It was a time to celebrate milestones and acknowledge loved ones on Saturday, May 6, 2017, when the University of Bridgeport held its 107th Commencement, a boisterous but sometimes bittersweet event that underscored the hard work and sacrifices made by graduates and their families alike.
For Mrs. Joan Trefz, the day meant accepting an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, which was awarded posthumously to her husband, UB Trustee Dr. Ernest C. Trefz ’17, who passed away on February 25, 2017. A staunch advocate of education in general and of the University in particular, Dr. Trefz could not afford to attend college as a young man and served in the army instead. Nonetheless, he became one of Connecticut’s most important entrepreneurs and philanthropists after co-founding the state’s first McDonald’s restaurant with his brother Christian. That first franchise in Hamden, CT, was the genesis of the Trefz Corporation.
“Make him proud,” Mrs. Trefz told approximately 1500 graduates. “You are our hope for the future.”
Her exhortation resonated with graduate Michael Asmerom, a business major from Harlem who wished his mother could have seen him cross the stage at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport to receive his diploma from UB President Neil Salonen. Asmerom’s mother, who passed away in August, was a single parent who worked as a nurse to send her children to school.
Messages of diligent persistence also touched graduate Audrey Whitfield. The New Haven native earned a master’s degree in elementary education on Saturday.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” said Whitfield. “I used to set up a little chalk board, sit my younger sister Rachel in a chair, and make her play school.” Whitfield’s dream of guiding young students became possible thanks to UB’s “amazing education program,” which allowed her intern at a New Haven elementary school while she took coursework at UB, she said.
Former alumni from the Class of 1967 also celebrated as they were recognized as Golden Knights on the 50th anniversary of their graduation. Resplendent in yellow regalia, they waved enthusiastically to cheers and well wishes before President Salonen spoke.
“Set the world ablaze with your passion,” President Salonen urged graduates, “and in so doing, make it a little brighter for everyone else.”
Graduation Speaker and alumnus Ramon E. Peralta Jr. ’93, ’17, told a cautionary tale about fighting racism with violence when he was a teenager. It was a “stupid choice that took 15 minutes to make and almost threw away years” of sacrifice by his parents who “spent their factory wages” to send him to school, he said. Given a second chance, Peralta managed to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from UB’s Shintaro Akatsu School of Design and eventually founded Peralta Design, a successful marketing and branding firm. “How you respond to difficult moments will shape your lives forever,” said Peralta, who received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters on Saturday.
Class Speaker Louse Ovner spoke about the future, too, reminding peers that “the lessons we learned, the people we met, the courses we took . . . have prepared us for this journey called life. Now we should take the time to thank the people behind our successes.”
Graduate Amanda Genovese said she was eager to embark on her new career. The freshly minted alumna earned a bachelor’s degree from the University’s Fones School of Dental Hygiene on Saturday and already started her new job at a dental clinic in Branford, CT, her hometown. Treating patients as a student-clinician while at Fones, she added, “was a useful experience, and I’m thankful for it.”
Bilal Quadri Syed also credited practical in-the-field experiences for helping him to obtain a full-time job before he graduated with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Earlier this year, he said he was offered a position at Nano Solutions LLC. which produces carbide materials used in semiconductor equipment, after he finished his internship with the Bridgeport-based company.
Syed’s mother flew from their home in Hyderabad, India, to celebrate both his graduation on Saturday and his new job. His father stayed at home but was among more than 16,000 viewers around the world who watched ceremonies as they were live streamed from Webster Bank Arena.
Media contact: Leslie Geary, (203) 576-4625, email@example.com