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University of Hartford’s Class of 2013 Urged to be “Critical Thinkers” at Commencement

Posted 05/19/2013
Posted by David Isgur

In a humorous address that earned a standing ovation from students, British historical novelist Bernard Cornwell told the approximately 1,100 undergraduate members of the University of Hartford’s Class of 2013 that the most important skill they have learned in their four years at the University is to be critical thinkers, as they take in all the information that is coming at them and affecting the decisions they make about their lives.

“Your job is to listen and to think for yourselves,” Cornwell said in his Commencement address on Sunday, May 19. “If you take an idea off the shelf, whether it’s a political belief or religious dogma, and you don’t examine it, when you come to depend on it, it will crumble. [Shakespeare] put it much better than I can. ‘Unto thine own self be true, and it shall follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.’”

Cornwell, whose speech combined serious advice with a constant stream of witty remarks and anecdotes, brought the graduates to their feet when he concluded his remarks by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the best-looking, most intelligent and by far the sexiest class ever to graduate from the University of Hartford.”

Cornwell was presented with an honorary Doctor of Letters at the ceremony, which also included honorary degree presentations to Richard D. Fain, chairman and chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.; John Corigliano, prolific composer and professor of music at Lehman College of the City University of New York; and Walter Wick, award-winning children’s book author and photographic illustrator. Click here to see more about the honorary degree recipients.

About 1,100 students received bachelor’s and associate’s degrees at diploma presentation ceremonies that followed Sunday’s main ceremony. More than 40 percent of the undergraduate class of 2013 graduated with honors: 129 cum laude, 191 magna cum laude, and 151 summa cum laude. Also, 37 students graduated with University Honors this year, breaking last year's record of 36. (To graduate with University Honors, students must complete 18 credits of honors courses as well as a senior-year thesis or research project.)  See more facts and stories about the Class of 2013 here.

University President Walter Harrison praised the Class of 2013 during Sunday’s main Commencement ceremony, as he said, “We celebrate you for what you have accomplished. Today is about the joy of human accomplishment and possibility, and it’s about celebrating the joy and value of a University of Hartford experience! Let’s celebrate that joy and bask in it.”

Graduating senior Rutger Strauss, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering, also focused on the skills that students gained at the University in his “Charge to the Class of 2013.” He noted that, “The University of Hartford has heightened our sense of responsibility to the communities in which we participate beyond the point of simply being ‘concerned’ from the sidelines when things start to go wrong. We have been instilled with a sense of responsibility that demands commitment. We find ourselves not only more aware and more involved, but also more able to carry out that responsibility. Over the last four years, we have learned to be teachers, artists, and so much more. We have been given the tools to succeed, and we will continue to succeed.”

Graduating senior Miles Aron was awarded the John G. Martin Scholarship to continue his studies at Oxford University in England, graduating senior Peter Bowers was given the John G. Lee Medal for academic achievement and community service, and graduating senior Dana Eckstein was given the Belle K. Ribicoff Prize for academic excellence.

Malcolm Morrison, who served as dean of the University’s Hartt School from 1998 to 2008, was presented with the University Medal for Distinguished Service, which is awarded infrequently to an individual or group who has had a profound impact on the University. Nancy Stula ’83 ’85, director and curator of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, was presented with the Distinguished Alumni Award, which is presented annually to a University graduate who has made an exceptional impact on her/his profession, community, and the University.

Faculty honors were presented to Susan Diehl, who received the Roy E. Larsen Award for Excellence in Teaching, Robert Davis, who was given the James E. and Frances W. Bent Award for Scholarly and/or Artistic Creativity, Donn Weinholtz, who received the Oscar and Shoshana Trachtenberg Award for Sustained Service to the University, David Pines, who was given the Donald W. Davis All-University Curriculum Award,  Joshua Russell, who earned the Belle K. Ribicoff Junior Faculty Prize, and Bryan Sinche, who was awarded the first-ever Belle K. Ribicoff Endowed Professorship.

Chartered in 1957 with the mission to be a “private university with a public purpose,” the University of Hartford offers undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in the arts, humanities, business, engineering and technology, education, and the health professions. The University’s student body of more than 7,000 represents 45 states and nearly 60 countries. For more information, visit