HARTFORD, CT, May 22, 2011 – Lamenting the lack of a script that would have allowed him to memorize and deliver his lines, actor Patrick Wilson nonetheless delivered a witty and inspiring commencement speech Sunday, telling the members of the Class of 2011 that whatever paths they may choose, their passion will ultimately keep them afloat, alive, anchored, and amazed.
“Remember what the passion is in your life. Hold on to that which gives you hope. Grip it close to you and don’t let it go,” said Wilson, noting that he was not “your typical commencement speaker” and had struggled to come up with an appropriately serious theme. Indeed, he joked about googling the Internet to find quotes from memorable speeches that would help him carry the day.
“I wanted to be cool and wise but not alienating,” said Wilson, who managed to pull off both with dexterity. Aided by his self-deprecating humor, Wilson’s speech was well received by the large crowd of students, faculty, family members and friends who had gathered on the main Quadrangle for Trinity’s 185th Commencement ceremony.
“Life is, at its core, an adventure,” said Wilson, a star of stage, screen and TV and winner of three Drama League Awards and a Tony Award nomination. “As you enter the workplace, identify your passion…because that passion will lead to your success.
For the second consecutive year, cloudy skies prevailed as speeches were given and the students marched on stage to receive their diplomas. However, the rain held off, permitting the granting of 596 degrees – 554 to undergraduates and 42 to graduate students.
In addition to Wilson, honorary degrees were awarded to Walter “Wally” Lamb, an educator, social activist and prize-winning author; Michael Battle ’73, a minister, former college official and currently the United States Ambassador to the African Union; and Scott Reynolds ’63, a former Pentagon official, financial services expert and secretary of the College. Wilson was presented with an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree; Lamb an honorary Doctor of Letters degree; Battle an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree; and Reynolds an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
The valedictorian of the Class of 2011 was Julia Svedova of Slovakia, who graduated with a B.S. with honors in General Scholarship and Neuroscience, while the salutatorian was Michelle Benjamin of Reading, Massachusetts, who earned a B.S. with honors in General Scholarship, Mathematics.
Three other undergraduates were recognized for their scholarly success. They were named Optimae or Optimi, meaning that they earned an A- or better in all courses required for their degree. The three were Sarthak Khanal of Nepal, who graduated with honors in General Scholarship and Physics and Engineering; Rahul Shakya of Nepal, who received a B.S. with honors in General Scholarship and Engineering and Mathematics; and Ellen Anderson of Glendale, California, who earned a B.A. with honors in General Scholarship and Philosophy.
The commencement exercise, with its speeches and presentation of degrees and awards, was the capstone of a pageantry-filled weekend, one that included an art exhibit, a performance by the Trinity College Chapel Singers, a Phi Beta Kappa initiation and luncheon, a baccalaureate service, and a reception on the Soccer Field during which President and Mrs. James F. Jones, Jr., and members of the Board of Trustees mingled with students and family members.
As is tradition, the procession began precisely at 11 a.m. with College administrators, faculty and students proceeding in front of the Fuller Arch in Northam Towers and onto the Quad, where the audience was seated in anticipation of the weekend’s main event.
Jones noted that the moment was indeed bittersweet as the graduates were completing one stage of their lives and embarking on another. Jones was followed by Paul Raether ’68, P’93, ’96, ’01, who is the longtime chair of the Board of Trustees.
Raether presented Trustees Awards for Faculty, Student and Staff Excellence. The first went to Louis Masur, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor in American Institutions and Values, who, Raether noted, is “an internationally recognized historian” who can discuss the Civil War, baseball and Bruce Springsteen with equal prowess.
The student winners were Cristina Conti of Stamford, Connecticut, an accomplished writer and dancer who will attend graduate school at the University of Oxford in England, and Ibrahim Diallo of New York City, who served as president of the Student Government Association, has performed humanitarian work in Africa, and has been feted at the United Nations. The inaugural Trustee Award for Excellence by a staff member went to Brian Killian, a campus safety officer who, Raether said, “can always be counted on to go above and beyond” the call of duty.
In addition to Masur, other faculty were cited for their teaching and scholarly excellence. The Arthur H. Hughes Award for Teaching Achievement, which is presented to a faculty member who has taught for fewer than nine years, went to Laura Holt ’00, assistant professor of psychology, and Mark Stater, assistant professor of economics.
Frank Kirkpatrick ’64, Ellsworth Morton Tracy Lecturer and Professor of Religion, was the recipient of the Thomas Church Brownell Prize for Teaching Excellence, which is given to a senior faculty member who consistently performs exemplary work. Kirkpatrick was cited for his “40 years of extraordinary teaching and scholarship.”
Charles A. Dana Research Professorship Awards were presented to three members of the faculty: James Trostle, professor of anthropology; Kevin McMahon, John R. Reitemeyer Associate Professor of Political Science; and Sonia Cardenas, associate professor of political science and director of the Human Rights Program.
After the awards were conferred and before the students received their diplomas, Wilson, who has appeared in both dramatic and musical productions, delivered the Commencement address. Although his career has run the theatrical gamut – from The Full Monty to Angels in America – he stressed that music was his first love and the mainstay of his life.
He told students that they should similarly find a passion that will help anchor their lives and arm them for whatever challenges and pitfalls lay ahead. If they are successful in doing that, Wilson said, “the world will be yours.”
In conclusion, Wilson said the moral of his speech and the message that he hoped would resonate the most with students is this: “Be passionate about life, despite the grind. And find time to play. That will keep you afloat, alive and amazed.”