The Class of 2023 entered college in the autumn of 2019 with talent, diversity, and great aspirations. There were students hailing from 162 Connecticut municipalities, 28 other states, two territories, and 35 countries. Almost 41% were students of color. The class had great academic merit, including 176 valedictorians and salutatorians and an average SAT score of 1296. A record 580 first-year students entered the Honors Program.
None could have predicted the pandemic that would sweep the world five months later, shutting down the university and sending everyone into quarantine and then two years of remote or hybrid learning and social distancing.
Despite that disruption, this class has lived up to its promise, and used the pandemic as a thrust instead of a stumbling block.
A team of students won the UConn Global Health Hackathon in 2020 by addressing the sustainability of vaccine distribution, with proposals for biodegradable packaging and more efficient refrigeration, for example.
One of those team members, Esther Nguyen, will serve as class speaker for the School of Business this year, focusing her speech on resilience.
“While it did not define our college experience, the pandemic was such a significant moment for us, as it began in our freshman year. We needed resilience to cope with such an unprecedented event, while at the same time coming of age and figuring out who we wanted to be,” Nguyen says.
The University will award degrees this May to 2,225 graduate students and 5,482 undergraduates. That includes 23 sets of twins, one graduate who is 19 years old and one who is 68. And close to a third of graduating students are the first in their families to graduate from college. And while 79% of the graduates are Connecticut natives, others have come from as far as Vietnam, a one-way journey of 8,631 miles.
The class of 2023 also includes 443 members of the Honors Program, 17 University Scholars, 52 Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Scholars, and 29 McNair Scholars. One of them, Kasidy Quiles (Allied Health Sciences) from Shelton, will deliver the student speech at the commencement ceremony for the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources. The McNair Scholar program provides research opportunities and professional development in science, technology, engineering and math to students who come from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups or are first-generation college students. As a McNair Fellow and then Scholar, Quiles assisted in research on chronic low back pain, and later pursued an independent research project on the effect of antimicrobials on gene expression in listeria.
Many, many members of this class participated in special projects and research experiences of all kinds. They created autonomous transit devices, or programmed nutrition tracking apps. They tutored other students, they interned at Connecticut companies, and they volunteered at free dental and law clinics.
Over the course of the weekend, the University will hold 16 commencement ceremonies (and a 17th on May 14 for the School of Law), and award 7,707 degrees in fields ranging from Arabic and Islamic Civilizations to Nursing, from Doctors of Dental Medicine to Doctors of Law. With the resilience, skills, and intellectual fortitude gained from their years at UConn, every single graduate has the key to commence a future of success.