Commencement 2020 Speeches

Welcome: Mary Ellen Jukoski, Ed.D., President, Three Rivers Community College

Congratulations to the class of 2020! You will always be remembered as the covid-19 class when you talk about your graduation from three rivers in the days and years to come.

Your lives are going to be marked by the pandemic in the same way that previous generations experienced pearl harbor and world war ii, the Vietnam War, 9-11, and the recent national events revealing some ugly and enduring inequities in American society.

Graduates of the class of 2020, I recognize that this is not the graduation ceremony you dreamed about with family and friends cheering you as you walked across the stage. For many of you, you are the first in your family to earn a college degree. The entire three rivers community is honored to celebrate the over 450 graduates we are honoring today who are coming from all walks of life, each with your own unique story. The class of 2020, the pandemic class, is united because the whole world is celebrating your graduation.

Today, I speak to all our graduates and say, this is your day to celebrate your commitment to achieve your goal of earning an associate degree. You may not know it, but the word “graduate” comes from the latin gradus, meaning “a step toward something” and in the early 15th century, “graduation” was a term used in alchemy to mean a tempering or refining. You, graduates, are being called to define not only who you are but what will define your success and provide meaning to your lives as well as make a difference in the world.

As a class you have shown resilience and strength to complete your courses when the semester was disrupted by the pandemic. You faced the challenge of remote learning with perseverance

And an unwavering resolve so that you could make your graduation today a reality.

You are living in unprecedented times with the covid-19 virus along with the killing of George Floyd and the demonstrations across the country and the world last week. You are living with uncertainty about your future and i wish i could tell you what the future will be. What I do know is that the same determination and imagination that got you to this moment are going to be the motivators to sustain you for whatever is coming. I am reminded of the words of the German poet Rainer Marie Rilke, “be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything.”

The disruption caused by covid-19 has illuminated the vast systematic inequities that have defined life for too many for too long—for poor communities with inadequate health care, for immigrant communities forced to hide in the shadows, for incarcerated people with no ability to social distance, for every person burdened by bias and bigotry. Can the disruption wrought by covid-19 be a call to action for the graduates of the class of 2020? Can you show us how to create a new world, a world more kind and compassionate, where social justice inequities are addressed? Your graduation is an invitation to use your education to begin to heal the afflictions of society by applying the best of what you have learned in your head and felt in your heart.

I am reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King decades ago, who understood that “we are caught in the inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.”

We are being challenged like never before and we are seeing images from around the world with people doing acts of kindness and compassion for members of the global family who have been inflicted with the virus. As a class, you have the power to stand for healthier conditions that will create a healthier society. We all have the responsibility to keep the global community healthy by keeping ourselves healthy in mind, body and spirit.

My hope for you is that you will use your talents to harness your energy, your education, your creativity, your voice and your vote—to create more equity, more justice, and more joy in the world. May you be the class that blazes a new way forward and commences a new beginning for living, loving and being on this planet we call earth.

Greetings from the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities: Mark E. Ojakian, M.A., President

I am Mark Ojakian, President of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities. On behalf of the CSCU System I want to offer my sincere congratulations to all of this year’s graduates. I know that this isn’t the graduation you envisioned when you first walked through your institution’s doors. Instead of a packed space filled with your friends, families, and classmates you are home, practicing social distancing and helping to keep not only yourself, but also your community healthy and safe. I know that when you started your studies you couldn’t have imagined that midway through your final semester a global pandemic would force your campus to abruptly close, forcing you from a campus that has become a home to so many of you.

Yet through this difficult time, you have grown both as people and as students. You adapted quickly to a completely new way of learning and you put in the hard work necessary to complete your degree. While we may not be able to celebrate in person, with the pomp and circumstance you so richly deserve, what you have achieved is even more special because you did it in such trying times in an unprecedented academic year. You did it and in the process many of you discovered passions that will translate into fruitful careers.

All of you expanded your horizons by challenging yourselves, thinking critically, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and embracing creativity. I have no doubt that it made you a better educated, more well-rounded version of yourself. You have shown that it is today’s students and graduates that are the change agents for the future and the next generation of leaders. So, whether today is the beginning of the next step in your academic journey, or you’re planning on entering or continuing in the work force, or if you have other plans entirely, know that you have made the CSCU System and the state of Connecticut by extension very very proud. So, congratulations to the class of 2020. I can’t wait to see the great things you will accomplish.

Greetings from the Faculty: Michael Carta, M.S., Professor of Chemistry, Chair, Faculty Senate

On behalf of the faculty at Three Rivers Community College, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to this commencement exercise and congratulate you on a job well done.

Whether you are entering the workforce, or re-entering the workforce, or continuing on to further studies, you have reached an important milestone, and we are grateful to have been a part of your journey.

You know, the educational experience is a two-way street.

The faculty are in a unique position because we have the opportunity to observe first-hand your thought processes and creativity, your technical skills, and, above all, your individuality.

We are privileged to work with such a diverse student population, and we are committed to helping you succeed; not just while you are here, but beyond three rivers.

As students, you have challenged us and opened our eyes to questions and viewpoints that we might not have considered.

It is our hope that you take with you fond memories (aside from the exams!) And a strong desire to continue learning. Because that is what makes life interesting.

As a teacher once told me, it’s not about the subject; it’s about the students! You inspire us, and hopefully we have inspired you.

Thank you for being a part of our lives and making us better teachers. Congratulations and best of luck moving forward!

Student Graduate Address: Sebastian C. Bartosiak, Student Government President

Hello, I am Sebastian Bartosiak.

Good morning/evening/afternoon class of 2020, my name is Sebastian Bartosiak and I am the current three rivers student government association president. What a year this has been. It feels like just yesterday i was registering for my final semester of classes. Like everyone else, I was without a single inclination that we would be transitioning to a fully online model due to a global pandemic. Yet, despite everything, here we are, even virtually, we are here together. We came out victorious against the great foes that are procrastination, potentially obnoxious housemates, faulty web-ex connections, and an onslaught of khan academy videos. Today marks our collective achievement of success despite this very unique circumstance that we’ve been placed in.

I’d like to think that my journey through college has been akin to the lord of the rings, with the trek through Mordor comparable to the experience of social distanced learning, figuratively of course. Truthfully, this has been a very challenging semester for many of us that struggled with no longer learning in a classroom setting. There were many moments of joy, tears of happiness and sadness, and eventually, the farewell. A quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s character Gandalf has always stood out to me, it reads, “all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” I decided that i wouldn’t let this pandemic hold me back from creating valuable connections and memories that i will always hold close to me. My hope is that you have created your own memories here too.

In the time given to me, i attended a great number of college events that took place over the past few years. I’ll miss our fresh check days, fall festivals, and New York city bus trips that the student programs office always put on for students. I’ll miss the faculty and staff like Alycia Ziegler, Rhonda Spaziani, Dean Farinelli, Betty Williamson, and countless others who went above and beyond as mentors and made me feel welcome at TRCC as a transgender individual. Even the small things like saying good morning to cafeteria staff and facilities members when I walked into the building will be sorely missed. However, i like to remind myself that the only constant in this world is change, and while we may be finished with our time here at TRCC, there will always be a part of this college in our hearts that we’ll carry with us. Even apart, we are together.

So, as you look over to your diploma or your cap and gown, I want you to remember that “all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Use that time to create, inspire, and make more memories like the ones you’ve made here at TRCC to share with the world. I wish you all a happy and healthy summer, and a heartfelt congratulations to all of us for graduating from TRCC.