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Grads Celebrate 51st Commencement

Pioneers reflect on their journey at SHU

Theresa “T” Fletcher, Sacred Heart University class of 2017 president, celebrates following undergraduate commencement at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. Fletcher addressed the crowd with a memorable speech filled with SHU memories and hopes for the future.

More than 2,000 Sacred Heart University students embarked upon a new journey on the weekend of May 13 and 14 after receiving diplomas and words of advice and motivation from religious leaders, scholars and classmates.

President John J. Petillo addressed undergraduate students on Sunday. “Today is indeed your day. These past few years have slipped by so quickly. Yet in these years, friends have been made, knowledge has been shared and experiences have been afforded.” Petillo told the students to always ask why and to “be uncomfortable so that as you think critically and analytically you may grow in knowledge and faith.”

Petillo ended his speech with, “Don’t try to always be normal, because you will never know how amazing you can be. Chase, reach, stretch for your dreams and hopes. Isn’t that what Pioneers do?”

The Most Reverend Frank J. Caggiano, bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, delivered the keynote address to the undergraduates. He also received an honorary Doctor of Theology degree.

“We gather here in this vast arena to celebrate your equally vast accomplishments and achievements,” Caggiano said. “You have much to celebrate and much to be proud of during these past years. You have opened your minds and hearts to discover the gifts and talents that God has given to each and every one of you.”

During his speech, Caggiano asked the graduates about leadership. “What does a true leader look like? A true leader, my friends, is a man or woman who never uses people as a means to an end, a true leader is not someone who measures success simply in terms of material possessions, a true leader never forgets a measure of a person’s heart are the principles on which that person will live.”

Theresa “T” Fletcher, class of 2017 president, took her peers down memory lane as she reflected upon her time at SHU.

“In the classroom, we were challenged in not only our subject matter, but our professors also made us think outside the box. They taught us how to think for ourselves, push ourselves and achieve things that we never thought we could. They taught us to be Pioneers and pave our own path through life.”

At the end of her speech, Fletcher wished her peers nothing but happiness and success. “I am proud to call myself a Pioneer for life.”

Shauna Santos-Dempsey, of Ludlow, Mass., received her bachelor’s degree in social work on Sunday. “I’m excited, nervous and sad,” Santos-Dempsey said about the day. The last four years presented her with many opportunities that she took advantage of including becoming a resident assistant and president of her sorority, Chi Omega. “I don’t think I would be who I am today without SHU.”

Santos-Dempsey’s aunt, Annette Plourde, said she was incredibly proud of her niece who has “been through so much” over the last four years. Santos-Dempsey’s mom died while she was at SHU, and Plourde said she was smiling down on her daughter on Mother’s Day.

Spencer Kelly, of Shelton, received his bachelor’s degree in finance. Before the ceremony began he waited outside the arena with his brother and girlfriend. “It was a good experience,” Kelly said of the past four years. “I’m ready to be done and start working.” Kelly landed a job at Cartus in Danbury.

“I’m so excited and proud of how hard he worked,” said Olivia Giacoppia, Kelly’s girlfriend. Kelly’s brother Trevor Kelly, ’13, ’15 encouraged his brother to attend SHU because of the good experiences he had.

Saturday’s festivities were all about the University’s graduate students.

“In gathering today we are celebrating an accomplishment, a dream, a recognition. Each of you has spent these past months and years preparing for your future. The faculties have taught you necessary strategies and skills for your careers,” Petillo said. “As this journey ends please remember that it is character and virtues that will define you.”

Graduate student Hajrah Kashmiri, who received a master of arts in teaching degree, represented her class and shared her story and enthusiasm for the next step in her life with the crowd. “I was born in Pakistan but pretty much raised in the U.S. However, just last year, on November 4th, I received my citizenship through the naturalization process. I am happy to say that after 16 years of living in the U.S., I’m finally an American,” Kashmiri said.

“Today is a very big day. But tomorrow will be even greater,” Kashmiri said. “We’re at the point in our lives where we have the privilege of doing what we love. Whether your passion is to treat patients with the best medical care or provide the most effective financial strategy to your client or to create the new breakthrough software in the industry…Whatever your passion may be, we now have the critical skills needed to tackle our challenges so that we may advance in our careers. I wish for us every success in the future.”

Speech-language pathology professor Jill Douglass’s husband, Zachary Holly, graduated with a master’s in finance investment on Saturday. “It was a good experience for him,” Douglass said who was with her 2-year old son, Morrison Douglass-Holly. “He wanted a new career opportunity.” Douglass said the program was what he wanted, fast-paced with a lot of number crunching.

Mary Forlenza, of New Jersey, was at the arena on Saturday to celebrate her daughter, Amanda, who received her master’s degree in accounting. “We’re all very proud of her,” Forlenza said before the ceremony started. “She’s really looking forward to her new job.” Forlenza said her daughter, who also received her undergraduate degree at SHU, has been hired by Ernest and Young in Manhattan.

Stephanie Messier, of Griswold, received her master’s in occupational therapy. “It feels good,” Messier said, who was accompanied by her boyfriend Joel Mason. “I’m excited to go on to the next step.”