Reminding the 576 students who received their degrees Sunday that passion is “absolutely indispensable” to a successful professional life, Katie Couric delivered an inspiring, uplifting, and entertaining commencement address that Trinity’s president called “one for the memory books.”
“First and fundamentally, you have got to love what you do,” said Couric. “Passion is the fuel of high performance... If you’re passionate about something you’re probably already good at it. And, if not, that passion will give you the tenacity you’ll need in order to excel.”
Couric asked the 550 undergraduates and 26 master’s degree students, “How do you distinguish yourselves in a highly competitive world? What sets you apart from the pack?” before passing along some advice from her mother: “Let them know you’re there.”
Couric offered the example of her fiancé, John Molner ’85, who, after his graduation from Trinity, was passed over for a job with an investment firm. Rather than throw in the towel and continue his search elsewhere, he asked for a meeting with the company’s head of recruiting to find out why he was turned down. After demonstrating that willingness to accept feedback and eagerness to improve, Molner got an offer on the spot.
On the topic of rejection and criticism, she recounted her own experience, injecting humor into her remarks.
“The critics were harsh and unrelenting in my first few months on the job,” she said of her experience as the first solo female anchor of the CBS Evening News
. “They complained about my hair, my makeup, my clothes, my delivery, even the way I held my hands. Some claimed I lacked gravitas, which I’ve decided is Latin for ‘testicles.’”
“It wasn’t easy,” she said, “but I kept my head down and I stayed focused because I loved the work.”
Couric’s address came on a day in which several thousand students, faculty, administrators, family members, and other guests gathered under the soaring elms on the main quadrangle in front of the historic Long Walk buildings to witness the College’s 188th Commencement exercises. The celebratory mood of the ceremony was matched by breathtaking weather that will add to the Class of 2014’s fond memories of their commencement.
Today’s commencement marked the last one in which Trinity President James F. Jones, Jr., would preside. He is retiring after 10 years at the helm of the College, as is Paul E. Raether ’68, P’93, ’96, ’01, who is retiring after serving as a member of the Board of Trustees since 1989 and as its chair since 2002.
Couric, whose career in broadcast journalism started in 1979, has won numerous awards and accolades for her work, but her cancer advocacy has also had a major public impact. Couric lost her husband to colon cancer in 1998 and, in the years since, has been a leading advocate for research and increased awareness of colorectal cancers. After her on-air colonoscopy in 2000, the 20 percent increase in colonoscopies nationwide was called by some “the Couric effect.”
“According to a study released just this past March, in the last 10 years, the incidence of colon cancer has decreased by 30 percent,” Couric said. “I can tell you, honestly, that my cancer advocacy work has been more gratifying to me than any interview, any story, any magazine cover, because there is nothing more rewarding than embracing a cause that is bigger than yourself.”
Concluding her remarks, Couric commended Trinity students not just for earning their degrees, but also for their work outside the classroom on autism awareness, promoting a healthy body image, mentoring and tutoring Hartford students, and raising money for cancer research through Relay for Life.
“That’s no surprise,” she said. “Your generation is known for the priority you place on helping others and on building careers that are driven as much by purpose as by a paycheck… Keep challenging the status quo and hold on to the youthful idealism that makes you think you can change the world, because you really can.”
Couric received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree for her “exemplary career in broadcast journalism and [her] unwavering commitment to cancer research and awareness.”
In addition to Couric, five honorary degrees were bestowed: to Jones, a Doctor of Humane Letters degree for his “exceptional career as a teacher, scholar, and leader in the field of education, and above all for [his] devoted service to Trinity College”; to Raether, a Doctor of Humane Letters degree for his “extraordinary service to [his] alma mater, for [his] generosity, and for [his] wise leadership.”
Also, to Julieta Castellanos, a Doctor of Humane Letters degree for “speaking truth to power, for fighting for justice, security and human rights, and for the bravery [she] has shown to ‘not forget – to never forget’”; to Eric Roy Fossum ’79, a Doctor of Sciences degree for his “extensive contributions to technology and [his] informed leadership of tomorrow’s brightest inventors and entrepreneurs”; and to Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., a Doctor of Laws degree for his “lifetime of leadership, [his] willingness to ‘stand up and speak out, and [his] exemplary career.”
The valedictorian and salutatorian of the Class of 2014 were also named: Tram Ngoc Luong of Vietnam, who graduated summa cum laude
with honors in international studies: global studies, had the highest grade point average among her peers, followed by Hannah Brickley of Melrose, MA, who graduated summa cum laude
Seventeen students graduated summa cum laude, 29 students graduated magna cum laude and 55 graduated cum laude.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, awards were presented for Faculty, Student and Staff Excellence. The first went to Paul Lauter, Allan K. and Gwendolyn Miles Smith Professor of English, a member of Trinity’s faculty for 26 years and “the creator of a groundbreaking anthology that altered the way American literature is taught across the country and around the world.”
The Trustee Award for Excellence to students went to Gaurav Inder Singh Toor, a member of Phi Beta Kappa who will pursue his Ph.D. at Cornell University. Toor was praised for his “zeal for living and [his] fearless pursuit of new experiences.” The second student was Luong, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Presidential Fellow for international studies. Beyond her record of achievement, it was said, Luong embodied “the best of a Trinity education” by putting “liberal arts to work for the betterment of society.”
Recognized for his outstanding contributions as a Trinity staff member was Jason Rojas, director of community relations. Rojas was called “a tireless presence on and off campus, working to develop relationships and trust with the surrounding community; creating and promoting the College through events for local residents at College facilities; serving the local community and beyond through his service in the Connecticut General Assembly; [and] demonstrating his commitment through dedicated service on the boards of neighborhood organizations.”
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. Gerald Moshell, professor of music, was presented with the Thomas Church Brownell Prize for Teaching Excellence, which is given to a senior faculty member who consistently performs exemplary work. Moshell was praised as “a passionate and dedicated teacher of music; a director, conductor, and expert in American musical theater…and an educator whose students stay in touch with him years after they graduate.”
The Arthur H. Hughes Award for Teaching Excellence, which is given to a faculty member who has taught for fewer than nine years, was given to two faculty members: Emilie Dressaire, assistant professor of engineering, and Kifah Hanna, assistant professor of language and culture studies.
The first woman to hold a tenure-track appointment in the Engineering Department, Dressaire’s “energy and exacting standards have already made her a role model [and] a professor who inspires her students to academic excellence and social engagement.”
A professor of Arabic and scholar of female writers, Hanna was said to “challenge her students to question their perceived notions, explore with them new worlds of literature, culture and film” and a professor “known for connecting students to unique study-away and postgraduate opportunities.”