UConn graduates more than 8,000 in ceremonies over weekend
STORRS — Graduates of UConn's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences were urged to be flexible, turn adversity into opportunity and build upon on the foundation of their education at the first of Sunday's commencement ceremonies.
"A you walk out the door of Gampel Pavilion today it is easy to set a straight path in life," student speaker Glenda Reilly told the 1,500 graduates at the 12:30 p.m. ceremony, which was followed by a second one at 5:30 p.m. "Flexible thinkers are able to see these impediments as opportunities … flexibility will allow you to see many solutions to the problems."
Reilly, who earned her bachelor's in English Sunday and is the mother of three, said she doesn't look like the average student on the outside, but tapped into her peers' feelings of excitement and doubt.
"I am among a super minority of people who watched 'Friends' on TV rather than binge-watched it on Netflix," Reilly said. "Let's be curious, think curiously, but critically. Hold on to that feeling you have now —that potent mix of fear and excitement.
Reilly received one of 8,760 degrees — 6,015 undergraduate degrees and 2,745 graduate degrees — awarded over the weekend on the Storrs campus.
The Class of 2016 is 53 percent women and 47 percent men, according to university statistics. The oldest graduate was 69, the youngest 19. There are 56 military veterans and 26 sets of twins. Thirty-four nations are represented. .
During the first College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduation, Provost Mun Choi recalled when Class of 2016 members sat in Gampel Pavilion at the start of their academic careers.
"Just four years ago we met in this space for convocation and here you are," Choi said. "Continue to do the important work that benefits society, stay curious, stay inquisitive."
Choi also took a moment to thank the graduates for the lasting mark they leave on the university.
"I thank all of you for enriching our institution, not only through your education, but through your life's work," Choi said.
The university conferred honorary doctorates on several commencement speakers, including director Oliver Stone, Judge Christopher J. Droney of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and literary translator Peter Constantine.
Constantine, who is a fellow of the UConn Humanities Institute and incoming director of the literary translation studies program, read a Greek poem to the graduates and encouraged them to take pleasure in their journeys.
"It says everything I wish somebody had told me 30 years ago as I was setting out on the journey on which you are setting out now. The title of the poem is 'Ithaca,' which is the island Odysseus is trying to sail back to in the 'Odyssey' after 10 years of the Trojan War," Constantine said.
After reciting the 20th century Greek poem, Constantine offered words of advice to the 1,500 graduates in the 12:30 p.m. ceremony.
"Your story isn't about how fast you get your dream job, it's about all the strange, unexpected things you will encounter along the way, the exciting and unpredictable adventures that made Odysseus, Odysseus," Constantine said.
For College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and School of Fine Arts graduate Margaux Ancel, her journey will keep her at UConn for the next three years.
After receiving her bachelor's in art history and journalism, Ancel will start a three-year masters' degree in art administration.
"It feels very bittersweet. I'm not sad about leaving since I will be back again, but seeing everyone I've spent the last few years with move on is pretty sad," Ancel said.
Ancel said she's excited to stay at UConn to see how the campus evolves.
"Between my first and last year here, UConn has only gotten better and more beautiful," Ancel said. "The campus is really evolving into an exciting place with so many activities and I couldn't be more excited to see all the projects they'll get through by 2019."
For Bennett Cognato, who earned his bachelor's in political science, post-graduate life includes giving back to the community that got him interested in his field of study.
"My inspiration to get into politics came from my community, and so I didn't want to just move to D.C. and work for a congressman," Cognato said.
Instead, he will stay in Connecticut while he works toward a masters' in education.
"Currently, I am on track to join a corps of about 200 new teachers this fall trained and equipped to help young Connecticut students in lower-income communities," Cognato said.