Ronald B. Bruder, named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people, told the graduates at getting a few doors slammed in their faces might be a good thing.
Bruder said he was expelled from school at age 17, and he started going door to door selling encyclopedias.
"Have you ever heard of them," he asked. "They were mandatory in everyone's house 40 years ago."
Bruder said he literally walked door to door and tried to sell the books. That meant he spent a year trying and mostly not succeeding. He had to learn to persevere.
"I had to get out there every day. It was a matter of eating and survival," Bruder said. "I had hundreds of failed pitches. I failed often."
Bruder said what he learned was to get back up, and try again. Try different words. Try something else. Revise his technique. He said thinking about why the last pitch failed help him start again, pick himself up and go at it one more time. Again and again. "Without self reflection, it's just stubbornness."
Bruder founded the Education for Employment network in 2002 in response to the 9/11 attacks. The network works in the Middle East and North Africa to help unemployed youth find jobs. He said sometimes what they have to learn is to show up on time, wear appropriate clothing, and sometimes it's as simple as how to behave in an interview and how to write a resume.
"They don't have the opportunities you had," Bruder said. He said the unemployment rate for college graduates in the Middle East is about four times that of the U.S., and he said its six times as high for people without college degrees. "Their education systems have failed them."
Professional writing major Hobson Lopes, who graduated Sunday, said WestConn gave him several opportunities. While at WestConn he wrote and earned money working for Yahoo, for two other websites and he wrote freelance articles for Danbury Patch. He had an internship at WestConn's University Relations office.
"I was able to learn a lot about writing and my style through the internships I got through the school," said Lopes, who starts a job with the state of Connecticut's Tourism Department on Friday.
Another professional writing major is Laurie Lawless, 24, of Danbury, who worked as editor of the Echo, the university's student newspaper, as she did when she attended Norwalk Community college. She had a writing internship at the Humane Society USA while a student.
"I like asking questions, and I like telling stories," Lawless said. She is now looking for work.
During the speakers, Gary Halloway of the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education drew a wave of applause when he said, "Congratulations to you, the class of 2012. You made it," but the loudest applause came when President James Schmotter gave Carol A. Hawkes, Ph.D. emerita, and founding dean of the School of Visual and Performing Arts, a Presidential Medal.
"You brought a passion and a vision to the university," Schmotter said. "You were a trail blazer as a female faculty member at a time when women were not expected to be leaders."
That brought the audience to its feet.
WestConn Grads from Brookfield:
- Jonathan C. Arteaga, BBA Management
- Melissa A. Berardi, BS Elementary Education
- Amanda C. Bretton, BS Elementary Education
- Courtney G. Burns, BA Psychology
- Kevin M. Carneglia, BA Professional Writing
- Ashley E. Castellano, BS Health Promotion Studies
- Tyler J. Colman, BBA Interactive Marketing
- Ashley Elizabeth Goetz, BA English
- Tyler A. Hutkowski, BS Justice and Law Administration
- Kara A. Kruczkiewicz, BS Nursing
- Guixiao Li, BBA Accounting
- Morgan J. Litwin, BBA Finance
- Christine M. Loewy, BA History
- Ryan M. Lopes, BBA Management
- Marianne Malanaphy, BA Psychology
- Christophe T. Martin, BA Mathematics
- Carlos M. Martins Jr., BBA Management Information Systems
- David J. Miller, BA History
- Lauren N. Miller, BA Psychology
- Rebecca F. Morris, BS Nursing
- Candy D. Murias, BA Psychology
- Lisa M. O'Connor, BS Health Promotion Studies
- Michael K. O'Shaughnessy, BA Political Science
- Chelsea L. Paden, BS Secondary Education
- Elizabeth A. Paez, BBA Accounting
- Michael V. Pertoso, BA Chemistry
- Nicole J. Pierz, BS Elementary Education
- Justine T. Russo, BS Elementary Education
- Aydely Santiago-Taiman, BBA Accounting
- Nicole A. Schutz, BA Social Work
- Samantha E. Shortt, BBA Management
- Hannah L. Shoushani, BA Social Work
- Chris D. Stunkel, BBA Marketing
- Jason Z. Szabo, BBA Finance
- Stephanie M. Turco, BBA Management
- Nicole C. Valluzzo, AS Liberal Arts
- Aron C. Weitzman, BS Justice and Law Administration
- Chaveevan M. Wojtowicz, BA Psychology
- Tessa A. Schoen, BA Psychology
- Laura D. Schultz, BA Social Work
- Steven M. Shanley, BS Justice and Law Administration
- Ryan M. Stephens, BBA Management
- Alexandre J. Teixeira, BA Art
- Katie A. Trohalis, BA History
- Tiffany A. Uliano, BA Psychology
- Joshua P. Vaghi, BS Health Promotion Studies
- Ashley A. Veach, BA History
- H. John Voorhees II, BA Economics