Greetings to the Class of 2023
Good afternoon everyone—parents, friends, and relatives—and a special welcome to all of you our newest students—the Class of 2023. On behalf of all our faculty and staff, we are so glad that you have joined our community of educators, scholars and researchers. We are gathered together today to celebrate your present and future and to introduce you to the values of our University.
Here we are at ocean level with the beautiful Long Island Sound just a few hundred yards away, the summer of 2019 nearly over, and the University’s 92nd year about to begin. A long time ago, I recall sitting in the August heat watching the president of my University give his welcome to all the new students. I was inwardly trembling while wearing a brave face as I was overwhelmed by my new surroundings. I was worrying whether I would fit in, make friends, pass all my classes, afraid to ask questions, and at that moment trying to remember where my residence hall was—they all looked alike to me. As a result, I can’t recall a single word that the president said. And so, with that experience still vivid in my mind, I'll be brief.
Our college seal features a bird flying high above the waves and it invites us to think about our location. Bridgeport, once a village in the early 19th century, and today Connecticut’s largest city was home to P.T. Barnum, the 19th century’s greatest showman and entrepreneur. P.T. Barnum’s home is now your home. Bridgeport was an industrial center and a deep port shipping hub. The first train left the Bridgeport station in 1840 and President Lincoln stopped by in 1860 to give a presidential campaign speech. This city produced the world’s first commercial sewing machine, corsets, and bicycle parts— inventions that were all the rage. Bridgeport Brass produced insulated copper wire and created new businesses that transformed technology. Young Joseph Frisbie, a Bridgeport native, watched manufacturing rise in the city and was among the first to grasp the economics of mass production. He turned his talents to pie making, famously commenting, “Pie is a modern institution; the fact that pie was not invented earlier in history is one of the contributing reasons why the pathway of life has not been as smooth as it might have been.” As a pie lover and maker, I totally agree. At its height, the Frisbie factory produced 80,000 pies a day, and sold them all along the eastern seaboard, thanks to shipping and rail.
Company truck drivers discovered the pie tins were great for tossing and the ultimate Frisbie was born.
In the midst of all this business and production, city leaders realized that there was a need for people to enjoy “the free circulation of air and healthful exercise.” And so, the City of Bridgeport created Seaside Park. Frederick Law Olmsted, the same person who designed Central Park, designed Seaside Park, which forms the University of Bridgeport’s front yard. The New York Intellect, a popular publication at the time, offered the following commentary, “The people in the park represent diverse, interclass, and interethnic democratic culture.” This description of the park well describes our community of students today. The Intellect’s praise continued with the following, “There is no other park like it in the country, so near the city, with miles of walks and drives along the shore, where the waves break pleasantly in fine weather, or dash in might and magnificence when driven by the story.” This is the park where I walk every day, breathing in the fresh air, and listening to the birds. Every Wednesday morning, I enjoy the company of faculty, students, and staff who join me for a 7 a.m. stroll followed by coffee and pie. I invite all of you to join me.
There is, though, a different location that is possible to identify within our school seal, and that is a more metaphorical one than dirt and steel. This is the moment in your lives to locate and explore yourselves. Our university exists for one purpose: opening you to the excitement of learning, helping you on your intellectual journey, and leading you to your chosen career path. This is your moment to take advantage of all the opportunities that await you here at this great and respected University. You have in your possession a precious gift—opportunities to write your own narrative, choose your own future, and live your own dreams. This University exists to partner with you, not just for the years that you spend here as a student, but for the rest of your lives as alumni.
To celebrate this new start, this place, this emerging vision of yourselves as students, as athletes, as travelers, as learners, as interns, and as everything you have ever dreamed of becoming we have a tradition at the University— “Taking the Plunge.”
On Friday afternoon at 3 p.m., we will gather on the lawn of Waldemere Hall, where I live with my bulldog and three cats, just across the street, to parade down to the beach and to run wildly into Long Island Sound. I will be with you and so will the brave among our faculty, staff, and alumni. Students who are interested in a little competition, should come attired in the best “spirit of the University of Bridgeport outfit.” A panel of judges will determine which student demonstrated the best school spirit and shows off their Purple Knight pride! The winner will have the pleasure of inviting five of their new friends, and joining me for dinner and a Broadway show in New York City. So have an evening out on the President! Keep in mind our colors are awesome purple and white—I invite your creativity and ingenuity—glitter, bows, feathers. Any and all clothing is fine, bathing suits, bow ties, yoga pants, whatever you like.
On behalf of the entire University of Bridgeport community, you have our warmest welcome. We are here for you. We will support you in your personal and academic journeys and we look forward to seeing the person that you become on the other side. A constellation of opportunity awaits. The University of Bridgeport will transform you and your future. You are University of Bridgeport bold.
To conclude the ceremony, I invite the audience and guests to join with University Singers to sing the Alma Mater—the words to which are printed in your program. I ask that you rise for the Alma Mater and remain standing at your seats for the recessional. As the faculty recess from the theatre, I ask that you recognize them with your applause. Following the ceremony, all students, their families, and members of the University community are invited to a Welcome BBQ. Unfortunately, due to today’s rainy weather, we will be holding the BBQ in Marina Dining Hall.