Southern Connecticut State University grads told ‘people, not things, matter’
NEW HAVEN — Actor Hill Harper, who starred in the CBS drama, “CSI:NY” and currently plays Dr. Marcus Andrews on ABC’s “The Good Doctor” told graduating students at Southern Connecticut State University Friday to follow their dreams and intuition now, rather than wait — and used his life as an example.
Harper, who is also a best-selling author, told of how he graduated from Brown University, then Harvard Law School, went on to earn a master’s degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government — all of it with honors.
Then he dropped the bombshell on his parents: He was going to New York to pursue acting. They were taken aback that with all that education, he wanted to do a job that didn’t even require a high school diploma. Once he got to New York, Harper waited tables at night so he could go on auditions — while everyone said, “you’re crazy” — that he should get a high-paying attorney job and pay off his student loan debt.
“I went to school to become a better human. To become a more thoughtful person,” Harper told the more than 1,286 students and their family and friends at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. Some 1,726 students were eligible to receive bachelor’s degrees, but not all participated in the ceremony.
Harper told students too many people “project fear” when one takes a risk like he did — even well-meaning parents who don’t want to see their children risk too much. He told students that now is the time to follow their dreams, before life gets more complicated with marriages and kids, which he refers as the “golden handcuffs.”
He told students there will be obstacles along the way, but those obstacles often turn into blessings, as they have in his life.
SCSU president Joe Bertolino gushed with pride over students every time he took the podium, saying he loves the class of 2018’s exuberance, passion and said they are prepared to be resilient
Bertolino sent a strong message about social justice.
“In the spirit of social justice, be compassionate, generous and intentionally kind,” he said. “Always remember that people, not things, matter.”
New Haven Mayor Toni N. Harp, told the crowd that she is “grateful to the entire SCSU community for the partnership we share in New Haven.”
“In New Haven, we’re very proud of all of you,” Harp told graduates. “New Haven’s pride extends beyond the students, faculty, administration, and staff at Southern. It’s a continuous source of pleasure and pride to watch the emergence of Southern as an academic destination and as a gleaming, 21st century university campus.”
She told them Southern is “a beacon for high school students,” all over.
“Whenever I’m back on campus, I embrace the way academic progress is linked with real-world experience and career pursuits. I’m particularly excited about expanding studies in bioscience and biotechnology, to fill a jobs pipeline in that booming sector of the state’s economy,” she said.
She told them “the city needs you and your newly minted degrees more than ever.”
Harp’s predecessor, former mayor John DeStefano Jr., received an honorary degree of humane letters. DeStefano, who did not speak, was the 49th mayor of New Haven and the longest serving — he was elected 10 times and served 1994-2013.
Students preparing to march into the arena with Pomp and Circumstance playing in the background were pumped about their big day.
Matt Schwartz of Woodbridge said it was “an unbelievable feeling” to look at where he was four years ago to who he is today.
Schwartz, who said he hopes to become “president of the United States,” someday, plans to attend graduate school at University of Miami to study international relations.
“Eric “Churchboy” Clinton of Middletown, said he felt, “amazing Friday” and that commencement is “bittersweet.”
Clinton, a business major with a minor in theater, said he’s already landed a job and is “ready to grab the bull by the horns.”
Another graduate, Montrel Morrison, of Hamden, said he’s going on to earn a master’s degree in social work from Howard University.
Morrison’s goal is to work with “community organizations, minorities and other marginalized people.”
“I feel great today to accomplish college and go on to the next chapter,” he said. “Southern is a blessing.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also addressed graduates, telling them he has confidence in them and he knows they will “give back” to the world
Blumenthal gave a shout-out to veterans, asking them all to stand, and spoke positively about pay equity, student loan debt relief and immigrants.