Fairfield University awards 883 diplomas at 62nd annual commencement exercises

Fairfield University awards 883 diplomas at 62nd annual commencement exercises

Image: J Russioniello Commencement Under breathtakingly beautiful skies, Fairfield University awarded diplomas to 883 undergraduate students at the 62nd commencement exercises today, as nearly 6,000 proud parents, grandparents, siblings and friends watched on Bellarmine Lawn. In keeping with tradition, the Jesuit institution celebrated students and honorary degree recipients who have committed their lives to serving others and who, at the same time, live inspiring lives.

Joseph P. Russoniello, a member of Fairfield's Class of 1963, delivered the commencement address and received an honorary degree. He told graduates about the great fulfillment that can come with a life of service. After graduating Fairfield, he went on to become one of the most prominent prosecutors in the United States. While serving as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, he acquired an impressive record of prosecutions, successfully arguing public corruption, espionage and murder cases.

Russoniello spoke about making lifelong friends at Fairfield and of a career that took him from the FBI to private practice at a law firm to being named a United States Attorney. He emphasized that colleagues tried to talk him out of leaving a lucrative career for what they felt was a limited political appointment. "Time and again throughout my life, the grounding in the basics that I learned at Fairfield was invaluable in making decisions, weighing risks against benefits and recognizing that service to my fellow man was not a job but an obligation," he shared.

Image: Kekoa Taparra Commencement

He urged graduates not to be pessimistic about a world weighed down in economic turmoil and threats of terrorism. "As you reach for the stars, your time spent here will serve you well," he emphasized.

The valedictory speaker was Kekoa Taparra, of Mililani, Oahu, Hawaii, a biology and psychology major from the College of Arts & Sciences. In the fall, Taparra will be attending the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the Cellular and Molecular Medicine Ph.D. Program with a goal of pursuing a career in cancer medicine.

Taparra told his fellow graduates of three ancient virtues important to his native Hawaii, including 'Ohana,' meaning family. "From my first visit to Fairfield back in 2008, I not only experienced my first snowfall, and first frostbite, but I also discovered how genuinely caring the students and faculty are at Fairfield," he said. "From that snowy week, I already sensed this presence of 'Ohana.' Be it a Jesuit, a professor, a coach, or an administrator, we always had someone guiding our personal journeys."

Image: Undergraduate Commencement

Fairfield University President Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., presented accounting and economics double major Gregory Burke, of Walpole, Mass., with the prestigious St. Ignatius Loyola Medal, presented annually by the Fairfield University Alumni Association to the senior who best exemplifies the true spirit of a Jesuit education. A member of the Dolan School of Business graduating class, he will soon start a position with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Boston while completing his CPA certification.

This year, the Bellarmine Medal - awarded to the student with the highest four-year academic average - was presented to Jaclyn Regina Scifo, of Saddle River, New Jersey. She earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average, and received a B.S. in mathematics.

After welcoming graduates into the alumni ranks, Fr. von Arx told them, "I am confident that the faith you have placed in Fairfield has been repaid, and will continue to be repaid as the seeds of maturation and intellectual growth that have been planted here continue to grow within you."

Graduates' post Fairfield plans are as diverse as the make-up of the student body.

Image: Undergraduate Commencement Glee Club president Ralph Belvedere, of Waterbury, Conn., a double major in classical music and Italian, will attend Julliard where he will be studying under Maestro Vincent La Selva, head conductor of the opera and orchestra at the respected school. He hopes one day to teach children how to compose music. Psychology major Niles Muzyk, of Ridgewood, N.J., the Judaic Studies Academic Achievement Award recipient, will be pursuing a doctorate of psychology at The George Washington University. School of Nursing graduate Christine Murphy will still have the Jesuits in her life - she plans to work as an operating room nurse at Georgetown University Hospital. Fellow BSN recipients Mary Cunningham will be working at Yale-New Haven Hospital as a registered nurse on a general medicine unit, and Lydia Ross will begin the nurse residency program at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. School of Engineering graduate Neil Rodrigues, co-recipient of the Dean's Award for designing a lightweight sport utility aircraft, is going to Purdue University with a research assistantship in the study of gas turbines. Zachary Gross, of Roxbury, Conn., recipient of awards given by the Program in the Environment and Latin American and Caribbean Studies, will be working for Norwalk, Conn.-based Simply Smiles, a nonprofit dedicated to providing bright futures for impoverished children in Mexico and on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota. In addition, two individuals earned Associate's Degrees.

Honorary degrees were also bestowed on Jane E. Ferreira, president and chief executive officer of Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport, Conn., who has dedicated the last decade to educating and empowering women who are functionally illiterate; Fr. Richard J. Clifford, S.J., a revered Old Testament scholar, prolific writer and founding dean of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry; and Joseph Timpone, M.D., a member of Fairfield's Class of 1980, of Georgetown University Medical Center, a dedicated researcher focused on finding vital solutions for those with HIV and other infectious diseases.

Later today, a commencement ceremony will be held for 445 graduate students, included among them are the University's first doctorate graduates. Longtime Fairfield residents Bob and Suzanne Wright, co-founders of Autism Speaks, will deliver the commencement address. After their grandson was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, Bob Wright, the former vice chairman of General Electric and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal, and Suzanne Wright committed their lives to making the public aware of the devastating impacts the disorder has on children. The Wrights spoke at a conference on autism at Fairfield several years ago. Part of the fabric of the local community, they will receive an honorary degree.

Image: Undergraduate Commencement

An honorary degree will also be bestowed on Sister Clare Fitzgerald, S.S.N.D., Ph.D., founding director of Fairfield's American Studies Program, who has been a passionate, beloved teacher for 64 years and a 'doyen of Catholic education.'


For press, highlights and B-roll of Fairfield University's undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies will be available for downloading within two hours after each of the ceremonies ends - by 2 p.m. for the undergraduate footage and by 6:15 p.m. for the graduate footage.

To download the footage from the undergraduate commencement, please go to the following site:


To download the footage from the graduate commencement, please go to:


It's best to use Firefox to link to this site, but regardless of which browser you use, the files will end up in your "Downloads" folder on a Mac, while PC users will get a choice to "Open" or "Save" the files. Both .mov and .mp4 files will be available.

Posted On: 05-20-2012 11:05 AM

Volume: 44 Number: 307