in sports management and will be volunteering with the UConn volleyball team, helping them with operations work, in addition to working a part-time job elsewhere.
Rusch decided to live on campus while at UConn, despite living so close to home.
â€śIt kind of teaches you to be independent,â€ť she said.
Rusch said she got used to living away from home as a student at The Ethel Walker School, a boarding school in Simsbury.