552 Degrees Awarded to Students at Trinity’s 189th Commencement

The Reverend James Morris Lawson, Jr., Delivers Commencement Address to the Class of 2015

Hartford, CT, May 17, 2015 – Reminding the 552 students who received their degrees Sunday of the vast opportunities ahead of them, the Reverend James Morris Lawson, Jr., delivered an inspiring and uplifting Commencement address that called upon graduates to value the gift of life and the power it comes with.

Lawson asked the 524 undergraduates and 28 master’s degree students, “to make your life count in every fashion possible” and to “use your life for things that make for good, for the things that make for beauty, for the things that make for mystery.”

Renowned as one of the most important advocates for nonviolence in American history, Lawson was described by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., as the “leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.” TIME magazine identified Lawson as one of seven icons of the civil rights movement. Drawing on the experience of his life, he urged graduates to reject violence in all its forms.

The Reverend James Morris Lawson, Jr.
addresses the Class of 2015.
 “Violence is a lie,” he said. “It does not fulfill the promises that it makes. Violence has become an atrocious violation of the universe itself. We must identify ourselves no longer with violence of speech, violence of the fists or the weapon, or violence of the systems of oppression. We must identify ourselves with the truth of the power of every living human being no matter where they are or what they are.”

For Lawson, being invited to speak at Trinity College’s Commencement held personal meaning. He recalled moving to Los Angeles, where he led a 2,000-member congregation at Holman United Methodist Church. Among that congregation was the family of Joanne Berger-Sweeney, then a high school student. Today marked Berger-Sweeney's first Commencement as Trinity’s President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience.

“We want to congratulate her for this: her first year as president of this distinguished college,” said Lawson.

Lawson’s address came on a day in which an estimated 6,800 students, faculty, administrators, family members, and other guests gathered on the main quadrangle in front of the historic Long Walk buildings to witness the College’s 189th Commencement exercises. The excitement was palpable among the crowd, shielded from the bright sun by the quad’s soaring elms.

For his life’s work as a leader for justice, peace, and equality, Lawson was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree. In addition to Lawson, three other honorary degrees were bestowed: to JoAnne A. Epps ’73, an honorary doctor of laws for her significant contributions to the legal profession, to legal education, and to Trinity; to Jon A. Reynolds ’59, an honorary doctor of humane letters for his distinguished service to his country, his exemplary career at Raytheon Company, and his dedication to Trinity; and to George Allen Weiss, an honorary doctor of humane letters for his transformative educational philanthropy and devotion to providing opportunities for at-risk youth.

The valedictorians and salutatorian of the Class of 2015 were also named: Erin Carroll Barney of Stamford, Connecticut, who graduated summa cum laude with honors in engineering science and with honors in psychology, and William Theodore Schreiber-Stainthorp of Chicago, Illinois, who graduated summa cum laude with honors in neuroscience, had the highest grade point average among their peers, followed by Binod Giri of Nepal, who graduated summa cum laude with honors in engineering and mathematics.

Twenty-four students graduated summa cum laude, 22 students graduated magna cum laude and 41 graduated cum laude.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, awards were presented for Faculty, Student, and Staff Excellence. The first went to Dan Lloyd, Brownell Professor of Philosophy, who was recognized for over 30 years at Trinity bridging the humanities, sciences, and arts, as well as his leadership of the Community Learning Initiative from 1994 to 2002, first-rate scholarship and publication, and the high quality of his teaching. “You represent excellence in the liberal arts,” said Philip S. Khoury, vice chair of the Board of Trustees.

The Trustee Award for Student Excellence went to Binod Giri and Caroline Benson Hayes. Giri, a double major in engineering and mathematics, was recognized for his academic achievement as well as his engagement on campus, including working as a tutor and supplemental instructor and, as an international student from Nepal, helping to expand Trinity’s global awareness. Hayes, a double major in international studies and women, gender, and sexuality, was a President’s Fellow and a leader of Trinity’s women’s lacrosse team.

Alison J. Draper, director of the Science Center and lecturer in interdisciplinary science, was awarded the Trustee Award for Staff Excellence. Draper was recognized for her coordination across disciplines, and was called “the foundation of the interdisciplinary science program.” In addition to her work with students and dedication to academic rigor, Draper was acknowledged for her leadership in a variety of programs, including the “Science for the Greater Good” series, the summer science research program, and the summer science academy with Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy.

Two faculty members were honored for their devotion and dedication to the academic life of Trinity, whether in the quality of their teaching, research, writing, or all three. Daniel Blackburn, Thomas S. Johnson Distinguished Professor of Biology, was presented with the Thomas Church Brownell Prize for Teaching Excellence, which is given to a senior faculty member who consistently performs exemplary work. Blackburn was praised by Thomas Mitzel, dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs, for “captivating students with his passion and clarity” during his more than 25 years of service at Trinity.

Members of the Class of 2015 finally walk over the
Luther-Roosevelt stone as they process to
Trinity's 189th Commencement.
 The Arthur H. Hughes Award for Teaching Excellence, which is given to a faculty member who has taught for fewer than nine years, was awarded to Daniel Mrozowski, visiting assistant professor of English. Additionally, Sarah Raskin, professor of psychology and neuroscience; Stefanie Chambers, associate professor of political science; and Anne Lambright, associate professor of language and culture studies, were awarded Charles A. Dana Research Professorships.

In her charge to the graduating class, President Berger-Sweeney began by recounting the story of Jacob Pruett, born a slave in Alabama in 1825, just two years after the founding of Trinity College. Years later, during Reconstruction, he became one of the first African-American men to register to vote.

Berger-Sweeney then visited the words of a famous speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in which he called for America to embrace “the fierce urgency of now.”

“Graduates: your time is now,” she said. “What is it that you are so passionate about that it has to be done now? What is it that you need to fulfill you? What is your fierce personal urgency of now?” She recounted the ways that Trinity students have demonstrated the importance of “doing it now,” including athletic triumphs, academic achievements, and service to the Trinity community, the city, and the world.

“You have expanded more than your intellect,” she said. “You have developed your character.”

She then returned to the story of Jacob Pruett, the trailblazing former slave who went on to register to vote. She recalled how Pruett’s granddaughter Alberta was the first African American to serve on the board of the Girl Scouts of New York City. Alberta’s husband, Samuel, rose through the ranks of his Harlem church before leading the largest church in American’s largest city.

Together, Alberta and Samuel had a son named Paul Sweeney, whose daughter followed in the family’s trailblazing footsteps: she became the first woman and first African American to serve as the president of Trinity College.

“I urge you to move forward now,” she said. “You are ready. Trinity has given you what you need to seize the future. Find your passion and follow it.”