This year’s graduating class — the class of 2023 — is markedly different from those of previous years because they spent most of their academic journey adapting to a pandemic world. Southern’s nearly 1,400 determined graduates gathered on May 19, 2023, at the Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, Conn., to celebrate that unique journey at their commencement ceremony.
The keynote speaker for the event was renowned ABC News anchor and correspondent Juju Chang. Chang brought her extensive experience and insights to inspire the graduates as they embarked on their new paths.
In her speech, Chang emphasized the importance of having an attitude of gratitude while navigating everyday life. Alluding to the insecurity and fear she felt as she began her own post-college career, she told the story of Flaco, the owl that escaped the Central Park Zoo last month, as a metaphor for the graduates preparing to take flight on their own.
“Like you, Flaco grew up protected by his handlers, in this case, your parents. He was fed, protected, and nurtured—and suddenly all that he ever knew was lost when he was suddenly wild and free. Sort of like you all tomorrow,” Chang said.
Chang encouraged the graduates to follow their curiosity, noting that “there’s a lot of passion pressure out there…it’s hard to know what you’re passionate about.” She highlighted the importance of being kind to yourself, serving others, and being engaged citizens.
“I know it feels like the world is on fire…but what I would ask of you is don’t turn away. The scariest thing in the world to me is apathy. I’m asking you to care,” said Chang.
SCSU President Joe Bertolino, in his final commencement at Southern, treated the audience to a rendition of the song “Cups” by Anna Kendrick from “Pitch Perfect” before beginning his address.
In his address to the graduates, President Bertolino expressed his immense pride in the class of 2023 and commended them for their resilience, sacrifice, and determination throughout their academic journey, particularly during the tumultuous times of the pandemic.
“I would say that the class of 2023 will truly go down in history for its resilience, sacrifice, and determination,” Bertolino said. “You worked just as hard as your predecessors — maybe even harder — to complete your academic requirements, to cooperate with quickly evolving situations, and uphold the health and safety of our community. And to your great credit, you succeeded!”
While recognizing the hardships, Bertolino expressed his hopes that the graduates would use their experience adapting to the pandemic and their social justice foundation from Southern to build a better and more inclusive world for all.
“I ask all of you to help build a better society. One that confronts racism and other forms of oppression and hate, wherever and whenever it is encountered. One that strives relentlessly for equity and justice for all. Because decades from now, I hope that you won’t just view your college experience as a time when a large part of your college career was disrupted. But instead, you’ll recall it as the time when everything began to change and you started out on your journey to making sure that it did change – for the better,” Bertolino concluded.
The ceremony also included a presentation of an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters to former state legislator and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp.
Other notable speakers included: Natalie Starling, president of the SCSU Faculty Senate; Siddhi Surresh, president of the class of 2023; Wilson Valois, vice president of the class of 2023; Alexander Grant, representing the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education; Terrence Chang, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and University (CSCU) system; 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; and Robert Prezant, SCSU provost and vice president for academic affairs.
On May 18, 2023, two graduate commencement exercises were held at the John Lyman Center for the Performing Arts on the SCSU campus. 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 Barbara Fair, a social worker and community activist, who has campaigned for the rights of incarcerated people for more than 50 years. An Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters was presented to Matt Fleury, president and CEO of the Connecticut Science Center and former chair of the CSCU Board of Regents. Jacqueline Brown, a current EDL doctoral student and director of the Speech-Language Pathology Program at the University of New Haven, 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 Alexander Clark, founder and CEO of Technolutions, who also delivered the keynote address.
View photo galleries from the commencement ceremonies and more 2023 graduation-related events