University News

Renowned Women’s Activist Encourages Graduates to ‘Stay True to Your Vision’

Teresa Younger, president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women – the first and oldest women’s foundation in the United States – delivered the keynote address and received an honorary degree at the University of New Haven’s Winter Commencement ceremony.

December 18, 2018

Teresa Younger, president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women
Teresa Younger, president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women

Teresa Younger, who has spent more than 20 years on the frontlines of some of the most critical battles affecting the lives of women and their communities, told the more than 700 graduates at the University of New Haven’s Winter Commencement that her path has been “anything but straightforward.”

Younger, the president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, reflected on being a first-generation college student in North Dakota, meeting Barack and Michelle Obama, and learning her most valuable life lessons. Understanding how to develop an exit strategy, she explained, enabled her to grow, and she encouraged students to “leave the door open.”

“Ask yourself, why am I here, how long will I stay, and how will I get out?” Younger said. “When you don’t, you become complacent.”

A nationally recognized thought leader, advocate, and strategist, Younger has received recognition from organizations such as Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Inside Philanthropy. She urged graduates to do their part to “change the world.

“Make the world a better place. You can do it by doing one thing every day. It doesn’t have to be hard. It can be easy, like saying ‘thank you,’ or it can be something hard, like saying ‘I’m sorry.’”Teresa Younger
‘Listen to your inner self’

Younger who was the first African-American women to be named executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, told graduates that learning how to trust herself enabled her to better serve others.

“It was my inner self that was telling me to pay attention,” said Younger, who was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

“Listen to your inner self. Understand your privilege. So many of us think we don’t have anything to offer, but you do. Having a degree from the University of New Haven gives you privilege.”Teresa Younger

As part of the ceremony, Eileen Eder, an award-winning artist; instructor through the Lyme Art Association in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and at Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts of the University of New Haven; and member of the University’s Board of Governors was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

In addition, James Zander ’73, founder and owner of James Zander & Associates – an independent insurance agency – and a former city council member in DeSoto, Texas, where he helped spearhead economic development activities that attracted thousands of new jobs to the city, received an honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree.

‘We are a powerful generation’
Parker Johnson ’19 speaking during Winter Commencement
Parker Johnson ’19

In her remarks, Parker Johnson ’19, president of the Undergraduate Student Government Association, encouraged the graduates to look back on their growth during their time at the University and the journey of discovering their passions and cultivating lifelong friendships.

“At the end of the road is a degree that will open doors for the rest of your career,” Johnson said. “Sitting here today, you’ve made it to the end of that road. You will soon have that degree in your hands, and you can begin the next phase of what I’m sure will be a truly successful and prosperous life.”

“We are a powerful generation because we don’t settle. We re-create. We know what we want our future to look like, and we fight until changes are in place."Mackenzie Upshaw ’19 M.S.
Mackenzie Upshaw ’19 M.S. speaking during Winter Commencement
Mackenzie Upshaw ’19 M.S.

Mackenzie Upshaw ’19 M.S., executive vice president of the Graduate Student Council, urged her classmates to go out into the world and share their passions, knowledge, and talents in their chosen fields.

“Whether you’ve studied the arts, engineering, science, business, or law, the education and skills you’ve developed here have built you to be an asset in the path you choose.”