University News

Healthcare Leader Urges Winter Graduates to ‘Choose to be a Force of Positive Change’

The nearly 600 graduates recognized as part of the University of New Haven’s virtual Winter Commencement were praised for their resilience throughout the coronavirus global pandemic and encouraged to continue to shape a positive future.

January 27, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Collage of some of the winter 2021 graduates.
Nearly 600 graduates were recognized as part of the University’s virtual Winter Commencement.

Rose Keithan ’21 MHA acknowledges that this past year has been challenging for her and for her classmates, but she believes the University community has shown great resilience in responding to the impact of the coronavirus global pandemic. That was the theme of her messages as she addressed her fellow graduates as part of the University’s virtual Winter Commencement.

“Students at the University of New Haven continue to push ahead, become resourceful, and find new ways to achieve their goals,” said Keithan, who served as president of the University’s Graduate Student Council. “The University community is continually evolving to set high standards for high-quality education. COVID-19 is just another hurdle our community has overcome and adapted to, and it has given us great and valuable lessons that we might not have learned otherwise.”

Steven H. Kaplan,Ph.D.
President Steven H. Kaplan, Ph.D. praised graduates for their resilience.

Keithan was one of nearly 600 graduates who were recognized as part of the University’s virtual Winter Commencement ceremony. Graduates’ resilience throughout the past year was a theme throughout the event, as they were commended for their continued dedication to their education throughout the pandemic.

“In the midst of a global pandemic, you have successfully navigated the rigors of higher education,” said University President Steven H. Kaplan, Ph.D. “You have emerged stronger and wiser and better equipped to tackle the complex issues of our world.”

Daniel Kwiatkowski ’21, who earned a degree in finance, spoke on behalf of students earning bachelor’s degrees. He acknowledged that although students did not expect to celebrate Commencement virtually, it did present something for which they can be grateful.

“Our time at the University of New Haven has helped us to grow and learn,” he said. “One of the most important things I’ve learned as an undergraduate – especially over the past year – is to never take anything for granted and to appreciate all the small things in life. Let’s appreciate that we can graduate from the comfort of our homes with our loved ones right by our sides.”

Image of Rose Keithan
Rose Keithan ’21 MBA spoke to her fellow graduates.
‘This has been opportunity to step up’

Susan Frampton, Ph.D., president of Planetree International, a leading nonprofit that works with organizations around the world to promote patient-centered care as a model for improving the quality of healthcare, delivered the Commencement address. A medical anthropologist, author, and leader of Planetree’s advocacy efforts, Dr. Frampton has been a key partner in the University of New Haven becoming one of the first colleges or universities in the nation to pursue higher education certification from Planetree.

Susan Frampton, Ph.D.
Susan Frampton, Ph.D., president of Planetree International, delivered the keynote address.

Acknowledging that the Class of 2021 is graduating during a truly unprecedented moment in history, she commended them for staying focused on their studies and completing their degrees. Calling them an “awesome, resilient group,” she challenged them to use their voices to continue to make the world better.

“Choose to spend time wisely and lend your talents, energy, and gifts to making 2021 and beyond memorable for the progress we make in ending this pandemic and for the progress we make to improve equity and social justice,” said Dr. Frampton, who served as director of the Center for Health Promotion at the Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford before joining Planetree in 2000. “This has been opportunity to step up and be heard. You can stay in the tunnel of gloom or you can choose to be a force of positive change.”

‘It is up to us to make the most of it’

As part of the ceremony, Dr. Frampton was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Arts & Letters degree, and Merryl Tengesdal ’94, a retired United States Air Force Colonel and a graduate of the University’s electrical engineering program, was conferred an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree.

Merryl Tengesdal
Merryl Tengesdal ’94 received an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree.

The first and only African American woman to have piloted the Air Force’s U-2 spy plane, Tengesdal served deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. She has been cast on the second season of “Tough as Nails,” a competition series premiering on CBS in February. Now a certified personal trainer, she serves as an inspirational speaker, and she offered her own words of encouragement to the winter graduates of the Class of 2021.

“I challenge you in this dynamic environment to help shape a positive future by creating innovative solutions to help others thrive during this period,” said Tengesdal, who a received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University in 2013. “The determination and drive that helped you succeed at the University will bring hope to others through whatever endeavors you choose as your life’s passion.”

Graduates in each of the University’s academic colleges and schools had their own virtual ceremony, in which they were recognized by their deans and professors. Keithan, the outgoing graduate student council president, left her classmates with one final challenge as Chargers.

“I implore you to continue to express your concerns, stand up against any wrongs, ask for help, and, most importantly, make your voices heard,” she said. “Hard times are undoubtedly upon us, but it is up to us to make the most of them and move forward.”