The Charger Blog

Dr. Kaplan to Class of 2023: 'I Hope We Have Cultivated Your Humanity'

In his last major University address, Chancellor Steven H. Kaplan, Ph.D., delivered the Commencement address for the University's newest graduates. He urged them to be contrarians, lifelong learners, and to endeavor to do what they could to "clean up the mess" they've been left in the world they will inherit.

May 18, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Steven H. Kaplan, Ph.D., addresses the Class of 2023.
Steven H. Kaplan, Ph.D., addresses the Class of 2023.

When Steven H. Kaplan, Ph.D., began his inaugural address as the University of New Haven's president nearly two decades ago, he told the audience that he was a "contrarian leader." During the next 19 years, he endeavored to model contrarian behavior and thinking for students. As part of his final major address as the University's leader, he encouraged the University's newest grads to be contrarians.

Dr. Kaplan became the University's sixth president in 2004, a role he held for the next 18 years – the most prosperous period in its history. He was named the University's first chancellor last year, and he will transition to president emeritus at the end of June.

Dr. Kaplan delivered the keynote address as part of Commencement for the Class of 2023. He told his own story to the graduates, sharing anecdotes of his contrarian behavior and decision making throughout his life, including during his tenure as president. Shortly after he assumed the presidency, he explained, he was told explicitly that any proposed plans for the University could not involve taking on any debt. He went on to outline a plan predicated on doing just that.

"My contrarian plan was, somewhat to my surprise, unanimously embraced," he said. "And the rest, as the saying goes, is history. It was during this time that we doubled our undergraduate enrollments, significantly improved the quality of the student body, and put the University on a path of prosperity and success."

'Tackle these issues with creativity and determination'

Indeed, Dr. Kaplan led the University through a period of growth and expansion on a global scale – including growing the increasingly diverse student body, which includes students from around the world; creating new buildings on the University's main campus in West Haven; and establishing additional campuses in Orange, Conn., and Prato, Italy.

Under his leadership, the University also opened the Bergami Center for Science, Technology, and Innovation. It was the centerpiece of The Charger Challenge, a comprehensive campaign Dr. Kaplan spearheaded that was a precursor to the University's 2020 Centennial. The ambitious campaign, which endeavored to raise $100 million, eventually raised $167 million, including $32 million in grants and contracts.

Steven H. Kaplan, Ph.D.
Steven H. Kaplan, Ph.D., delivered the keynote address at Commencement.

In encouraging the Class of 2023 to become contrarian leaders, he hoped to also inspire them to make a difference in the world. He urged them to do whatever they could to "clean up the mess" the preceding generations were leaving behind, and he hoped their University of New Haven education would inspire them to leave the world a better place.

"In my opinion, the two greatest issues facing you as graduates and us as a nation are the severe economic and social inequality that still plagues this country, and climate change," he said. "As a nation, we have the wealth and intellectual capacity to address both of these compelling issues. And, yet, based on the minor progress we have made toward doing so thus far, we seem to lack a sense of urgency about the existential challenges we are facing. I hope you, members of the Class of 2023, will tackle these issues with creativity and determination."

'The foundation of everything we taught you'
Steven H. Kaplan, Ph.D., and Anemone Schweizer-Kaplan '23 Hon. at Commencement.
Steven H. Kaplan, Ph.D., and Anemone Schweizer-Kaplan '23 Hon. at Commencement.

While offering his final piece of advice to graduates, Dr. Kaplan discussed the importance that books – from Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes to works by Shakespeare – have had in enriching his life, both personally and professionally. Dr. Kaplan, a prolific writer who has taught literature classes, holds a doctorate in comparative literature. He encouraged students to become lifelong learners – particularly, in the liberal arts and sciences – regardless of their majors.

In his address, Dr. Kaplan told the Class of 2023 that he hopes their University of New Haven education liberated their minds, teaching them to ask thoughtful and important questions, and to embrace diversity. He expressed his desire that students feel empathy and kindness while interacting with others.

"I hope we have cultivated your humanity," he said. "It is liberal thinking and not technical training that will ultimately allow you to lead successful and purposeful lives. You might not have studied literature, or art, or science, but these and the other liberal arts disciplines were at the foundation of everything we taught you. I hope you will lead lives that are continuously being enriched by such things as the visual and performing arts, literature and history, and scientific and mathematical inquiry."

'The makings of the next greatest generation'
Sen. Richard Blumenthal
Sen. Richard Blumenthal praised the Class of 2023 for their perseverance.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal '00 Hon. echoed many of Dr. Kaplan's sentiments to the Class of 2023. He also addressed graduates at both the morning and afternoon ceremonies, emphasizing Dr. Kaplan's desire that graduates make a dedicated effort to improve the world they will inherit. Sen. Blumenthal also stressed the importance of their commitment to democracy – now more than ever.

Sen. Blumenthal, who has attended and offered remarks at many of the University's Commencement ceremonies over the past two decades, commended Dr. Kaplan for his leadership. He also praised the Class of 2023 for their hard work and dedication while they pursued their degrees.

"You are the first graduating class to have started school during COVID," he said. "You persevered and fought through it. You have proved you have all the makings of the next greatest generation."