University News

U.S. Senator Tells Class of 2021: 'You Have Faced Challenges that Have Prepared You as No Other Class'

In his keynote address at the University of New Haven’s Spring Commencement, United States Senator Richard Blumenthal ’00 Hon. commended graduates for the resilience and grit they have demonstrated throughout the pandemic and urged them to find opportunities to foster positive change in the face of adversity.

May 18, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Senator Richard Blumenthal
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal delivered the keynote address at the Universityâs Spring Commencement.

United States Senator Richard Blumenthal ’00 Hon. acknowledges that living through a pandemic has been difficult for everyone, particularly college students. His message to the University of New Haven’s newest graduates was of hope, as he encouraged them to continue to apply the grit and resilience they have exhibited for the last 15 months.

In his keynote address at the University’s Spring Commencement ceremonies, Sen. Blumenthal told students a story about Kristin and Michael Song, whose 15-year-old son, Ethan, was killed three years ago when the gun he was handling at a neighbor’s house in Guilford, Conn. accidentally went off.

Sen. Blumenthal told students that the Song family is an example of how grief can foster change, since their advocacy led them to champion a law that requires safe storage of unattended firearms in homes. "Ethan’s Law" was signed by Governor Ned Lamont in 2019.

"Their tragedy and heartbreak have helped to inspire positive change," said Sen. Blumenthal, Connecticut’s senior U.S. senator who is a longtime supporter of the University. "We are going into a time of renewal and hope where we can learn from the tragedy and heartbreak that we have seen. One of the lessons we can learn from the Song family is to never be afraid to ask for help. You have to be strong and brave to help others, but also, you must ask for help."

'We have a lot of work to do'
Spring Commencement Crowd
More than 1,600 members of the Universityâs Class of 2021 were awarded their degrees on Commencement Day.

Sen. Blumenthal, who has long championed issues such as school safety, affordable housing, and improving cybersecurity, recognized several members of the University’s Class of 2021, including Emily Bean ’21 MPH for her work as a COVID-19 contact tracer; Ben Gershman ’21, a paramedicine major who has assisted with the vaccination effort; and Anyssa Poirier ’21, a mechanical engineering major who was ranked fourth in the country out of thousands of cadets by U.S. Army Cadet Command.

Sen. Blumenthal also offered his sympathy to the family of Joshua Goodart ’21, a cybersecurity and networks major who succumbed to complications from COVID-19. Goodart’s family attended the ceremony, and the University awarded his degree posthumously. Goodart’s brother, Justin, accepted his degree.

Acknowledging that this year has been one of "hardship and heartbreak," Sen. Blumenthal told students that it also entailed "grit and gratitude." Discussing some of the many challenges facing the nation, he urged students to continue to be resilient as they prepare for what’s ahead.

"You have faced challenges that have prepared you as no other class before for the challenges to come," he said. "Our country, the greatest in the history of the world, is still a work in progress. We still have glaring – and even, seemingly, growing – inequities and disparities, and they’ve been particularly highlighted and aggravated during this pandemic. We have a lot of work to do, and it is going to be tough, grinding, and demanding."

'Remember to cherish the life you lead'
Amr Al-Dabbagh
His Excellency Mr. Amr Al-Dabbagh

As part of the ceremony, His Excellency Mr. Amr Al-Dabbagh, a successful Saudi business executive and philanthropist, was conferred an honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree, and Lois Bergami, one of the University of New Haven’s most devoted benefactors and volunteer leaders, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Bergami, along with her husband Samuel S. Bergami Jr. ’85 EMBA, ’02 Hon., has established many scholarships supporting University of New Haven students. They have contributed to the development of a variety of state-of-the-art facilities on campus, including the Bergami Center for Science, Technology, and Innovation, the University’s newest academic facility. The Lois Evalyn Bergami Broadcast Media Center, the home of the University’s award-winning radio station, was dedicated in Mrs. Bergami’s honor when her granddaughter, Leah Myers ’18, was serving as the station manager.

His Excellency Mr. Al-Dabbagh has served as chairman and CEO of the Al-Dabbagh Group, a family-owned business conglomerate that has been recognized among the top companies to work for in Saudi Arabia, for the last 30 years. He is the founder of Philanthropy University, which, since its founding in 2015, has assisted 250,000 individuals with more than 35,000 organizations, supporting an overall population of more than 200 million people. He has also provided funding for a University of New Haven humanitarian project outside Mumbai, India, in which students and faculty, in collaboration with local students and teachers, are developing a solar drying system for moringa leaves that will enrich children’s diets.

In a video message to graduates, His Excellency encouraged the Class of 2021 to imagine their lives when they are 80 years old. He encouraged them to reflect and to be willing to take risks.

"We must remember to appreciate our lives every day," he said. "Time is precious – don’t waste it. Remember to cherish the life you lead. A job is just one of the ingredients needed to live a fulfilling and rewarding life."

'You have shown your resilience and resolve'

In concluding his remarks, Sen. Blumenthal urged students to include making the world better as an important part of making their lives rewarding.

Quoting the hit song "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel, Sen. Blumenthal commended students for what they have already done to push for change – including testifying before the state's Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force – and he encouraged them to keep their momentum going.

"I have a lot of confidence in you," he said. "You have been tested by adversity and challenge, and you have shown your resilience and resolve. Thank you for all you have done and for all you will do."

Samuel S. Bergami Jr. '85 EMBA, '02 Hon., Lois Bergami, and Steven H. Kaplan, Ph.D.
Left to right: Samuel S. Bergami Jr. '85 EMBA, '02 Hon., Lois Bergami, and University of New Haven President Steven H. Kaplan, Ph.D.