Rising Up and Celebrating the DPP Class of 2020

On the evening of Friday, May 22nd the Department of Public Policy (DPP) celebrated it’s 2020 graduates with a global online contingency to celebrate the 68 graduates. Our graduates included students from the Master of Arts in Survey Research (MASR), MPA Fellows, Master of Public Administration (MPA), and Master of Public Policy (MPP) programs.

The evening included remarks by the DPP’s Department Head Mohamad Alkadry, UConn President Thomas Katsouleas, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) Dean Juli Wade, and DPP alums Melissa McCaw, Damara Cockfield and Alyssa Goduti. Associate Professor Kerri Raissian served as the mistress of ceremonies.

The program began with opening remarks by Professor Alkadry, who talked about public service values and how our network has responded to crisis. From students to alums, our members have worked alongside community partners to provide food, mental health services and personal protective equipment among other supports to neighborhoods across the country. It was noted that many entered our department in the hopes of “making a decent living while making a difference”, and already the Class of 2020 has done so much to serve.

President Katsouleas spoke next and added that in addition to “making a decent living while making a difference” our grads would also be “make living more decent”. The President highlighted the recent rankings of our Department as the DPP stands among the Top 40 for Public Affairs programs, and among the Top 10 in the specialty of Public Finance and Budgeting.  This year DPP interns provided over 36,000 hours of labor to state agencies, municipalities and nonprofits, noted the President. Throughout the evening this sentiment of serving the State was highlighted by numerous speakers. One anecdote that made many smile was when the President spoke about his transition to the University and an interaction with the Executive Director of Education Research at Gallup. This director was the DPP’s very own Stephanie Marken, who happily informed the President of her affiliation with the University as a MASR alumnus. At the of end of his remarks, President Katsouleas encouraged the graduates to “Go forth and make good policy. And go forth and make good huskies forever”.

Dean Wade was next to the podium and spoke about how our graduates were a good example of CLAS values within higher education but also in a global context. She encouraged the graduates to continue thinking broadly and creatively across disciplines. The students were noted for their ability to see problems from a wide range of angles, and they were urged to continue doing so. At the conclusion of her remarks, the Dean congratulated the graduates on their achievement.

Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management for the Lamont Administration and DPP alum Melissa McCaw, MPA 2014 spoke next. Recently, McCaw was named a “Woman of Distinction in Connecticut” by the Hartford Courant and was named to the Hartford Business Journal’s “Power 50”. McCaw began her remarks by saluting the graduates and commending them on their hard work in joining the alumni ranks of the DPP. She spoke of how the DPP’s largest graduating class was “finishing large and strong”. On behalf of Governor Ned Lamont and Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz, McCaw shared a “…sincere and abundant gratitude for [the graduates] commitment to public service”. It was important to McCaw that she highlight the achievements of DPP faculty and their impact on the graduates and alumni like herself. She noted how the graduates have already helped in pushing the state forward through their service and how they are “…defined by resiliency and an uncanny capacity to recover quickly.” Her remarks concluded with the words “Pursue your service with honor, resiliency and passion”.

The DPP’s student speaker for 2020 was MPA Fellow Padraig Barry. Barry compared the students to gems who entered the program with some “…starting off a little rough, some forming, but all requiring a little polish”.  With some research, Barry investigated the regalia for the day. Though many students were unable to obtain their cap and gown before the pandemic, Barry made sure to tell the students they would “…fly like the mighty peacock should”, a statement highlighting the peacock blue regalia of the graduates. He provided a brief history of the mortarboard and noted how it symbolized the holding of cement that would be utilized for building a strong foundation, like that of a DPP education in the pursuit of public service.  At the conclusion of his remarks, Barry quoted his fellow countryman Oscar Wilde and stated, “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”

The naming of the DPP’s 2020 award recipients began with the presentation of the DPP’s Distinguished Alumni Award to Damara Cockfield, MPA 2005. Cockfield has spent the last 15 years of her career at Booz, Allen, Hamilton as a military health subject matter expert and founded on process improvements in medical care for wounded, ill, or injured service members. She began remarks by addressing the cultural significance of graduating during a time of uncertainty, she completed her bachelor’s months after 9/11. These moments, she noted were opportunities to “investigate important problems” and live the DPP mission to provide “…high quality policy analysis, program evaluations, and survey research for investigating important public problems facing Connecticut and the nation”. Throughout the pandemic, Cockfield has been able to expand public health resources for the communities she serves. She spoke to how “every day a lesson is learned that can be taken forward into the next day”. A reminder we all need to keep moving forward and improving the services we provide.  After Cockfield spoke, the remaining award recipients were named. For a full list of awardees and Pi Pi Alpha Inductees please see our Annual Awards news story.

Once the awards were completed and the GAPPS-ICMA Officers were highlighted for their service, Professor Raissian began reading the names of the graduates. At the conclusion of the list, the mikes were un-muted, and the graduates and their families roared with applause in celebration of their accomplishments. Shortly after, Alyssa Goduti, MPA 2002 who serves as the President of the DPP Alumni Council welcomed the DPP’s newest alums to a network that now stands at over 1,200 alums. Currently Goduti is the President & CEO of Ädelbrook as well as an adjunct faculty member of the DPP. Goduti shared her deep enthusiasm for making a difference, and how this common thread is shared among all DPP alums. She talked about how this enthusiasm is a secret to success and she hopes that the graduates “…do something [they] love and continue to find enthusiasm for what [they] love”. Similar to what we tell our students at orientation, Goduti emphasized how the graduates have a strong academic foundation, enthusiasm, and network of support that can help them “realize their dreams to make a difference”. A difference the DPP has been promoting for the last 48 years.

The celebration concluded with final remarks from our Mistress of Ceremonies Professor Raissian. Throughout the celebration Professor Raissian provided anecdotes about our speakers and spoke to how their words and experiences show the impact of public service in our communities. She summarized President Obama’s commencement speech from earlier in the week and highlighted a need to “not be afraid”, to “do what is right”, and to “build community”. Three pieces of advice that our graduates have already taken to heart. Our celebration ended with the Alicia Key’s song “Underdog” in tribute to the public servants who have risen to the occasion and our students who will continue to rise in the years to come.

Congratulations to the Class of 2020, may you continue to rise up and meet every challenge that you face.

For a full list of 2020 graduates please see our earlier Celebration article to honor Commencement 2020.