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Class of 1997 leaves Storrs with dreams and goals
Nearly 5,000 bid farewell to UConn
May 23, 1997
From Storrs to Hartford to Farmington, 4,792 students bade farewell to the University during UConn's 114th Commencement, ready to continue their education or enter the most robust job market in years.
Nine leaders in business, science, the arts and social organizations received honorary degrees last weekend - the first Commencement for Philip Austin as president and the last for Lewis B. Rome as chair of the Board of Trustees.
On Saturday, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Hartford-based Phoenix Home Mutual Life Insurance Co. told undergraduates that they must work hard to reach their goals - but also commit time to family and volunteering.
In an address that left him at times choked up with emotion, Robert W. Fiondella, a School of Law graduate, reflected on his career path, the support he received from loving parents, and his zeal for community service. He said the best path in life isn't necessarily a high-flying career track.
"Life is not a straight line," Fiondella said. "To expect it to be so and to be disillusioned when it isn't, will cause you to miss opportunities - to miss out on the joy of living. At some point in your life, you will no doubt have to balance what you do with how and where you want to live, to deal with the reality that is in front of you. These are often painful choices, but to fail to choose sometimes is often more painful in the long run."
Fiondella, who also received an honorary doctor of humane letters, addressed 2,846 undergraduates at two ceremonies in Gampel Pavilion.
Before he began to speak, Fiondella traded in his mortar board for a UConn cap. "This is getting in my way," he said yanking the mortar board off his head. "I'm not used to this."
Fiondella became choked up when he told students, their family and friends about how he thought his parents would react to poor grades early in his college career at Providence College.
"I didn't quit more out of fear than out of courage," Fiondella said. "I was afraid to disappoint the two people who sacrificed everything they had so that I could be educated - my parents. ... They told me early on that I could choose any school I wished, and they would find the money. Disappointing them was not an option."
Fiondella, 55, joined the law department of Phoenix Mutual Life Insurance Co. in 1969. He was elected the company's leader February 28, 1994. In between, he learned that a balanced life is essential to achieve one's goals.
"I learned that any road may turn out to be the right road, if you work to make it so," he said. "Hard work, commitment, persistency and tenacity will all overcome lack of raw talent or position any time."
Fiondella practices the community service he talked about. His company was an official sponsor of the 1995 Special Olympics World Summer Games in New Haven, a premier sponsor of the 1997 Special Olympics World Winter Games and a Gold Sponsor of the Connecticut Special Olympics team.
Fiondella is chairman of the Greater Hartford Chamber of Commerce and honorary chairman of the Canon GHO golf tournament, among other commitments.
Being active in a variety of pursuits makes for a fuller life, he told graduates.
Fiondella has volunteered in his hometown of Bristol, in youth athletics and local politics. Helping to improve the community and taking an active role in family life will ultimately make you a better person, he said.
"I believe life is a wonderful journey, but only if you balance work with family and community," he said. "But above all, it can be wonderful if you are true to yourself, to your dreams, while at the same time taking responsibility for the fulfillment of other people's dreams."
The senior class representative, Leslie Wang of Cheshire, meanwhile, urged fellow graduates to continue a lifetime of learning.
"The more you know, the more you realize how little you know," she said. "Armed with new knowledge, we are prepared to move on and confront new challenges."
Lee, a Cornell University physicist and co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in physics, earned his master's degree in physics from UConn in 1955. After receiving an honorary Doctor of Science, he reminded the crowd of the role basic research has played in society.
"We live in an age when we all enjoy the benefits of science and technology. We mindlessly turn on our television sets and computers, forgetting all of the complex electronics inside, based on the transistor," he said. "We make use of the benefits bestowed to medical science by the discovery of DNA, X-rays and magnetic resonance. The laser has revolutionized communication as well as having important applications in medicine and manufacturing. All of these and other essential ingredients of modern living are based on Nobel Prize-winning discoveries. Basic science provides long-term benefits for ourselves and our fragile planet and should be supported by all the world's societies."
The new graduates included 1,325 master's degree and 252 doctoral recipients, and 21 educators who received their sixth-year certificates.
Lee and his Cornell colleague, Robert C. Richardson, and Douglas D. Osheroff, a professor of physics at Stanford University, won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the superfluid helium-3, a breakthrough in low-temperature physics. The discovery gave rise to a more sophisticated understanding of the laws of quantum physics.
Lee was accompanied on the platform by six other honorary degree recipients.
Movie producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. received a Doctor of Fine Arts for touching the hearts and minds of the world through film. The recipient of an Emmy and many Academy Awards, he has also served as president of the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation, a non-profit organization whose educational mission prompted it to create a children's center and to help rebuild the Hollywood Public Library.
Industrialist Aaron Feuerstein received a Doctor of Humane Letters. He became famous after a tragedy struck his business just before Christmas 1995. When a fire destroyed three of Malden's 10 factory buildings, nearly ruining his company, he pledged to rebuild and faithfully paid his employees their salaries for three months and benefits for nine months after the fire, while replacement equipment was installed in temporary quarters within the mill's Lawrence complex.
Financier Norman Hascoe was given a Doctor of Science. He founded several companies that manufacture advanced materials for computers, telecommunications systems and other types of electronic equipment. He has received more than 100 U.S. and foreign patents. His inventions and advances can be found in almost every computer or piece of advanced telecommunications equipment on the market today.
Psychologist Alvin M. Liberman received a Doctor of Science for his contributions to the world's knowledge of the science of language. An emeritus professor of psychology at UConn and of linguistics at Yale, he has continued his work with Haskins Laboratories, a non-profit research institution affiliated with UConn and Yale University.
Rex Nettleford, a historian, writer, dancer, and academic, received a Doctor of Letters. A former Rhodes Scholar, he is deputy vice chancellor at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica. He is founder, artistic director and principal choreographer of the internationally acclaimed National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica and a widely published author.
Antonia Pantoja, who in 1995 won the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her tireless work in the educational and leadership development of Puerto Rican youth in the United States and in Puerto Rico, received a Doctor of Letters. She also addressed 178 graduates from the School of Social Work's master's degree program during a hooding ceremony at Bushnell Memorial Auditorium in Hartford earlier Sunday.
"What appears to have changed most since I attended law school in the late 1970s ... is the disdain of society toward the work of practicing lawyers and judges," said Katz, a 1977 alumna. "A legal community that is more sensitive to the needs of the poor and disenfranchised will help to turn around those perceptions."
Addressing an audience of nearly 2,000 family members and well-wishers under a blue-and-white striped tent in a courtyard of the Gothic campus, Katz said the number of lawyers has grown dramatically and law has become far more competitive and specialized, leaving little time for public service. She urged law schools to emphasize the public interest.
"I believe that public service should be the hallmark of the profession and that a legal education must not be value free," she said. A lawyer's use of professional skills in pursuit of a higher good, she added, "is in large part what makes the practice of law a profession rather than just a business."
Law School Dean Hugh Macgill drew laughter when he told the students, "The Bar exam ought not to be a matter of great concern. ... When you are worried about the Bar exam, take out the Yellow Pages, look for attorney, and run your finger down the hundreds and hundreds of them," he said. "The bulk of those people are not so well educated as you are, they're not as smart as you are, and if they can do it, so can you."
Health Center graduates were addressed by Sherwin Nuland, author of the critically acclaimed How We Die, (1995), and a former surgeon at Yale-New Haven Hospital. William C. Steere Jr., chairman and chief executive officer at Pfizer Inc., received an honorary doctor of science degree.
On May 16, Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert E. Larned addressed 23 Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) cadets from UConn and several other Connecticut colleges who were commissioned as second lieutenants.
A look at some notable members of the Class of 1997:
* Thomas Becher, Renu Sehgal and Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu contributed to this report.