“It is critical for you to engage with people with whom you don’t agree. It shapes your experience and ultimately your judgment,” said U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts) during his Commencement address to more than 420 students before they received their master’s and doctoral degrees and certificates at the University of Hartford’s Graduate Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 20.
Neal, who earned a Master of Public Administration from the University’s Barney School of Business in 1976, told the graduates that listening is the first step to ensuring that free speech is protected and guaranteed. “So much can be gained from listening—it generates thoughtful discussion, shows you care, expands your horizon and often leads to new ideas and compromise.”
Before his remarks, Neal was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws. He has served in Congress for 22 consecutive years representing western and central Massachusetts, including Springfield where he was born.
University President Walter Harrison presided over his last Graduate Commencement on Saturday. He will retire in June after leading the University for 19 years.
Telling the students their graduate degree is the most significant academic achievement of their lives, Harrison said, “Most of the progress that has occurred since I first entered higher education nearly a half century ago has been achieved—or at least has been led by—people who have earned advanced degrees. I am certain that all of the progress that still lies ahead will be led by this same group of people, which after today includes you. So even as I congratulate you for your accomplishments, I challenge you to be leaders of change, leaders of progress, and leaders of more social justice in the world.”
Also receiving honorary degrees were Dr. Richard J. Gilfillan, president and CEO of Trinity Health, a Catholic health system that serves communities in 22 states, and Obie McKenzie, managing director at BlackRock, the largest institutional asset management firm in the U.S.
On Sunday, May 21, another alumna, U.S. Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) will be the keynote speaker at the University’s Undergraduate Commencement, where nearly 1,000 students will receive bachelor’s and associate’s degrees. Love, who graduated from the University’s The Hartt School in 1997, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws at the ceremony. She has represented Utah’s 4th District since 2014, serves on the House Financial Services Committee and on three subcommittees: Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, Monetary Policy and Trade, and Terrorism and Illicit Finance. Love is the first Haitian American and the first black female Republican elected to Congress.