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  November 10, 2003

Astronaut To Speak At First Mid-Year Graduation

Franklin Chang-Diaz, a 1973 UConn graduate and an astronaut who has logged more than 1,600 hours in space - including nearly 20 hours during space walks - will speak to graduating seniors during the University's first mid-year Commencement on Dec. 14.

More than 650 students will be eligible to march across the stage of the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on the historic day, created when the University Senate voted in October 2002 to change the University calendar. The change, which pushed both fall and spring semesters back one week, opened the door for the mid-year ceremony.

"This allows us to celebrate the accomplishments of those students who finish their degree work in December, and allows them to graduate with their peers and their families, when they otherwise might not be able to attend the traditional May commencement," says Keith Barker, University Marshal.

"Quite often, by the time May rolls around, many of our December graduates have found jobs or moved away, and find it very difficult to return to Storrs," he says. "The December commencement will give them the opportunity to put the finishing touches on their years at UConn."

The ceremony will offer just as much pomp as the May commencement. Faculty, administrators, and trustees will be assembled on the Jorgensen stage in full regalia; the students will march into the performing arts center to the strains of traditional graduation music; and students will receive their diploma covers from their respective deans. Programs listing the graduates will be given to family and friends of the students; and, both before and after the 2 p.m. ceremony, several schools and colleges will host receptions for the graduates and their guests.

Students with enough credits to graduate in December may join their classmates for the May 2004 commencement if they prefer.

An accomplished scientist and native of Costa Rica, Chang-Diaz became an astronaut in 1981. His first space flight was in 1986.

Chang-Diaz graduated from UConn and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a doctorate in 1977 in applied plasma physics. He currently directs the NASA Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory, where he is leading the development of advanced plasma propulsion systems for future human inter-planetary missions.

Also during the ceremony, Thomas J. Wolff, a long-time entrepreneur and UConn donor, will receive the University Medal, one of the highest honors presented at the University.

Shortly after graduating cum laude in economics in 1956, Wolff founded and served as chief executive officer of Wolff-Zackin & Associates, one of the state's most successful insurance agencies.

His work in the industry has been recognized with the John Newton Russell award, the highest honor bestowed to an individual by the insurance industry.

The University has benefited greatly from Wolff's philanthropy: the Wolff-Zackin Natatorium, and the Thomas and Bette Wolff Family Park, which houses the Husky statue, offer tangible evidence of his and his family's commitment to UConn; the Wolff Program for Entrepreneurship in the School of Business, the Wolff Family Chair on Entrepreneurship, and several endowed scholarships provide support for students and programs.

Wolff also has served since 2000, on the Foundation Board of Directors.