Goodwin University commencement graduation ceremony

At Commencement, Eriq La Salle urges “No such thing as dreaming too big”

As torrential morning rain gave way to a warm, dry afternoon, Goodwin University hosted its 2024 Commencement on May 23 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. At 1 pm, master’s degree candidates were honored at a special hooding ceremony that included their families, friends, faculty, and deans. At 4 pm, the procession of an estimated 375 students, along with faculty, trustees, administrators, and honorary guests entered the stadium. Provost and master of ceremonies Dr. Michael Pardales offered a welcome on behalf of the University, followed by remarks from board chair Se-Min Sohn and president Mark Scheinberg.

The ceremony launches a year that will celebrate Goodwin’s 25th Anniversary, from its inception as the DKata Institute to its present status as a non-profit, career-focused university with a presence in both East Hartford and Bridgeport. A governor’s proclamation declaring May 23, 2024, as Goodwin University Day was read aloud. It stated, in part: “Goodwin University has dedicated its energy and resources to guiding non­traditional learners along career-focused educational pathways… is a leading resource for students seeking access to jobs that would help them improve their lives, provide for their families, and strengthen their communities. We are encouraging citizens to gain a greater appreciation of the contributions of Goodwin University, its faculty, staff, and most importantly, its students who are shaping the future of Connecticut.”

In his remarks, President Scheinberg pointed out that many of the degrees being conferred were in the helping professions. In today’s challenging and turbulent world, things “often don’t make any sense at all,” he said. “There’s injustice all around us. There are people who spend more time shouting than listening.”

“But within the womb of this community,” he continued, “we find people who look very different [from each other], who we spend every day with, who we learn to love.” He urged the graduates to make wise choices, and to use the advantage of their education to improve the world.

Presented with an honorary doctorate degree in Humane Letter was entrepreneur and philanthropist Henry M. Zachs, who made his mark in the wireless industry. He has been a trustee, advisor, board member, or donor to organizations including Williston-Northampton School, Trinity College, Watkinson Library, Trinity Hillel, UConn Hillel, Connecticut College Hillel, University of Hartford Hillel, Greenberg Center, United Way, Jewish Community Foundation, Jewish Federation, Wadsworth Atheneum, The Bushnell Center for Performing Arts, Oak Hill, and Solomon Schechter School.

Also honored with degrees were the key figures of the landmark Sheff vs. O’Neill decision: professor and former mayor of Norwalk and member of the Connecticut House of Representatives Alex Knopp, founder and executive director of the Center for Children’s Advocacy Martha Stone, and educational advocate and activist Elizabeth Horton Sheff, who has joined the Goodwin University Magnet School System as its alumni specialist. They were introduced by Dr. Salvatore Menzo, superintendent, who pointed out that Goodwin is the only public university school system in the county.

Guest speaker and honorary degree recipient Eriq La Salle shared with the graduates that, “There is no such thing as dreaming too big, only dreaming too small.” The actor/director/producer and Hartford native best known for his roles in ER, Coming to America, One Hour Photo, and Logan also stressed the importance of building your support systems. “Find your tribe,” he urged.

Some of the most moving moments of the ceremony came during the remarks by student representative Armanie Dutes, who received her bachelor’s degree in Professional Studies. Success did not come easy to her, she shared, and the path to Commencement stage had been fraught with self-doubt, challenging courses, and a battle with cancer. “Yet here I am,” she said. Inspired by the example of her godmother and encouraged by her brother, she persisted in her studies. At Goodwin, she said, she was “not just a number… but part of a community of people who want to see students succeed.” Critical to her support system were her teachers, who “made this campus a home.”

As the graduates readied for their conferral, Dr. Pardales added a few thoughts about the Goodwin teachers. “The Goodwin community is filled with incredibly hard-working, talented, and caring individuals. The faculty are relentless in their efforts to help our students reach this very day. It is said that you can measure the strength of a faculty by looking at the success of their students. By that measure this faculty is indeed great.”

Following the ceremony, the graduates were able to greet friends and family members on the Rentschler concourse. Click here for video replay of the ceremony.