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  June 7, 2004

Event Celebrates Honors Students

Academic excellence was center stage at the Harriet Jorgensen Theatre during the Honors Convocation May 1. The stars of the show, outfitted in full academic regalia and heralded by a brass quintet, were about 150 students scheduled to graduate a week later as honors scholars, as University Scholars, or with degrees with distinction. Faculty, family, and friends were in the audience to celebrate the students' accomplishments.

"This is the first year in its 39-year history that the Honors Program has held a convocation ceremony of this nature, with a procession, academic regalia, the medal tying, and this level of pomp and circumstance," said Lynne Goodstein, associate vice provost and director of honors programs.

The event is intended to start an annual tradition. A form of celebration for graduating honors students was held for several years until the mid-1990's, when Scholars Day was introduced. Scholars Day, which celebrates about 1,500

students with strong gradepoint averages, will continue to be held each year in April.

"We decided to hold this Convocation to mark the fact that in addition to being part of the graduating class, you are also a member of a community of scholars, the University Honors community," Goodstein told the

students during the ceremony.

To achieve this distinction, she said, "takes a certain type of effort that goes well beyond keeping up with classes and doing well on exams. Each student here completed a scholarly honors

thesis for which you planned ahead, managed multiple tasks, worked with faculty one on one, exhibited creativity, and worked independently.

"You've taken full advantage of what UConn has to offer," she added.

President Philip E. Austin described the students recognized at the Honors Convocation as "some of the most outstanding students this University has."

Austin said when he gave the Scholars Day address in April, he urged the students being honored then not to be afraid of the occasional B- or C+ but to take the most challenging courses available. "That advice is too late for those here today," he said, adding, "You're at the forefront of a very strong student body. We are extraordinarily proud of each of you."

Convocation speaker Mark Beasley Murray, a senior graduating with honors in Latin American studies and an individualized major in cultural studies, encouraged the students to value the advantages they have had, while not forgetting those who have fewer opportunities.

He said he attended an inner-city high school in New Haven that had metal detectors, security guards, and day care for student parents.

"Before I came to UConn, I never took my studies very seriously. I did just enough to get into college," he said. "Most of my middle and high school teachers would be astounded that I am graduating with honors."

At UConn, Beasley-Murray said, he found a wealth of opportunities and mentors who offered him the "support to grow into a budding scholar."

He said he could not forget the 50 percent of his high school class who did not go to college, including many who had "the intellectual potential

but not the environmental conditions" to succeed.

"We must recognize the time and energy invested by our parents and teachers in us," Beasley-Murray added. "That's the main difference between others and us."

In other countries, too, kids may face enormous "impediments to learning," he said. "Many cannot afford to buy books and paper, for example.

"There's a tremendous amount of talent out there that never gets developed that could be applied more

productively to the betterment of our society," he said.

He urged the students being honored to use their future success to bring about positive change. "We must use our position in life to help pass on the good fortune we've been given," said Beasley- Murray, who plans to teach high school and later pursue a career in law and education policy.

During the ceremony, Austin presented each scholar with a gold medal to wear at the Commencement ceremony. The neck ribbons for honors scholars' medal were blue and white; for University Scholars, blue and gold; and those for students graduating with distinction, blue.

In addition, chemistry professor Harry Frank was recognized as the Outstanding Honors Teacher and Mentor for 2003, an award for which he was selected by honors students.