“At some point in all of our lives, there is a moment when you’re at a crossroads,” said Kennedy Owiti Odede, internationally recognized social entrepreneur and CEO of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), as he addressed approximately 1,000 students who received their degrees at the University of Hartford’s Undergraduate Commencement on Sunday, May 15. “You can continue on the path you’ve always known—whether good or bad—or you can take the path of the unknown, the one that will likely change your life.”
A former street child who lived most of his life in one of Africa’s largest slums in Nairobi, Kenya, Odede founded SHOFCO, an organization that combats extreme poverty and gender inequality by linking free schools for girls to a set of high-value, holistic community services for all.
Odede said when growing up in Kenya, his family could not afford to send him to school. Back then, he never thought he would start an organization, become a CEO, or make an impact at all. He told the graduates they too are capable of making change and implored them to use their college degree to make their communities and our world better. “It is okay not to have everything figured out,” he said. “Do the small amounts of good you can.”
In his remarks to the graduates, University of Hartford President Walter Harrison also touched on the complex personal and professional choices the graduates will face in the future. “There are big ones, small ones, ones you expect and ones that you never saw coming,” he said. “You’ve acquired the critical analytical skills here to analyze your choices, you have come to understand your heart and your head, you have learned right from wrong.” Harrison told the graduates that they can be successful down any road taken if they apply themselves and give their best.
In her charge to the graduating class, psychology major Rochelle Louis ’16 of Medford, Mass., urged her fellow graduates to go out and make a difference and to enrich their communities. “It is easy to feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but all of our actions and interests can make a difference, even if only to a small group of people,” she said. “And maybe that is the important thing to remember, that it is not necessarily about changing the world by ourselves, but understanding how making a small difference using all of the skills that we have learned during our time here, can help us to change the world together.”
Three exemplary University of Hartford undergraduate students were honored during Sunday’s commencement ceremony; Alexander Gannuscio ’16 of Cromwell, Conn., a double major in Spanish and philosophy, with a minor in Italian, received the Marion A. Bills Memorial Endowed Scholarship, which enables him to continue his studies at Oxford University in England; Erica Primovic ’16 from Avon, Conn., a mechanical engineering major, received the John G. Lee Medal, awarded annually to a graduating senior from Greater Hartford who has excelled academically while demonstrating a deep commitment to community; and Emily Meachon ’16 of Ocean City, N.J., a double major in psychology and modern languages and cultures (Spanish), was presented with the Belle K. Ribicoff Prize, which is awarded for academic excellence.
During Sunday’s Commencement ceremony, Harrison presented honorary doctoral degrees to Odede; Alan B. Lazowski, chairman, chief operating officer, and founder of Connecticut-based LAZ Parking, and his father, Philip Lazowski, PhD, rabbi emeritus at Beth Hillel Synagogue in Bloomfield, Conn. and a Holocaust survivor; and Calvin Trillin, New York Times best-selling author and a writer for The New Yorker for more than 50 years.
University of Hartford faculty members honored at the ceremony for their achievements are: Susan Coleman, professor of finance, Barney School of Business, was presented with the Humphrey R. Tonkin Award for Scholarly and/or Artistic Creativity; Mark Blackwell, professor of English, College of Arts and Sciences, received the Oscar and Shoshana Trachtenberg Award for Sustained Service to the University; Sarah Senk, assistant professor of English and modern languages, College of Arts and Sciences, was presented with the Donald W. Davis All-University Curriculum Award; Eoin King, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture, received the Belle K. Ribicoff Junior Faculty Prize; and Jessica Nicklin, associate professor of psychology, College of Arts and Sciences, was the recipient of the Belle K. Ribicoff Endowed Professorship. The University Medal for Distinguished Service was presented to Raymond McGivney, professor of mathematics, College of Arts and Sciences. Brett D. Gerstenblatt ’94 a graduate of the University's Hartford Art School, was the recipient of the University’s 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award.
For photos and more biographical information about the Commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients, as well as audio and video clips from the ceremony, visit hartford.edu.