Graduates of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) were advised on Sunday to think beyond themselves as they go out into the world and throughout their lives.
“Accepting your diploma today requires you to think about the global common good, about the legacy you will create,” Joette Katz ’77 JD, commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families and former associate justice of the state Supreme Court, said during late afternoon CLAS ceremonies at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. “It will demand that you think simultaneously about your responsibilities to your community, the legacy you will leave behind.”
President Susan Herbst also spoke of graduates’ civic responsibilities. “I can’t believe that it is naïve to think that you have a responsibility for yourselves, your families, your communities – but also to your nation,” she told graduates during the early afternoon CLAS commencement ceremonies, also in Gampel.
Nearly 2,700 bachelor’s degrees were awarded to Liberal Arts and Sciences graduates, part of the approximately 4,300 individuals receiving undergraduate, professional, and graduate degrees from UConn this spring.
Katz, who spent 18 years on the state’s highest court before taking one of the most difficult jobs in state government, recalled that Thomas Jefferson believed everyone in the nation had a “natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society,” and that public service was “the highest calling.”
“It was a vocation, not an occasional act of volunteerism,” Katz said. “It was the calling for those with the best minds and the highest levels of education. Sadly, public service is not always viewed this way today, although I continue to believe it is still one of the most important roles we can undertake as citizens.”
Describing those with a university education as “citizen scholars,” Katz said that in many parts of the world young people dream of going to college and making a difference in their nation.
“We all know that in some cultures, women are maimed and disfigured just because they want to attend school. Their dreams are no different from yours, but their opportunities to realize those dreams are,” she said. “You join an elite group today – those with college degrees. You may be viewed by some as privileged, even though you may come from modest backgrounds, because of the quality of the education you have received and your ability to use it to make change in the world around you. This responsibility to the greater good, not just to yourselves or to your families or your future employers, is part and parcel of what your college degree imparts.”
Katz told the newest UConn alumni that while some sitting in the audience will make a difference in the world in “very big ways,” most will make a difference in small ways.
“Often you will not see or even know about the differences you’ve made in the lives of people halfway around the globe or right in your own community,” she said. “But the impact will still be profound. Everyone remembers the lesson from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’”
Herbst encouraged graduates to learn how to understand other people in order to live and work successfully with them.
“Think of yourselves as amateur psychologists in your interaction with others,” she said. “Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and taking a look at the world – and even yourself – through their eyes is invaluable. Not only because it will help you to interact with them, but because they will see that you want to gain a greater understanding of them and who they are.”
Adding to the message of giving back to the community, she said: “Cities, states, and nations rise and fall based on the quality and the energy of their citizens. Whether your next step is the workforce, public service, or graduate education, I ask that you carry that understanding with you wherever you go and in whatever you do …. Good people being engaged in the problems and issues we face as a society make the difference between a healthy society and one that is ailing.”
For a video of Herbst’s speech, click here.
For a video of Dr. Robert Gallo’s commencement address during the Graduate School ceremony on May 5, click here.
For more photos from the CLAS Commencement ceremonies, click here.