Standing ovation for Brother Rick Curry, S.J. at 50th commencement


Brother Rick Curry, S.J., Ph.D., is an actor by training and on Sunday, May 21, he brought his audience - 1100 Fairfield University graduates and about 10,000 families and friends - to their feet in a standing ovation. With eloquent passion he brought to life the story of his own disappointment and anger as a disabled person that led him to found the National Theatre Workshop for the Handicapped (NTWH).

Born without a right hand and forearm, Brother Curry was a doctoral candidate at New York University when he learned that many of his classmates were supplementing their incomes by acting in commercials. After gaining the approval of his Jesuit superior, he made many attempts to get an audition. Arriving at one agency for a mouth wash commercial, he was greeted by a secretary who burst out laughing. "Jim put you up to this, didn't he?" she asked. When he insisted he was there to audition for the commercial, she replied, "Please leave. I couldn't possibly send you upstairs. If I send you upstairs, I could lose my job."

It was that moment, he said, of looking into the face of prejudice that changed his life. "Nothing had prepared me for this rejection," he said. Less than two days later, he decided he would start the National Theatre Workshop for the Handicapped, which has now been in existence for 23 years. Artists, he explained, have the gift of imagination, which has no physical boundaries.

Brother Curry urged the new graduates to celebrate their differences and use their imaginations to change the world.

Commencement took place on the Bellarmine Hall Lawn, despite an overcast sky and some early morning drizzle. The graduates had been given small packets with clear, plastic rain ponchos, "just in case," but when the rain held off and the sky even brightened by the end of the ceremony, they gleefully tossed them into the air.

Delivering the valedictory address was Matthew Day of Hawthorne, N.Y., a mathematics and economics major, who told his fellow graduates, "Our professors and advisors have shown us that our education can only be complete through balanced components of scholarship and service. These mentors taught us the economics of poverty, which we then experienced first-hand in Bridgeport soup kitchens. Their classes helped us understand the delicate psychology of the children we played with while volunteering at ABCD-HeadStart. They taught us the skills of nursing, and then showed us how to use them to comfort others in rural Appalachia. Our teachers showed us how "becoming men and women for others" can be a life-long unifying purpose."

Lawrence J. Dunn, III of Southington, Conn., received the Bellarmine medal for achieving the highest four-year academic average. An accounting and information systems major in the School of Business, Larry has been awarded a Fulbright to study in Great Britain.

Brother Curry was awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. Honorary doctor of laws degrees were presented to the Most Rev. Samuel E. Carter, S.J., Archbishop Emeritus of Kingston (Jamaica); Colin G. Campbell, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and former president of Wesleyan University; and Dennis D. Dammerman, vice chairman of the board and executive officer of GE, a member of the Corporate Executive Office and chairman and CEO of GE Capital Services.

Some 1,112 students graduated from Fairfield University today, with 861 undergraduate degrees (840 bachelor's and 21 associate's degrees) and 251 graduate degrees (231 master's and 20 certificate of advanced studies degrees).

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on May 21, 2000

Vol. 32, No. 252