Saturday morning’s rain dampened bouquets of flowers and balloons but not families’ excitement at Central Connecticut State University’s commencement.
The university conferred degrees on more than 2,800 students Saturday, cheered by thousands inside Hartford’s XL Center at two separate ceremonies: in the morning, CCSU’s liberal arts and social sciences and engineering, science and technology colleges; in the afternoon, business and education and professional studies schools.
About 95 percent of this year’s graduates hailed from Connecticut, though they also represent 31 states and 23 countries, said Provost David Dauwalder.
It was the first CCSU commencement for Dauwalder, who became the university’s vice president of academic affairs in March. He asked the graduates to take a moment, as they look to their futures, to think about all those who came before them at CCSU.
The university’s 169-year history is the longest in the state for a public institution of higher education.
TIAA-CREF senior vice president Sue Ann Collins, who graduated from CCSU’s mathematics program summa cum laude in 1975, gave the commencement address.
Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, also congratulated the students. He told them to be true to themselves as they go through life’s obstacles and varied paths.
“It’s about how you define your life and your own success and your own journey,” he said.
For many graduates, those journeys were written on their caps in glitter and felt, construction paper and duct tape.
Jimnalyn Ann Santiago of Plainville added lights to her cap, the tiny bulbs glowing green and blue in a bed of white silk flowers. In the middle of the display, she wrote, “My goal is God himself,” — the name of a song she performed as club president of Christian Students at Central.
It was a reminder Santiago wanted with her as she received her degree in psychology and minor in molecular science, which she hopes to follow with a master’s in nursing.
“What you believe in is the most important thing to hold onto,” she said. “It’s something like an anchor even when life changes.”
Next to her, communications major Ray Lewis, also of Plainville, said that recently he’s been thinking of college as a speeding train, whisking him from one station to the next.
Graduation, he said, feels like the final stop before he boards a new train with a new destination.
Lewis, who has a minor in theater performance, carried a large plastic mallet with the CCSU logo on its head. Someone gave it to him as a gift a while back; now it’s a memento of his time as a Blue Devil.
“How could I not bring it?” Lewis said.
Nearby, mechanical engineering graduates Parker Preston, Tristan Stone, Dylan Scaife and Kyle Johnson walked the floor with something new on each of their caps — graduate-themed rubber ducks.
The little toys became a sort of mascot for the group when they picked some up during a trip for a group project, NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge. Scaife also covered his cap in carbon fiber, one of the materials from the challenge.
“All your ducks are in a row,” joked Neil Gagne of Cheshire, a computer engineering graduate sitting next to the group — though Scaife and Johnson said they’re still job hunting.
For civil engineer Lilia Miller, that step is done.
She interned with NASA as a student and now has a job with the agency. On her cap, she wrote a quote by country singer Paul Brandt, “Don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there’s footprints on the moon.”
Miller’s grandfather, Len, was a mathematician at NASA when Apollo 11 landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon in 1969. As a child, Miller says she got to read a letter Armstrong wrote thanking her grandfather for getting him to the moon.
Now, she hopes to continue her family legacy and help get humans to Mars.
“I’m so excited,” she said as she waited to walk the floor. “It’s been a long time coming.”