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Presidential Inaugural Address

Creating Community to Cultivate Learning, Leaders and Lives

"Dr. Louise Berry, Chairperson of the Connecticut Technical and Community Colleges Board of Trustees, Chancellor Marc Herzog, Dr. Atluru, honorable members of the board, fellow college presidents, Bishop Rosazza, Commissioner Meotti, Rabbi Polokoff, Mayor Jarjura, State Senator Hartley, State Representative Noujaim, members of the armed forces color guard, honored guests, dear students, distinguished members of the faculty and staff, beloved friends and family members, buenas tardes. Good afternoon, and welcome.  Let me begin by saying, “gracias”, by expressing my gratitude to Chancellor Herzog for his support and guidance;  and to Dr. Louise Berry and the Board of Trustees for their vote of confidence in my ability to lead this beautiful institution and for their continued support.

I thank my dear colleagues, friends and students who have taken time from very busy lives to speak words of love and support and trust in my capacity to lead this beautiful institution. My Naugatuck Valley family has worked hard and diligently to make this inauguration meaningful and full of grace.  Roseanne Tunila, Tom Violante and Jim Troup took the lead, but so many of our faculty, students and staff have worked as a team and embraced with generosity the preparations for this day.  Mil gracias y bendiciones. Grazie di tutto cuore. Many, many thanks.  Richard Gard, the beauty of your soul is only matched by the brilliance of your music. What a fine ensemble you guide! Dear students and faculty members in the Music and Horticulture programs, thank you for the gift of music and the floral arrangements.   The children in our development center have given me much joy today and throughout the year. I thank them for the gift of innocence and hope. Dr. Sandra Valente and Ms. Michelle Ouellette, college governance is in your capable hands.  What generosity of spirit and intellectual maturity you have proven to possess! Leonides Luciano, your words have resonance and your dedication to this institution is to be commended. Thank you to our students, faculty, staff, members of my cabinet and representatives of the communities we serve, for celebrating with me a new beginning, another chapter in the generous history of this institution.  Wilfredo Nieves and Jonathan Daube, your coaching and generous counsel has eased my education in the ways of Connecticut. My York College, my Hostos Community College and my City University of New York families are represented well here today.   My Dominican-American family is well represented in the audience by Dr. Franklin Gutierrez, Dr. Ramona Hernandez and Ana Garcia Reyes and many others, too many to name.  Special thanks to a talented young man, Victor Diaz, who is working in Waterbury to create a Dominican-American community.  I love you all and I thank you for your support.  Julia Alvarez, Chiqui Vicioso and Rhina Espaillat, gracias for the gift of beauty, and love and solidarity; Dr. Sadie Bragg, Dr. Selma Botman, Dr. Carlos Molina and Dean Jerry Cohen, your mentoring and support has made all the difference. I am so delighted to see so many former students of mine, now successful professionals here supporting me today.  I am so very proud of you. To our immediate and extended family, the Cocco and the De Filippis tribes present here, thank you for a lifetime of walking alongside me.  To our children Joseph Nicholas, Nunzio, Christina, James and Allison, and our granddaughters Alexa and Marley, I would like to say how fortunate and how grateful I feel to have you make my life so complete and rewarding; for Nunzio, my partner in life, my love and gratitude, always.

This is a day of celebration.  A day to give thanks for all that has come before and all that is yet to come.  I stand here today feeling so blessed by the support and care of so many.  My journey has not been lonely. It is a journey of the heart and the intellect where multiple families have come together to make life worth living and to assist and guide me in the work I embrace on behalf of so many who come to public higher education looking for access and support in their own journey to the American dream.

It is almost a year since the campus received me with a reception to celebrate my being named to the presidency.  At that time, I reflected on Pablo Neruda’s Nobel laureate speech “Toward the Splendid City”.  Neruda spoke of life’s journey and the times when he had been forced to cross borders, looking for refuge.  This passage sometimes led him to wade in the dark waters of rivers or to cross the mountains and valleys of the Andes.  Each time to be reminded that he was not alone; that there were others behind him to assist him; that there were signs pointing to the fact that others had crossed there before him.  Neruda’s words about the meaning of life and of life’s journeys have deep resonance for me, an immigrant who has had to cross multiple linguistic, educational and cultural borders, and whose trust in the kindness is seldom betrayed. I am honored and deeply moved by having with me today the company of two of my most significant mentors: Professor Bette Weidman of the English Department at Queens College and Prof. Marlene Gottlieb, of the CUNY Graduate Center.  I will never be able to repay them for their generous support; for their continued presence and inspiration in my life.  Because of their kindness and that of so many others seated on this stage and in the audience,   I am reassured that there is beauty in humanity, that I will never be alone.  I can trust and take comfort in the fact that there are others who were here before me, some others who will stand behind me now and so many others who will join hands with me as we move this venerable and significant institution to its next moment in history.

Since I arrived, I have shared my vision of a campus where the word community is central; a place where students are considered our most sacred trust and our finest asset; and where collaboration within and outside the confines of our immediate surroundings defines our actions.  Students provide us with an opportunity to contribute to the betterment of our society and to feel that we will share in a future which will not be ours and where we may not go, but whose rich harvest will have been ensured by the seeds that we plant today.  Naugatuck Valley Community College is our very own splendid city, an institution where we can place our highest aspirations, and a place where we cultivate lives for a better tomorrow.

As we look to our work together, I know that we will strive to create an environment rich with intellectual, educational, cultural and civic-minded experiences.  Our cultivation begins with engaging in careful curricular planning and reviewing to ensure that we are abreast of changing workforce trends and needs, and can be nimble enough to adjust and change in support of a stronger economy and a greener planet.  The opening of our New Technology Hall has brought new vitality and support for exciting academic programs and career opportunities for our students.  Our Hospitality Management has finally found a home that will help it flourish and grow in years to come.  Automotive Repair has a state-of-the art mechanic garage now on campus, and is looking to engage in new, green technologies.  Cultivation also means embracing the beauty of our grounds and our buildings to create learning laboratories, including the creation of a state-of-the art Academic Center of Excellence that would provide academic and mentoring support to students 7 days and 4 evenings a week.  Some of the functions of the center, scheduled to open Fall 2009 include, academic advisement, counseling, disability services, open computer, writing, math and ESL labs, placement testing and copier services.  We are also looking to create additional opportunities on campus for intellectual, social and cultural development outside of what has been traditionally called “the classroom”.  These learning laboratories will spill over to the learning commons we are creating in our hallways and the gardens, our horticulture, science and humanities laboratories, to be designed and created by faculty and students on this campus in the form of a Shakespeare Garden, and if fund raising supports it, a Rose garden.  These living laboratories build upon the only horticulture program among the state’s community colleges.  It affirms the College’s commitment to blend rigorous academic study with hands-on service learning.  Students will engage in both the construction of the gardens and their long-term care.

In his seminal study Walden, Henry Thoreau explains that “students should not plan life, or study it merely….but earnestly live it from beginning to end” (56-57). These concepts, very nineteenth century and so relevant in the twenty-first, translate into a philosophy of teaching that focuses on hands-on learning, beginning precisely where the student is, creating agents of change and well-being who are an integral part of the vitality and health of their respective communities.  I believe that the definition of what a classroom is should include an understanding that learning happens in the cities themselves as we work on site and with multiple partners in business, industry and education on solving some of the workforce challenges facing our communities. Service learning is one of the pillars upon which we will create community to cultivate learning, leaders and lives.

The college is poised to embrace the word community and to share in the work that must be done to ensure a brighter future for Connecticut, the nation and the world.   These past few months, we have all worked hard to reach out, to include and to embrace as partners multiple constituencies in our society.  The concept of extending the definition of a work-study site outside of the confines of our campus has taken root.  Our Human Services program has played a vital role in creating experiences that are intellectually rich and community minded.  Other opportunities available to our students include working at the Mattatuck Museum.  There are many other service learning opportunities in development and Fall 2009 should see our students working in multiple settings throughout the City of Waterbury.  A brief list of outreach activities and “friend-raising” initiatives include support for the Connecticut Community Foundation’s holding meetings on campus.  We are grateful to the foundation for providing us with a grant to support the recruitment and retention of Latina students in the Engineering Technology programs.  We have engaged the Smaller Manufacturers Association in an on-going dialogue about collaboration and support.  They are in the process of creating some scholarships to support tuition and book stipends for a number of their employees who will be coming to campus to study.  A Presidential Scholarship to support tuition and book voucher for one deserving high school student to come in his/her senior year at each of the high schools in our service region has begun implementation.  We are in the process of collaborating on a grant to support academic development and to create bridges to colleges for students in three high schools in Waterbury.  We are also currently housing the Waterbury Board of Education Transition program.  We have opened the College to Girls Inc.  We have received support from Webster Bank for the College to keep the St. Vincent’s Soup Kitchen on Sunday, operated by volunteers from various student clubs, faculty, staff and administrators.  We are partnering with City Harvest on a grant to support community gardens in Waterbury.  We have worked with MASC and with colleagues in Asnuntuck  on bringing this summer  the College Connection program in manufacturing back to Waterbury and the College.  We have expanded our presence and our credit enrollments have multiplied in Danbury, working closely with multiple agencies, the City Center and Danbury High School.  These are just a few examples of the many ways in which community is being created to participate in a building of a better Connecticut.

As we look to the future and the challenges facing us, including the current budget crisis, I remain optimistic and confident in our ability to advocate for the Connecticut Community Colleges system and to plan carefully in preparation for difficult budget years ahead.  We at NVCC understand that it is more important than ever to make judicious decisions in support of our students’ need to be educated.  Responding to the imperative to be a partner in the revitalization of the economies of the communities we serve will also guide the steps we take.  As we move forward together, I am grateful for the generosity of spirit and the talent of the NVCC family.  As I look to the next five years, I see the transformation of the College through the continued strength of viable academic programs, strong teaching and learning leading to retention of students to graduation.  This process will be supported by the full utilization of all common spaces, including the grounds, as classrooms to enhance intellectual, educational and cultural opportunities.  I also see a classroom without walls, supported by technology and by the multiple learning venues provided by our partners in education, business and industry in various locations in the regions served.  I see an institution that takes pride in its role as a catalyst for change, and in the teaching and learning provided students whose retention to graduation becomes a passionately embraced goal.  I see a place where a generous nature is supported by man-made efforts to maintain and beautify the grounds and our buildings.  I see above all, an institution where hope and optimism are embraced in every action.  In his Nobel laureate speech, Pablo Neruda affirms:  “All paths lead to the same goal; to convey to others what we are…-but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny.”  I believe that our common destiny is that of a community of purpose; an academic community that partners with multiple stakeholders and works closely together in harmony and in concert, to ensure that Naugatuck Valley Community College will live to the promise made in our mission to embrace diversity and opportunity as the birth right of all.

Thank you for your support.  I am deeply moved by your presence and look to your continued support in the future.  Mil gracias y bendiciones."

Daisy Cocco De Filippis, Ph.D.
Presidential Inaugural Address
Naugatuck Valley Community College
April 17, 2009

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