After three years of lockdowns, masking, and social distancing, the graduating senior class at Southern Connecticut State University was finally able to celebrate at an in-person, indoor commencement ceremony, held on May 20, 2022, at the Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. The university, like many others, did not hold an in-person commencement in 2020, due to the pandemic and in 2021 held a series of small outdoor ceremonies on campus, following state and local guidelines regarding COVID-19. The 2022 ceremony was the first indoor ceremony since 2019.
Activist and actress Kathy Najimy of Sister Act and Hocus Pocus fame addressed the graduates, encouraging them to leave their mark on the world and to embrace and explore their own unique gifts.
“You are powerful and you are magic,” Najimy told the 1,300 graduates. “Use your power, your magic.” She assured the seniors that “you are designing your lives and futures — open minded, open hearted and ready to give yourselves the futures you and your world deserve.”
Best known for her work in more than 30 films (including the blockbusters Sister Act, Hocus Pocus, WALL-E, and Rat Race), as the voice of Peggy Hill on King of the Hill, and for her current roles on VEEP, Younger, and Graves, Najimy is also a celebrated advocate on the front line of a myriad of progressive social causes, including #MeToo and Time’s Up. She combines her acting and talents with a passionate commitment to equality, women’s leadership, and issues ranging from increasing cancer research to LGBTQ rights.
After encouraging the graduates to “jog the culture, and make changes to the trajectory– to level the playing field,” Najimy told them, “Everything you do does matter. And that you are all here, redesigning the status quo and making your voices heard, not only your future but your present…really matters.”
SCSU President Joe Bertolino told the graduates that “the Class of 2022 will truly go down in history for its resilience, sacrifice, and determination under the most difficult of circumstances. In far too many ways, the last two years have shown us how fragile our world is. So much vanished so quickly: research projects, internships, artistic performances, athletic competitions, even the simple pleasures of sharing meals, hugging friends or shaking hands.
“Some of you lost friends or relatives to the COVID-19 virus, or struggled with it yourselves. Many of you saw jobs disappear or felt the economic devastation inflicted by the pandemic.”
“Clearly,” Bertolino said, “the classes of the 2020s are graduating in much harder times than the classes that immediately preceded you. And new challenges continue to emerge.”
But, he added, “there is hope. A brighter future lies just ahead – and today’s commencement ceremony symbolizes that.
Other speakers included: Deborah Weiss, president of the SCSU Faculty Senate; Sarah Gossman, ’22, vice president of the class of 2022; Brandon Iovene, representing the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education; New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker; U. S. Senator Richard Blumenthal; LaShante A. James, ’04, MS ’14, president of the SCSU Alumni Association Board of Directors; Robert Prezant, SCSU provost and vice president for academic affairs; and James Barber, ’64, MS ’79, recipient of the President’s Medal of Distinction.
Among the graduates were Jared Buchanan, who, after the death of his father, made it his mission to put a spotlight on mental health and suicide awareness, through long-distance and endurance running. Earlier this month, he completed the Cocodona 250-mile footrace in Arizona in under 104 hours. Buchanan earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Another graduate, Sydney King, who graduated with her degree in cultural anthropology, spent her last Southern semester in Chile, building her Spanish-speaking skills and immersing herself in Chilean culture, as she furthered her own social justice mission to represent underserved communities.
On May 19, two graduate commencement exercises were held at the Lyman Center for the Performing Arts. The afternoon ceremony included the colleges of Arts and Sciences and Health and Human Services and the School of Business, as well as the presentation of the President’s Medal of Distinction to Alice M. Forrester, chief executive officer of the Clifford Beers Clinic, who delivered the keynote address. The evening session included the College of Education, as well as the presentation of the President’s Medal of Distinction to Marlene Miller Pratt, ’85, educator and community activist. Gregory B. Butler, executive vice president and general counsel at Eversource Energy, delivered the keynote address.
Read “Southern Connecticut State University holds first indoor graduation since pandemic,” New Haven Register, May 20, 2022