Mitchell College graduates told to be authentic selves and not let failures define them
New London — Talking on campus the day before graduation, Brian Martin said if he hadn't gone to Mitchell College, he doesn't believe he would be where he is now.
Martin has been completely blind his whole life, and at a school as small as Mitchell, he felt that everyone was like family and if he needed something, he could get it.
In a practicum in education, the Stamford native worked in a classroom with completely sighted people for the first time, and in an internship with Vermont's Learn, Earn, and Prosper program for people who are blind or visually impaired, he implemented lesson planning. Martin served as president of the Connecticut Association of Blind Students and will soon join the American Council of the Blind.
Now, he is graduating with a bachelor's degree in early childhood studies and soon will start a master's degree at Western Michigan University, to teach students who are blind and visually impaired like himself.
Martin was one of 120 people to graduate from Mitchell College on Saturday, with 104 getting a bachelor's degree and 16 getting an associate degree. Proud guests shouted out "My smartypants, I love you!" and "I'm your biggest fan!" as students walked across the stage.
"Graduates, you have proven yourself to be achievers and overcomers. I am so proud of your perseverance in one of the most challenging times in modern history," Mitchell College President Tracy Espy told the Class of 2022, under a large white tent on the 70-degree day.
"Remember that your authentic self is your very best self," she added.
Graduates received degrees in criminal justice, criminal process, homeland security, liberal and professional studies, business administration, communication, early childhood studies, environmental studies, health science, hospitality and tourism, human development and family studies, marine biology, psychology, sport and fitness, and sports management.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz gave the commencement address and said, "although it's a joyous day, I wanted to talk about the future, and what I wanted to talk about is failure. I know, uplifting, right?" Invoking LeBron James' losses in NBA finals and how he persevered, she said failure will come to each of us but it's only temporary.
"All of us will have failures, setbacks, (and) losses, but don't let those failures and setbacks define you," Bysiewicz said. "Find joy in starting over, and embrace rebellious hope."
Alexandra Casado of New London, who studied hospitality and tourism, gave the student address. She originally was supposed to graduate in December 2021.
Casado said after completing her internship hours, she went out with friends to celebrate on Aug. 16, 2021, and the last thing she remembered was ordering a drink at the bar.
The next thing she remembered was waking up in a hospital bed. Firefighters had extricated her from a car after crashing into a tree, and she was flown by helicopter to Yale New Haven Hospital. She was in a coma for two weeks, and she had broken femur bones and a broken rib cage.
"I made a foolish decision to go out that day, and in most cases, we all know right from wrong," Casado said, adding that we learn from experiences and with knowledge comes wisdom.
Her graduation cap read "I did it for you, Papi" in honor of her father, who died the same month she received her acceptance letter to Mitchell.
Prior to her speech, the college honored the two students with the highest grade point averages, respectively Brianne Stanislawski Wunder of New London and Tyler Peretz of Waterford.
Speaking to The Day before graduation, Harlem native Anthony Allen said that with his dyslexia, the support system Mitchell offered helped him keep up with classes and graduate on time.
Graduating with a degree in early childhood studies, he will be joining the Connecticut Teacher Residency Program to do six weeks of training in the summer and then be assigned to a classroom. Further down the road, he sees himself as a support to teachers and would like to be an early childhood interventionist.
Stamford native Stephanie Costabile, who majored in sports management, transferred to Mitchell for her sophomore year, saying the small class sizes, hands-on nature of the major and internship opportunities appealed to her. She joined the volleyball team and then the lacrosse team, and became Student Government Association president her senior year.
Costabile is doing an internship at Disney World in the fall and then starting her master's in sports management at Coastal Carolina University. Her goal is to one day work with a professional sports team in finances or management.
"It's very bittersweet," she said Thursday. "I'm very ready to graduate; I think Mitchell prepared me very well and put me in a good place in order to move on from here."
For a gallery of additional photos from Mitchell's graduation ceremony, click here.