Fairfield University awards 1,298 diplomas at two separate ceremonies

Fairfield University awards 1,298 diplomas at two separate ceremonies

Image: Commencement 2009
Jocelyn Boryczka, assistant professor of Politics, congratulates Connie Gibilaro during Fairfield University's Fifty-Ninth undergraduate commencement ceremony on Sunday morning.

For the first time in its history, Fairfield University held a separate commencement ceremony for graduating seniors this morning on the Fairfield campus and will hold exercises for graduate students at 3 p.m.

Speaking at the undergraduate ceremony - the University's 59th commencement exercises - was Dr. Peter J. Pronovost, a native of Waterbury, Conn. , and a 1987 graduate of Fairfield University who was awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant this year for creating a checklist system for critical care teams that has resulted in thousands of lives saved each year. A critical care physician at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, his protocols have been adopted by several states and the United Kingdom and Spain. The University conferred on Dr. Pronovost an honorary Doctor of Science degree. (He is also working with the World Health Organization to set up such safety programs in entire countries, in which Johns Hopkins would design projects, provide oversight, measure results, and create "safety scholars" who would get a Hopkins master's degree in public health and bring their new knowledge back to countries around the globe.)

He told the 940 graduates: "You are entering a world in the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a world with conflicted values and responsibilities. You are entering a world that hungers for great leadership."

From the commencement stage on Bellarmine Hall Lawn, Dr. Pronovost noted that Fairfield equipped him with a deep sense of purpose to help others. A professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, he developed intervention techniques in critical care that are saving countless lives around the world.

Dr. Pronovost emphasized that the world needs to be remade, from healthcare, public education, the financial markets to the business of sustainable energy. "Your Jesuit education has provided you with the tools you need to meet these challenges, the tools to thrive and contribute and the tools to be leaders."

He expressed his hope to the Class of 2009 that they find their own calling in life and be vessels of positive change. "Your generation holds in its hands the opportunity to heal or the opportunity to harm, the opportunity to love or the opportunity to hate, the opportunity to make the world a better place or the opportunity to destroy it. The challenges before us are daunting."

Image: Commencement 2009
Fairfield University graduating seniors celebrate during the Fifty-Ninth commencement exercises on Sunday morning. It was the first time in the University's history that there were two ceremonies - one for graduating seniors and the other for graduate students.

He shared that he was once just like them - attending classes on the Fairfield campus, partying, with no clear idea of what his future might hold. "Yet I had a thirst for knowledge, a passion for excellence and a commitment to leave this world a little better than I found it," said Dr. Pronovost, whose development of a healthcare safety "checklist" has dramatically reduced deaths and patient infections. "Fairfield taught me that I had a responsibility to lead. And so do you."

Colleen Gibson , of Hillsborough, N.J. , an American Studies and Religious Studies double major, delivered the valedictory address to her fellow graduates. Echoing Saint Ignatius's plea to set the world aflame, Gibson said, "By allowing the flame of your passions to come through in the person that you are, others will be compelled to do the same. Whatever it is that brings you joy, embrace it and share it. For if my time at Fairfield has taught me anything, it is that passion is contagious."

She was awarded the University's William J. Kramer '60 Humanitarian Award, which recognizes a senior's commitment to volunteerism and service.

Noah John Benjamin, of West Simsbury, Conn ., a mechanical engineering major, received the Bellarmine Medal, which is given to the student with the highest four-year academic average.

The Saint Ignatius Loyola Medal for outstanding university service, the highest Alumni Association award presented to a senior, was awarded to Ahna Johnson, of Hamden, Conn., a double major in Physics and Information Systems.

The University conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on Monsignor Ralph W. Beiting who has devoted his life to helping those marginalized by poverty.

Fr. Beiting, a Roman Catholic priest, is founder of the Christian Appalachian Project (CAP). As a seminarian, he accompanied several priests on preaching trips to the impoverished eastern Kentucky mountains. There in Appalachia, he found that for many people, the greatest need was not spiritual but physical - food, clean clothes, household goods, shelter. Fr. Beiting was inspired to found the Christian Appalachian Project, an organization dedicated to helping people help themselves out of poverty. Fr. Beiting has always felt that all people - not just Catholic people - were part of his ministry. An interdenominational, non-profit Christian organization, CAP, as it is known, is "committed to serving people in need in Appalachia by providing physical, spiritual and emotional support through a wide variety of programs and services." It has grown into one of the largest non-profit organizations in the eastern half of the United States. The University conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on Bryan A. Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama. He has devoted his life to challenging bias against the poor and people of color in the criminal justice system.

He oversees the private, nonprofit organization Equal Justice Initiative, which provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system. The organization litigates on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders, the poor, the wrongly convicted and others whose trials are marked by racial bias or prosecutorial misconduct. The Equal Justice Initiative plays a key role in the critically important work of reforming the administration of criminal justice by preparing reports, newsletters and manuals to assist advocates and policymakers.

Image: Commencement 2009
Graduate Queenie Paniagua, of Bronx, New York, fixes a plastic hood to shield her from the rain during Fairfield University's Fifty-Ninth undergraduate commencement ceremony on Sunday morning.

Since graduating from Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government, Stevenson has assisted in securing relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, advocating for poor people and developing community-based reform litigation aimed at improving the administration of criminal justice. He also is on the law faculty at New York University School of Law.

Among the many outstanding graduates was John Tartaglio, the scholar-athlete from Milford, Conn ., who lost both legs to an aggressive bacterial infection his senior year at Joseph A. Foran High School. He successfully completed pre-med studies at Fairfield and will be taking his MCATS this month. He has competed in 5K runs and is in training for the New York City Marathon taking place Nov. 1. He is determined to finish the race.

Fairfield will award 358 diplomas to graduate students in a ceremony to take place on Bellarmine Lawn later today. The speaker will be Mathy Mezey, EdD, RN, FAAN, professor and director of The Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing in the New York University College of Nursing whose career has been dedicated to improving healthcare for older adults.

Photos by B.K. Angeletti

Posted On: 05-17-2009 10:05 AM

Volume: 41 Number: 337