'Men and Women for Others': With Jesuit mission, Fairfield U graduates embark on next chapter


Kekoa Taparra, of Oahu, Hawaii, saw his first snowfall in 2008, during his freshman year at Fairfield University.

After four years of superlative academic work, he recently delivered the valedictory address to the graduating class, with beautiful weather on the hilltop lawn outside Bellarmine Hall.

Taparra discussed how Fairfield U allowed him to see and understand much of the world that was unknown to him, especially during a service trip to Belize last year.


In Belize, he was “shocked” to witness the destitute lives of malnourished children, some living on a single tortilla bread a day. He used the example to remind classmates of how it can often be easy to take for granted wonderful opportunities.

“I mean seriously, look at us,” he said. “We’re dressed like wizards on the top of a beautiful hill in the backyard of a mansion.”

The undergraduate keynote speaker was Joseph Russoniello, of the school’s 1963 class, who was a former U.S. attorney of California and dean of San Francisco Law School.

“It’s hard to believe it was 49 years ago this June that I sat out there where you’re sitting today. In all candor, I must confess, if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”


Russoniello pointed to the striking similarity between the times the graduates face now with those of his classmates. He mentioned that history often unfolds unpredictably (President Kennedy was assassinated the year of his graduation and the Vietnam War was escalating).

He said the values instilled in him by Fairfield U gave him a passion for community activism.

He pointed to mentoring law students, serving on committees of the American College of Trial Lawyers, helping bishops implement a program to combat child sexual abuse with his service on the National Review Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and in helping the Italian-American community with the Italian Services Agency and the National Italian American Foundation.

The graduate commencement student address was given by Jenna Allegretto, who said it was a childhood dream to go to Fairfield University, her father’s alma mater.

She referenced the “Ratio Studiorum,” the Jesuit manual of education that helped shape her learning inside and outside the classroom.


“In it lays a statement that is vital to our Jesuit education,” she said

She quoted a passage from the manual: “The development of the student’s intellectual capacity is the school’s most characteristic part. However, this development will be defective and even dangerous unless it is strengthened and completed by the training of the will and the formation of the character.”

She said she is grateful that there is a moral dimension to the school’s mission.

“Fairfield has provided each of us with challenges to stretch our intellectual capacity and to cultivate our character.”

Suzanne and Bob Wright, co-founders of Autism Speaks, were the keynote speakers at the graduate commencement.

Bob applauded the Dolan School of Business, and said he has been a close friend with the eponymous Chuck Dolan for over 30 years, through a variety of business ventures.

The couple specifically thanked the school for its participation with Autism Speaks, as the Barone Campus Center “went blue” in April this year, meaning it participated actively with Autism Awareness Month.

Autism Speaks helped push for the United Nations to recognize April as Autism Awareness Month, making it one of only four diseases that are internationally recognized with holidays (the others being AIDS, Down syndrome and diabetes).

The couple started Autism Speaks after their grandson Christian was diagnosed eight years ago.

At that time the Center for Disease Control reported one in 166 American children had autism at time.

Two months ago, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of Centers for Disease Control updated the numbers as one in 88 children, and one in 54 boys.

“The American public was completely in the dark about how common autism really was,” Suzanne said.

The group, now with 231 full-time members, has worked towards insurance reform, and now 31 states have laws preventing private insurance discrimination against individuals with autism.

Bob encouraged students to succeed in business so they could help as philanthropists and activists in the future, and Suzanne said the couple is grateful for its close-knit relationship with the school.

“My husband Bob and I have had the good fortune to live just down the road a few miles from this beautiful campus for over 30 years. We watched our son Chris flourish here during his days at Fairfield Prep and grow into the wonderful man he is today. We feel blessed to call this fine institution of higher learning a part of our family.”


Fairfield University’s mission, as is the case with Jesuit universities nationwide, is to build “men and women for others,” and this year diplomas were conferred to 883 undergraduates and 445 graduate students.

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