More than 2,000 Sacred Heart University students embarked on a new phase in their lives after receiving diplomas and words of advice and encouragement from leaders, scholars and classmates on Sunday, May 13.
The SHU class of 2018 includes 1,217 undergraduates who will have earned bachelor’s degrees and 1,130 graduate students who will have earned master’s degrees, professional certificates and doctorates.
In his opening address, President John J. Petillo encouraged undergraduates to continue to be curious—as he encouraged them to be four years ago at their opening convocation. “Continue to cultivate with curiosity the notions of respect, inclusiveness and compassion,” he advised.
He also presented an honorary degree to Caitlin Nelson, who passed away a year ago. Two of her Kappa Delta sorority sisters picked up the degree for Nelson, who would have graduated this year.
The Honorable Linda McMahon, a member of President Trump’s Cabinet and former SHU trustee, delivered the keynote address to the undergraduates. She also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, degree.
In her remarks, McMahon chose to eschew the usual platitudes and share memories of the unexpected things life brought her way from buying a prom dress and wedding dress on the same day to finding out she was pregnant the day before she graduated from college.
“Real life isn’t scripted. There is no first draft,” she told the graduates. “No one will edit out the bloopers or promo the highlights. It’s like live TV—you get one shot. Make this version of your story one that counts. And in doing so, reflect on this: Reputation is what men and women think of us. Character is what God and angels know of us.”
Samantha Pignatelli, president of the graduating class, took her peers down memory lane and reflected on what they had gained during their time at SHU. “Sacred Heart feels like home and became just that for each of us. This university is so much more than just a place where we went to receive our degrees; instead it is a community that is incomparable. A community that celebrates together, a community that mourns together and a community that has changed each and every person who has gotten the privilege to become a part of it,” she said.
Gabriella Lind, of Monmouth County, N.J., studied English and psychology at SHU. “The past four years here at Sacred Heart have been nothing short of incredible,” she said. “I found my second home, my second family and most importantly, I found myself.”
Jordan Velez, 22, studied athletic training at SHU. He said he’s been replaying some of his greatest and happiest moments at SHU. “All the friends that I have made, all the people I have met and all that I have learned is hitting my brain like a tsunami. These last four years have been the most amazing experience I could have ever imagined. Coming into SHU, I never thought I’d be as happy as I am now,” said the West Orange, N.J. native. Velez will attend Florida State University for his master’s degree in sports management. He hopes to return to SHU afterwards to earn his doctorate in physical therapy.
Saturday’s festivities also included the university’s graduate students.
Petillo and Welch College of Business Dean John Chalykoff awarded a posthumous doctorate in business administration-finance degree to former SHU student Matthew Roessler who passed away in January after completing the requirements for his degree. The degree was accepted by Roessler’s son, Jacob.
Keynote speaker Richard Edelman, who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, degree, suggested that the graduates consider themselves “the Significant Generation. You can, and you must, be significant – both publicly and privately,” he said. Edelman is president and CEO of Edelman, the leading communications and marketing firm.
He also encouraged the graduates to remain in Connecticut. “Your Significance can begin here in Connecticut. This state needs you. Hartford is the poorest city in America. In recent years, Connecticut has hemorrhaged the headquarters of long-established businesses, such as GE and MassMutual, and Aetna is now threatening to leave Hartford. Between 2015 and 2016, nearly 40,000 people left this state—and nearly 8,000 of them were young people like you,” he noted. “You can help turn this around. Start your business here. Establish your tech start-up here.
This state currently has a 12-to-15 percent gap in four-year high school graduation rates between white students, and black and Hispanic students. Help close that divide—teach or mentor.”
The university also awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, degree to Marna Parke Borgstrom, president and CEO of Yale-New Haven Hospital and Yale New Haven Health System.
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