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Women’s Basketball Coach Jennifer Rizzotti to Give University of Hartford’s Commencement Address

Posted 05/16/2010
Posted by David Isgur

Jennifer Rizzotti, head coach of the University of Hartford women's basketball team, will deliver the keynote address at the University's 53rd annual Commencement on Sunday, May 16. An estimated crowd of 10,000, including approximately 1,250 graduates, will attend the ceremony, which will begin at 10 a.m. on the lawn in front of the Gengras Student Union building.

In addition, the University will present honorary doctorate degrees to Hartford Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, Senior U.S. District Judge Ellen Bree Burns, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist who studies the roots of happiness, and Grammy Award-winning composer William Bolcom. The Commencement ceremony will also feature a "Charge to Class of 2010" by Taryn Brandt, a Class of 2010 psychology major who is currently a figure skating instructor at the International Skating Center in Simsbury.

Seniors Adrian Alexis Ruiz, a biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences, and. Neftali Torres of Hartford, a civil engineering major in the College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture, will also be honored at Commencement. Alexis Ruiz is this year's winner of the Belle K. Ribicoff Prize, which is awarded for academic excellence, and Torres will receive the John G. Lee Medal, which is given to a graduating senior from Greater Hartford who has excelled academically and demonstrated a deep commitment to the community.

In her 11-year career at the University, Rizzotti has built the women's basketball program into an America East power and a nationally recognized program. During the 2009-10 season, the Hawks earned their first national ranking. They have won four regular season championships in the past five years, won four America East tournament championships in eight years, and made five trips to the NCAA women's basketball tournament. At the time of her appointment in September 1999, Rizzotti was the youngest Division I women's basketball coach in the country.

Rizzotti was a 2010 finalist for the Kay Yow Coach of the Year Award, which recognizes the NCAA Division I head coach who embodies not only a winning spirit, but also displays great character on and off the court. In addition to her coaching responsibilities, Rizzotti is very involved in the community. In 2009, she was co-chair of the United Way Community Campaign and spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's No Child Left Inside initiative. In 2008, she served as honorary chair of the University's National Kidney Foundation Walk.

Rizzotti's coaching excellence has not gone unnoticed at the national level. She was recently named head coach of the U.S. Under-18 National Team, which will compete this summer in the 2010 FIBA Americas U-18 Championship. In 2006, she was an assistant coach of the USA U-18 National Team that won the FIBA World Championships.

A 1992 graduate of New Fairfield High School, Rizzotti is graduated cum laude from the University of Connecticut in 1996 and was named a GTE Academic All-American. At UConn, she was the starting point guard on the school's first national championship team in 1995, which recorded a perfect season, winning all 35 games.

The student Commencement speech will be delivered by Taryn Brandt, a class of 2010 psychology major, who currently lives in Simsbury, Conn. Brandt, who has a 3.92 grade point average, grew up in Ontario, Canada. She is an elite competitive figure skater who has competed on behalf of Skate Canada and the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

During her undergraduate years at the University, Brandt has worked as a research assistant with psychology faculty members on studies of pain control techniques in adults and on social inequality and morality issues in children. She has also been a math and science tutor at King Phillip Middle School in West Hartford through the University's Educational Main Street program.

The Most Reverend Henry J. Mansell, the fourth archbishop to serve the Archdiocese of Hartford, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Installed as archbishop In Hartford in December of 2003, Mansell has brought a great sense of purpose to his vocation, providing strong and dedicated leadership in a wide variety of civic and moral causes. Under his stewardship, the archdiocese has advanced its financial support in the areas of education for elementary schoolchildren and health care for some of the state's poorest citizens.

With the Order of Malta of Hartford County and Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center, Mansell helped to initiate the Malta House of Care mobile clinic, which offers free medical service to the uninsured in Hartford. Another Malta House of Care mobile clinic will open this spring in Waterbury. As co-chair of the Mayor's Commission to End Chronic Homelessness, the archbishop helped to develop a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness in the Capitol Region. In addition, under Mansell's guidance, a new Institute for the Hispanic Family was established in Hartford and new Catholic Charities Agencies were dedicated in New Haven and Waterbury. In addition, Cathedral Green, a development of affordable and supportive housing in the converted St. Joseph Cathedral School in Hartford, opened its doors in 2009.

An honorary Doctor of Science will be presented to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist, educator, and author who has received acclaim for his contributions to the understanding of happiness and creativity. Considered one of the world's leading researchers on positive psychology, Csikszentmihalyi's concept of "flow" - "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake" - has influenced business leaders and world leaders, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

As a pre-teen in Europe during WWII, Csikszentmihalyi saw how few of the adults he knew were able to live a normal, contented life after surviving the trauma of war. It was then that he became interested in understanding the roots of happiness. The quest to understand how to improve life led him through religion, philosophy, literature, and art before he discovered psychology, which promised more empirically based answers to his questions. Csikszentmihalyi, who came to the United States in 1956 with $1.25 to his name, earned a PhD in Human Development from the University of Chicago in 1965. He taught there for nearly 30 years, eventually becoming chair of the psychology department. Csikszentmihalyi, who has written more than a dozen books and more than 200 articles, is currently is a professor of psychology and management in the School of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif.

The Honorable Ellen Bree Burns, who has served as a federal judge for the District of Connecticut since 1978, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws. Appointed by President Jimmy Carter, Burns was the first woman to be named a federal judge in the district. She became chief district judge in November 1988, serving in that capacity until she received senior status on September 1, 1992. Prior to her appointment to the United States District Court, Burns held judicial appointments in Circuit Court, the Court of Common Pleas, and in Superior Court. She was the first woman in Connecticut's history to be named to a Superior Court judgeship.

Burns was director of Legislative Legal Services for the Legislative Commissioners' Office from 1949 to 1973, during which she was described as "the single most indispensable person in Connecticut state government." She was a member of the Governor's Commission to Revise the Election Laws (1972-73), the Commission to Study Parole Evaluation Techniques and the Rehabilitation of Correctional Institution Inmates (1974-75), the Commission on Court Reorganization (1974-75), the State Law Library Advisory Board (1977-78), and the Commission on the Legal Profession (1978-79).

Contemporary American composer William Elden Bolcom will be presented with an honorary Doctor of Music. Named 2007 Composer of the Year by Musical America and a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, the Pulitzer Prize, and multiple Grammy awards, Bolcom's oeuvre is comprised of chamber, operatic, vocal, choral, cabaret, ragtime, and symphonic music. Bolcom, who began composition studies at the age of 11, was named the University of Michigan's Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Composition in 1994, and he retired in 2008 after a 35-year career at Michigan.

Bolcom won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1988 for 12 New Etudes for Piano, and his setting of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience on the Naxos label won four Grammy Awards in 2005. As a pianist, Bolcom has performed and recorded his own work frequently in collaboration with his wife and musical partner, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris. As a composer, Bolcom has written four violin sonatas; eight symphonies; three operas (McTeague, A View from the Bridge, and A Wedding), plus several musical theater operas; eleven string quartets; two film scores (Hester Street and Illuminata); incidental music for stage plays, including Arthur Miller's Broken Glass; fanfares and occasional pieces; and an extensive catalog of chamber, choral, and vocal works.