It may have been graduates’ special day on Saturday, May 5, 2018, but dignitaries—including a U.S. senator, a mayor, and the CEO of one of Connecticut’s most well-known banks—urged University of Bridgeport’s Class of 2018 to use their education on behalf of others.

“Today we desperately need great leaders,” Webster Bank President and CEO John R. Ciulla said after being awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters at the University’s 108th Commencement.

“And we need new kinds of leaders,” Ciulla continued. “Not only in the highest offices of politics, business, education, and society: we need great leaders on every street, in every household, in every office, every classroom, every sports field, and on every performance stage. And each of you has that opportunity to positively impact your world, your community, and your family through your leadership.”

Thoughts of leadership were particularly acute as Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim publicly thanked UB President Neil A. Salonen, who is retiring on June 30.

Referring to the 25,000 diplomas that Salonen has awarded since assuming the presidency in 2000, Blumenthal noted: “That’s 25,000 individual futures you have transformed! Thank you for your extraordinary contributions.”

Then, turning to graduates, Blumenthal enthused: “I’m really excited and inspired by the new era I see, the new generation. . . .  Take us forward.”

His exhortation resonated with Maria Florian ’18. The newly minted School of Education alumna plans to teach elementary school in her home city of Stamford, Connecticut. “I want to be active in urban education,” Florian said, “especially as a minority and a Latina.”

Arianna Halim ’18, Margarita Salinas ’18, and Francine Kurman ’18—medical laboratory science majors who became inseparable friends after they took Analytical Chemistry together—were equally excited.

“It wasn’t easy,” said Salinas. “We did a lot of studying together!”

“—a lot of Five Guys French fries!” interjected Kurman.

Extra helpings of study sessions and fried food worked wonders: each got job offers from hospitals well before graduation, they said. The catch: their new jobs are scattered throughout Connecticut and New York.

“We’re really going to miss each other,” said Halim. She added that they already missed a fourth person: their former landlady, Harriet.

Before 80-something Harriett moved out of state, she used to regale them with stories about “leaving her career to become an artist . . . alternative medicine, and biofuels,” Halim said. “We loved listening to her stories.”

Unable to return to Bridgeport for graduation, Harriett did the next best thing: she watched UB’s graduation on her computer, thanks to a livestream from Webster Bank Arena.

It was the third consecutive year that UB has streamed ceremonies, enabling loved ones to enjoy end-of-year ceremonies in real-time from anywhere around the world. This year, more than 20,000 viewers logged on to watch. Among them: Arjun Abhatta’s family back in Kathmandu.

“My mother, father, and brother were not able to get visas [to come to Bridgeport],” said Abhatta, who graduated with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. “But they are happy to have the livestream. . . They sacrificed their whole life, working 12-18 hours a day, for me.”

Class Speaker Ashlica Malcolm ’18 spoke about family sacrifice, too. Malcolm graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and human security. She will attend law school at Quinnipiac University in the fall.

“My mother, who is from Jamaica and is the strongest woman I have ever known, always challenged me to do better and be better because she believed in my capabilities and me,” Malcolm told the Class of 2018.

“She knew I could be strong because she is strong. She knew I could be smart because she is smart. She knew I could be loved because she is love. She has sacrificed basically everything for me to be where I am today, and because of that, I am moments away from receiving a college degree.”

Gina Turner ’18 spoke glowingly of her children, but admitted that familial obligations sometimes made it difficult to finish her college. “I had my daughter in high school, and I had to work full-time,” said Turner. For years, she worked, parented–she is now the mother of two pre-teens–and took “one or two classes a semester” at UB as she made her way toward a bachelor’s in accounting.

“There were points when I didn’t think I could do it,” she admitted.

Yet, she never quit. “I graduated from high school in 2006. It’s 2018!” she laughed, before leaving to file into Commencement.

As she turned to join hundreds of other graduates, Turner’s mortarboard became fully visible. She had customized it with small pearl beads, photos of her son and daughter, and a simple message: “Anything is Possible.”

 

Leslie Geary, (203) 576-4625, lgeary@bridgeport.edu