Amid the creatively designed mortarboards at the University of Hartford’s commencement ceremony on the campus green Sunday, senior Gabby Sinotte’s stood out.
Sinotte, who was born without her left hand, drew her right hand and wrote “Ten Fingers Are Overrated” on her cap. Initially resistant to going into the field of prosthetics and orthotics, Sinotte received her diploma with a bachelor’s in health science; she will work on her master’s at the University of Hartford in the fall.
“It’s something that’s close to my heart,” Sinotte, 22, said of prosthetics and orthotics before the ceremony. “I can connect with people on a personal level. … The support system that I’ve had from the people in my class has been amazing. I don’t think I could have done it without my classmates.”
Sinotte was one of about 1,000 undergraduates from 37 states and 18 countries who earned their undergraduate degree from the university on the chilly, slightly overcast day.
The recent graduates weren’t the only ones from the University of Hartford transitioning. University President Walter Harrison will step down from his post in June after 19 years. During the ceremony, he received the newly named Walter Harrison Medal for Outstanding Leadership and a standing ovation from the crowd before he gave his remarks.
“This medal recognizes nearly two decades of devotion to the University of Hartford. I humbly accept it,” he said. “I am honored and privileged to be a member of this community. These 19 years have been the happiest and most fulfilling ones of my life.”
Harrison asked that the crowd give his wife, Diane, an ovation for putting “aside her hopes and dreams to allow me to pursue mine.”
Known for teaching classes and taking parts in student productions at The Hartt School, Harrison then turned to one of his favorite topics: baseball.
“I’ve had the incredible experience of being the president of the University of Hartford during the same year as two of the most unforgettable baseball stars: Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. … Both of them said during their retirement ceremonies how fortunate they were to play alongside their teammates. Since both of them realize success in baseball is not really a matter of individual excellence, but of team play.
“Although I am certainly no Derek Jeter or Big Papi, I wish to echo those sentiments today. All of you, and all of your colleagues and all of your predecessors are the most wonderful teammates that any university president could ask for.”
“So today and henceforward, I ask that you be UHart proud. I ask you to take pride in being a member of this university, proud in your colleagues and proud in your classmates and proud of this university’s 60 years of excellence and service. Stand up for this university. Stand up for each other and now stand up and cheer for you and all of your classmates.”
U.S. Rep. Mia Boudreau Love, R-Utah, a member of the University of Hartford Class of 1997, received an honorary doctor of laws degree and gave the commencement address.
After noting that Harrison “put this school on the map,” Love, the first female black Republican to be elected to the House of Representatives, implored the Class of 2017 to seize upon their opportunities and not be afraid to fail.
Quoting poet John Greenleaf Whittier, Love said, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’
“Guys, we cannot accept ‘What might have been.’ It’s a horrible and toxic phrase. … When we fail to continuously learn, we will be left with ‘What might have been.’ When we fail to engage in elevated dialogs in our homes and our communities and our places of employment, we will be left with, ‘What might have been.’ When we have failed to lift others when we ourselves rise, we, this entire nation, will be left with ‘What might have been.'”
She left the Class of 2017 with one final word: “Rise.”
The graduates also were left on Sunday to contemplate other themes than the encouragement and advice from the commencement speakers.
“I can’t believe the four years past,” said Anna Lindardo, of Kings Park, N.Y., who graduated with a degree in physical therapy. “There were lots of ups and downs, good times and bad times. It kind of went in the blink of an eye.”