Sacred Heart celebrates 47th commencement


Sacred Heart University undergrads celebrate the 47th commencement on May 19, including from right, Sarah Burkart, Sara Gerrity, Erin Dowling, Javier Vidal, Charles Marcelin, Michael Wright and Luke Wischnowski. (Tracy Deer-Mirek photo)

Nearly 1,500 Sacred Heart University students set off into the world this weekend after receiving diplomas and words of advice from business and political leaders, scholars and classmates.

University President John J. Petillo advised the graduates to continue to conduct themselves with integrity as they leave Sacred Heart.

“Integrity should be your foremost concern,” he said. “Secondly, always remain curious. Your faculty has taught you to ask questions. Don’t let that end after today.”

In her address to the graduates, Newtown First Selectman E. Patricia Llodra talked about the challenges of leading the town out of the chaos and sadness left in the wake of the Dec. 14 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“Our sense of self, our confidence and our surety that we are safe was destroyed in a five-minute hail of bullets,” she said. “But that heinous act also set into motion a resolve that we would prevail, that this one event would not define us.”

Llodra said she has not given up on humankind.

“I think we humans are basically good and kind,” she said. “Given the choice, I believe that each of us individually and collectively would more often than not choose the good act over the evil act.”

She concluded with a word of advice for the graduates.

“Find time in your life, in your busy schedules, to perform a service to others,” Llodra said. “That service is itself one of the greatest rewards you will experience in your adult life. Embrace every leadership opportunity — and make sure that your heart is the most active ingredient in that leadership function. Be the change you see needed in the world.”

Finally, she told the students to engage at a personal level in social dynamics and to make themselves part of a group of like-minded or diverse individuals.

“Our future as a society will depend on these communities,” she said.

Llodra received an honorary doctor of laws degree. Terry Eagleton, literary scholar and cultural theorist, received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree, although he was unable to attend the ceremony.

Cheryl Janus, president of the Alumni Association Board, welcomed the graduates as the newest members of the Sacred Heart Alumni Association.

“As you begin on your career path and take important steps into the next chapter of your life, I encourage you to always keep Sacred Heart close to your heart, remembering all of the knowledge, experience and memories it has given you over the past few years,” she said. “This is a gift that cannot ever be replaced or taken away from you, and I invite you to show your gratitude to your alma mater by attending events and wearing your SHU apparel with pride.”

Dustin Zack of Monroe is excited to be leaving Sacred Heart with his degree nursing.

“The quality of this institution is excellent,” he said. “It has an excellent nursing program, which is why I chose to come here.”

Rosemary Foscolo was at the ceremonies to see her second child to graduate from Sacred Heart.

“We had a great experience with the first one, and that is why Rebecca came here,” she said.

During Saturday’s graduate commencement, the keynote speaker was Paul Baumann, editor of Commonweal magazine. After sharing some of his many associations with Sacred Heart, including a nod to incoming Executive Director of Athletics Bobby Valentine, he advised the students that “in life, as in baseball, it is good to mix up your pitches.”

He also noted some similarities between Commonweal and Sacred Heart.

“Like this university, Commonweal is dedicated to the proposition that American democracy has something important to teach the Catholic Church and that America still has much to learn from Catholicism as well,” Baumann said. “And like this university, the magazine provides a forum where those of opposing views can engage one another in a civil and respectful way. That exchange of ideas is good for the health of democracy and good for the vitality and integrity of the church. Catholicism has long taught that our best hope for discovering the truth is to search for it together. A lot of different voices should be welcome in our political and in our religious debates. In other words, as Catholic writers and thinkers we try to mix up our pitches. I urge you to do the same.”

Baumann was presented with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree, while Barry H. Ostrowsky, president and chief executive officer of Barnabas Health in New Jersey, received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

East Haddam resident Lisa Haynes, who received her sixth-year certificate, had nothing but praise for the Isabelle Farrington College of Education.

“They are, by far, the most amazing people I have ever encountered,” she said.

Jacqueline Halpin was on hand to see her daughter, Ashley, receive her master’s in teaching. Ashley and her brother, Jim, also earned their undergraduate degrees at Sacred Heart.

“I loved it here, so they followed in my footsteps,” Halpin said. “When I was here, it was a commuter school. The changes since then are amazing. It’s a beautiful campus.”

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