Life’s hurdles no match for graduates’ determination

Published: Monday, May 18, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

In the midst of commencement ceremonies Sunday, thousands of Quinnipiac University seniors took time to honor someone who should have been crossing the stage with them: Robert Aliano, the Quinnipiac student who was seriously injured in a hit-and-run accident in November.

Aliano, who attended the Hamden ceremony with his parents and girlfriend, received a standing ovation from the 1,300 graduates, their friends and family after Business School Dean Matthew O’Connor noted his presence in the audience.

“He’s a real inspiration to all of us,” O’Connor said. “We are delighted to have him here as part of today’s celebration.”

At Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, where 690 undergraduate and graduate degrees were awarded Sunday at the school’s 86th commencement, there were also standouts in determination among the graduates.

Maxine Francis was proud to see her daughter, Samantha Augustine, receive her bachelor’s degree, because Augustine, who graduated with honors, had numerous health battles.

Augustine has sickle cell anemia and requires regular blood transfusions. She also suffered a broken hip during her studies.

The first thing she told her mother when she came out of hip surgery was, “Mom, am I going to be able to finish school,” Francis said. “She’s been through a lot.”

At Quinnipiac, Aliano, a business major, was to have graduated this semester. He is still in a wheelchair and has difficulty speaking following the accident, but his parents said he is hoping to start walking again in a few weeks and to finish college in one to two years.

His father, Nick Aliano, said that the family decided to attend the ceremony to send a positive message to the graduates.

“We wanted to come to inspire the rest of the children that are all graduating today to know basically never to give up and to continue and to go through life having a positive attitude,” he said. He added that the feature of Robert’s story on the “America’s Most Wanted” television program has led to some potential leads in the hit-and-run case, which is still under investigation.

Lori Aliano, Robert’s mother, thanked people for their “support and prayers,” saying they had made a big difference.

“We’re very proud of him,” she said. “He really deserved (the recognition), and he will be back.”

Quinnipiac President John Lahey called Sunday a “day of joy and celebration,” despite the chilly weather.

Commencement speaker William Weldon, chairman of the board and CEO of Johnson and Johnson, encouraged graduates to strive to balance work and family commitments in the future. Weldon and his wife, Barbara, both graduated from Quinnipiac in 1971.

Weldon, who received an honorary degree, noted that “perhaps no class in the past 80 years has faced a more perilous economic climate upon graduation” than the class of 2009.

“If you really have a passion for your work, your success and income will follow,” he said. “If you have a passion for money first, well, you only have to read the headlines of what’s happened in the last years to see where that can take you.”

Deanna Conway drove 16 hours from her Army post in Georgia to see her sister Tracina receive her bachelor’s degree Sunday from Albertus. She joined a row full of relatives, including a cousin who flew to the ceremony.

Tracina is headed to New York City after graduation, and wants to go into business.

Kate Faber carried a giant smiley-face balloon Sunday for her daughter, Jeanne Beth Willett, who, in her 30s, decided to return to school.

She worked full time while studying at Albertus.

Willett officially received her bachelor’s degree in January, and has already begun work on a master’s.

“I am very proud. Not only did she work a full time job, she went to school,” Faber said. “She just really wanted to go back to school.”

Albertus awarded honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees to Sister Anne Kilbride, Margaret Badum Melady and Thomas Melady.

Former honorary degree recipient Bishop Theodore Brooks, pastor of Beulah Heights Pentacostal Church, returned to address the graduates.

Brooks encouraged graduates to continue their education, and said he himself might seek a master’s of leadership degree from Albertus.

“We can find excuses for not achieving these things we want,” he said. “Procrastination is a thief not only of time, but of goals.”

At Fairfield University’s 59th commencement exercises Sunday, The Saint Ignatius Loyola Medal for outstanding university service, the highest Alumni Association award presented to a senior, was awarded to Ahna Johnson, of Hamden, a double major in physics and information systems.

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