Members of Fairfield's First Graduating Class Honored at 2017 Commencement
During Fairfield University’s 67th Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 21, the Class of 1951 — the University’s very first class — was honored as part of the University’s ongoing 75th Anniversary celebrations.
The nine men representing their class — many veterans of World War ll — donned their robes and sashes to watch as the Class of 2017 received their degrees. Among those members of the first class present were Raymond Longden, JD, recognized by the Guinness World Book of Records as having “Refereed more football games than any other referee in America,” for officiating well over 2,000 games spanning all levels of the sport, including professional, college, prep school, high school, and Pop Warner.
Mr. Longden’s advice to the Class of 2017: “Now you have the tools to achieve your goals, it’s up to you to use those tools and develop vital drive. You have to have vital drive to succeed in today’s world, so whatever your mission is, whatever you’re called for, develop the drive to do it. Persevere, persevere, persevere.”
Fairfield’s Interim President, Lynn Babington, PhD, RN, presided over the day’s events. In reflecting over the changes that the University has witnessed during its history, she said: “Seventy-five years ago it was intended as a University for men...now, most of our students are women, and indeed, you have before you the first woman — and the first lay person — to have ever served in the Office of the President. It’s an exciting world, an evolving society that is creating whole new vistas of opportunity,” she continued, “and Fairfield graduates — now as ever — will find their place in it.”
Undergraduate speaker, University President Emeritus Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., spoke to the graduates during the morning’s undergraduate Commencement exercises of the importance of conviction and discernment. “As you look around you, I'm sure you realize how hard it is for people your age, or any age, to develop values to live by,” he said. “It takes not only courage, but also informed conviction, to stand for contrary values of human dignity and human solidarity, and it is this informed conviction that we hope we have helped you to develop here at Fairfield.”
During the undergraduate ceremony, an honorary Doctor of Laws degree was given to Rev. Sean Carroll, S.J., who is the founding Executive Director of the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), which started in 2009 to serve migrants that travel between Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora (Mexico). In 2015, the KBI provided nearly 43,000 meals, shelter for 482 migrants, and medical assistance for over 3,500 sick and injured persons.
Dianne Dwyer Modestini, an internationally renowned conservator of Old Master and 19th Century paintings, was given an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree. Modestini launched the Samuel H. Kress Program in Paintings Conservation in 1989, where she guides students through the restoration of paintings, including using many technological advances.
An honorary Doctor of Laws degree was given to Stephen Braga ’78, who was named one of the “Top Ten Criminal Defense Attorneys in the United States” by U.S. Lawyer Rankings and who, along with his wife Kathy, run a law firm dedicated to serving, primarily, the underserved and underrepresented within the legal system.
Later Sunday afternoon, the graduate ceremony speaker Juanita James, the president and CEO of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, spoke of the importance of service to others.
“All of you have the power to transform our society for the better,” said James. “You have chosen vocations that have the power to turn things around, to speak out for and act for what’s right, and to bring out the best in others. Nurture your personal relationships — friends, family, loved ones — and don’t forget yourself. It’s as important to you to pay attention to your own physical, spiritual, and mental well-being as it is to take care of others.”
James has received numerous awards as a result of her leadership and volunteer service, including the NAACPs “100 Most Influential Blacks in Connecticut;” the 2012 Stamford Public Education Foundation’s “Excellence in Education,” award, which recognizes people who have made an impact on public education; and Stamford’s “Citizen of the Year” in 2010, among others. James received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the ceremony.
Also at the graduate ceremony, Sr. Patricia Eck, C.B.S., received an honorary Doctor of Science degree. Sr. Patricia was elected Congregation Leader of the Sisters of Bon Secours in 2009. As Congregation Leader, she is responsible for ministries in France, Great Britain, Ireland, Peru, Africa, and the United States. In 2011, she received the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (the Cross for the Church and Pontiff), the highest honor given to a member of a religious community by the Vatican.
As Dr. Babington said in her speech, speaking of the leap of faith the University founders took in 1942 when they founded what is now Fairfield University, “Every year, every class, every new program, and each and every student, represent a leap of faith. And that is how it should be.”