Three life lessons

By William Trueheart, CLAS ‘66

Dr. Trueheart was the first and only member of his family to go to college. A political science and economics major in CLAS, he went on to earn an EdD and become president of Bryant College and president of the Pittsburgh Foundation before leading Achieving the Dream. He was scheduled to deliver the commencement address this year for CLAS but became ill that weekend and could not attend. Here are excerpts from the speech he had planned to deliver.

I grew up in Stamford, Conn., a city with plenty of wealthy residents; however, my family was not among them. Until I was fourteen years old, we lived in a racially segregated housing project in Stamford called Southfield Village. That’s hard to believe, but it is true. Later we lived in a renovated garage that for several years didn’t have indoor plumbing. My parents were both domestics, and I worked with them all through elementary, middle and high school tending to wealthy folks’ yards and cleaning their houses. My father never finished 3rd grade and it wasn’t until I was in college that I realized he could not read or write well. My mother completed high school, but she didn’t go on to college. Actually, I never knew anyone in the projects who had a college degree. My parents were hugely supportive of my learning and always stressed the importance of getting a good education, but they never discussed my going to college– not even after my junior high school guidance counselor placed me in the college preparatory track in seventh grade. That counselor became a life-long mentor and friend and, while I took all the college preparatory courses through high school, I was never sure I would attend college even after being admitted to UConn. Several teachers and another valued friend, my high school guidance counselor, urged me to apply to college. So thank God for them, I did.

When I got to UConn, I made friends with lots of students including upper-class student leaders who urged me to run for freshman class president. So I did and won. Shortly, after my election, the head of UConn’s Plant Maintenance, congratulated me and offered to help in any way he could. He connected me to good paying jobs in the area and he and his family have been life-long friends. I was inspired by UConn faculty and staff and several of them remain life-long friends. My experiences at UConn were so rich that I returned to here to work for several years. The president of the University, Homer Babbidge, became a life-long friend and mentor and he urged me to apply to graduate school. So I did and was admitted first at UConn and then at Harvard.

By now the message I’m trying to convey should be clear—I had lots of very strong support—from my family and from teachers, faculty, administrators, fellow students—all people who really cared and wanted me to succeed and helped me see and seize opportunities that I didn’t know were there or possible. The fact that so many gave so much to help me inspired my life’s work. . . .

So now here you are and you’re wondering what will the future hold for me? I can assure you that you have done very well so far because you have already established a rich and substantial foundation for success—you have earned a Liberal Arts and Sciences degree from a world-class university. But I bet that the state of the world, and especially, the anemic world economy, is probably weighing heavily on your minds as you approach the threshold of your next big step either into the workplace or study for advanced degrees – which I hope that all of you plan to earn in the years ahead.

Our world economy frankly, is in fact, daunting and very untidy. But I hope that, rather than approaching your new endeavors with fear, that you will draw heavily upon and trust your rich educational foundation developed and nurtured right here at UConn. As I’m sure you’ve learned, world business cycles, like life, ebb and flow, so don’t be intimidated or discouraged by the current chaotic state of the global economy. . . .

If I could ensure that, in the future, you recall just three things that I say here today, I would like them to be: first, be diligent and disciplined in your commitment to the practice of life-long learning; that will serve you well in the years ahead; second, seek to become fluent in at least one other language; and third, if you are truly grateful for your liberal arts education, please continue to share your knowledge with others and remember to continue to give back to your alma mater in whatever ways you can. . . .

Rich, meaningful connections with others are essential, and this is why I believe that becoming fluent in at least one other language is especially important. And I hope that you will learn enough to immerse yourself fully in other cultures. I have been fortunate enough to travel the world, and with each visit to a foreign land, I have regretted my lack of proficiency in the native language. I never felt able to fully comprehend the cultures or to truly get to know the citizens of other nations. To truly understand one another, we should be able to submerge ourselves in cultures that are different from our own I hope that you have continued to study languages here at UConn and hope that you will regularly reflect on how to keep up with your language skills so that you may use them throughout your life.

As a final point, I would like to strongly encourage you to put forth your best effort in making the world a better place for future generations. I hope and trust that you will bestow the gifts of your knowledge and talents upon others in this country and in the world, especially those who are in need. Volunteer, advocate, stand up and fight for what you believe.

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