Hartford, Connecticut, May 20, 2018 – “You can be agents for positive change,” educator, cultural anthropologist, and author Johnnetta B. Cole said to the 580 graduates at Trinity College’s 192nd Commencement on Sunday, May 20. “In communities across our nation and our world, there is a crying need for peace, justice, and equality for all people. It is because of the state of our nation and our world that we turn to you, the graduates of this very special college, to say that you can be and you must be the leaders we desperately need.”

grads throwing caps in airA crowd of about 5,000—including family members, alumni, faculty, staff, students, administrators, and other guests—gathered on the Main Quadrangle in front of Trinity’s historic Long Walk buildings to witness 558 undergraduates and 22 graduate students receive their degrees. Among the undergraduates, 354 received bachelor of arts degrees and 204 were awarded bachelor of science degrees. Sixteen of the undergraduate degree recipients were Individualized Degree Program (IDP) students.

One family had double the reason to celebrate at Trinity College’s Commencement ceremony. Graduating senior Alex Bednarek and his mother, Roberta Rogers—who is Trinity’s senior associate director of student success, both received degrees; he earned his bachelor of science degree in neuroscience, while she collected her master’s degree in public policy. Among family members in attendance was Roberta’s mother (Alex’s grandmother), Marie Rogers, a Trinity alumna herself who graduated in the first coeducational class at Trinity, the Class of 1973.

Johnnetta ColeDuring her Commencement address, Cole (left, at podium) spoke about what is required of the graduates to become “the leaders we have been waiting for.” First, she said, “You must be of service to others.” Cole quoted African American educator Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, who would often say, “Go on and climb to the top. But remember, you must lift others as you climb.” Secondly, Cole said, “You need to have knowledge of and respect for people who are different from you.” Thirdly, Cole concluded, “You must believe that a positive change is possible and that you have a responsibility to help to make it happen.” Click here to read her full address.

Cole made history in 1987 when she became the first female African American president of Spelman College. Her appointment in 2002 to the presidency of Bennett College was historic as well—Cole is the only person to have served as president of the country’s two historically black colleges for women. More recently, she served as director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (2009–17). Cole is the recipient of numerous honors and accolades, including a degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from Trinity College in 1998.

Honorary degrees were presented during the Commencement ceremony to: Ralph V. Katz, Trinity College Class of 1965, founding chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Health Promotion at New York University College of Dentistry, who was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science; and William Palmer Scully, Trinity College Class of 1961, civic leader and investment management professional, who was awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. Walter Harrison, Trinity College Class of 1968, president emeritus of the University of Hartford—who was being honored by the University of Hartford at its commencement on the same day—will receive his honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during Trinity’s Alumni Reunion in June, when he and his Class of 1968 classmates will celebrate their 50th Reunion. To read more about the honorary degree recipients, click here.

Elhadji MareGraduate Elhadji Mare (right), who was selected as the student speaker, spoke about diversity and inclusion as they related to his personal Trinity experiences as a Posse Scholar from Harlem, New York. “I tend to be a person who values being comfortable,” Mare said. “I wanted my approach to college to be different. I wanted to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” As he met new people through many different activities, clubs, and organizations on campus, Mare said that he learned a lot about himself. The advice he offered to his classmates was, “Do not hold any prejudice for those who seem different from you. Listen to me when I say this: Different is good.” Read his full remarks here.

In her charge to the graduating class, Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney said, “This is a special Commencement for me, because you are a special class to me. We were first-years together! We came here in 2014, and your journey has been my journey, too. And so it is heartwarming and a bit emotional to see you graduate today.” Citing her love of musical theater, Berger-Sweeney said that reflecting on the past four years reminded her of the song, “For Good,” from the musical Wicked, of which she sang a few lines. “‘Because I knew you, I have been changed for good,’” Berger-Sweeney said. “And what’s more, together we’ve changed Trinity for good. And for the better.” Her examples of change at Trinity over the last four years include the introduction of the Bantam Network and Campaign for Community and the opening of the new space downtown at Constitution Plaza, home to the Liberal Arts Action Lab.

grads throwing caps in airBerger-Sweeney told the graduates, “Remember that wherever you go from here, Trinity will always be here for you; it will be your home.” In one last quote from Wicked, she added, “This class, the great Class of 2018, will forever have ‘a handprint on my heart.’ Because I knew you, we have been changed for good.” To read her full remarks, click here.

The valedictorian and salutatorian of the Class of 2018 were recognized for their achievements. Mathilde Caroline Chloé Sauquet, of France, had the highest grade point average in the class and was named valedictorian. Sauquet earned a bachelor of arts degree summa cum laude with dual majors in art history and in language and culture studies: Italian and Arabic, both of which were completed with honors. The salutatorian was Deven James DeCapua Roberts, of Maine, who earned a bachelor of science degree summa cum laude with dual majors in engineering, with honors, and mathematics.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, Board Chair Cornelia P. Thornburgh presented awards for faculty, staff, and student excellence. The Trustee Award for Faculty Excellence went to Eric Galm, associate professor of music. Thornburgh said to Galm, “You are a dynamic professor whose varied courses require and inspire active engagement and a leader who brings international recognition that helps to promote Trinity as an outstanding institution with a vibrant program in the arts.”

The Trustee Award for Staff Excellence went to Lukman Arsalan, senior associate director of international admissions and student success, and Joseph C. Barber, director of community service and civic engagement. When honoring Arsalan, Thornburgh said, “You are an admissions professional who embodies the mission and vision of Trinity; you have been responsible for bringing in the largest class of international students in the college’s history and have positively impacted the culture of international students on our campus.” In recognition of Barber, Thornburgh said, “As a student affairs administrator with a long record of leading Trinity students toward bridging the divide between the college and the city of Hartford, you have made tremendous contributions that have helped to make both better places to live and to work.”

Three generations of Bantams: (left to right) Alex Bednarek ’18, Marie Rogers ’73, and Roberta Rogers IDP’10, M’18.

The Trustee Award for Student Excellence went to graduates Cassia Jade Armstrong and Amro M. S. Arqoub. Armstrong, Thornburgh said, is “the liberal arts in action, exemplifying sustained and holistic excellence through your study and research in environmental science and chemistry, as an international student mentor and teaching assistant, as a leader and volunteer in numerous organizations, through your work as a filmmaker, and more.” Thornburgh then said to Arqoub, “Neuroscientist, diplomat, world traveler, and change agent—you personify the intellectually engaged excellence and real-world education that distinguish Trinity; you are an inspired and inspiring creator of impassioned and compassionate dialogue across differences, affecting minds, brains, and hearts.”

Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tim Cresswell honored two faculty members for their dedication to the academic life of Trinity. Diana R. Paulin, associate professor of English and American studies, was presented with the Thomas Church Brownell Prize for Teaching Excellence, given to a senior faculty member who consistently performs exemplary work. “You are a beloved teacher whose courses cross disciplinary boundaries, and you challenge students to think creatively and to apply what they learn outside the classroom; you also serve as a trusted counselor and mentor to students,” Cresswell said to Paulin.

The Dean Arthur H. Hughes Award for Achievement in Teaching, given to a faculty member who has taught for fewer than nine years, was awarded to Tamsin Jones, assistant professor of religious studies. Cresswell said to Jones, “You are a passionate teacher who is admired for the way you engage students in the philosophical and existential issues of the study and interpretation of religion; you also are a devoted and caring adviser.”