Published May 17. 2014 2:24PM Updated May 18. 2014 12:20AM
New London — Take what you do well and build on it, and never stop learning.
That was some of the advice retired Coast Guard Rear Adm. Robert Olsen Jr. gave to the 186 graduates of Mitchell College on Saturday during his commencement address.
“This is a very, very special place,” said Olsen, who grew up in New London and graduated from Mitchell in 1965 before continuing his education at the Coast Guard Academy and eventually rising to become superintendent of the academy for four years until 2005. “They respect people’s differences in the ways they learn. The culture of this school values the diversity of students and helps students succeed.”
At the beginning of his speech, Olsen led the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” in celebration of the college’s 75th birthday and the birthday of outgoing president Mary Ellen Jukoski, who is retiring after 20 years. Janet Steinmayer will assume the position July 1.
In her remarks, Jukoski noted some of the unique events and contributions of the Class of 2014: they survived Tropical Storm Irene and Superstorm Sandy, helped restore Mitchell Beach after it was badly eroded by the two storms, and launched a college radio station.
“You gave your heart and soul, and it really shows,” she said.
As each of the 186 students stepped on stage to receive their degree along with a handshake and, sometimes, a hug, from Jukoski, each revealed a bit of their individuality hidden under the uniform black gowns. Shoes of all kinds poked out beneath the shin-length robes — red cowboy boots, bright pink flip-flops, sports sandals, brown deck shoes, shiny red spike heels and black patent leather sandals with rhinestones. There was also one shoeless member of the procession, the service dog guided on stage by student Pedro Juan Rosado of Willimantic, who received his bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Twenty-one of the graduates received associate degrees, while 165 were awarded bachelor’s degrees. The family of Michael DiZenzo, who was pursing a Bachelor of Science in sport and fitness management until he passed away from heart failure in June, accepted his degree posthumously.
Student speaker John McGowan, who received his bachelor’s degree in communications, said Mitchell has challenged him and the other students to better themselves both in the classroom and with extracurricular activities. He praised the college for being receptive to his idea to start a radio station, where, as “Johnny Mac,” he became an announcer for athletic events and parlayed that into a weekend job at two local radio stations.
“Whatever you do, wherever you go, the impact of Mitchell will be with you for the rest of your life,” he said. “Mitchell College may be a small school, but it’s got a big attitude.”
Mitchell College’s graduates from southeastern Connecticut are:
Associate in Arts
Groton: Dennis Ford Jr.
New London: Karen A. Fernández, Nadia Ravix
Norwich: Alexandra E. Blanchette
Waterford: Laura McCormick
Associate in Science
Preston: Kaylyn Marissa Demara
Stonington: Maureen Elizabeth Cornell
Waterford: Salvatore Joseph Pezzolesi
Bachelor of Arts
Bozrah: Kevin John Barry
Groton: Dana Lamar Ford, Alisa S. Vancedarfield, Breanna Michelle White-Giles
New London: Arnetia B. Douglas, Jessica Nicole Reyes, Alcira Mercedes Wells
Norwich: Brittany Anne Noyes
Old Lyme: Felisha M. Bellefleur
Sprague: Margaret Ashley Allen
Waterford: David Salvatore Sabilia, William John Warner, Margo Weber, Taylor David Zaldivar
Bachelor of Science
East Lyme: Christopher Michael Smith, Katherine Landry Ziskind
Griswold: Krystal Marie Sánchez
Groton: Caitlin Blake Lough, Michael S. Peno Jr., Courtney D. Rousseau
Ledyard: Lydia Grace Gill, Lillian Priscilla Gómez, Carly Joan Paterson
Mystic: Nicholas S. Johnson, LeahBeth Regan, Olivia Jane Whittle
New London: Ivan J. Alcantara, Dana L. Aronson, Alexandra Colon, Ishma Rosaire Harris, Amanda Nichole Pervine, Jose A. Tineo-Fernandez, Tina L. Torres, Scott Moylan Sheehan
Norwich: Glynis J. Blanker, Tanya Cousens, LaSheena May Gant, Amanda Jaylyn Nieves-Dodd
Old Saybrook: Julian Christopher Gulliksen
Waterford: Jillian Elizabeth Antonino, Aaron Jay Feinberg, Alexa Marie Slattery, Shane Irving Sullivan
Westerly, R.I.: Andrew M. Castagna, Keith A. Whitt