A sea of umbrellas covered the lawn in front of the Gengras Student Union building at the University of Hartford as about 1,500 graduates, their families, and school faculty gathered for the 54th annual commencement ceremony Sunday morning.
Some sought shelter under tents or building overhangs while others huddled under umbrellas as the rain poured down.
"You are amazing," said Anne Garrels, a veteran foreign correspondent for National Public Radio. "I'm delighted to be here, rain notwithstanding."
As though the rain weren't soaking everything in sight, crowds made their way to the wet seats, the Hartt Wind Ensemble played, and for almost two hours participants endured the rain to listen to faculty and key speakers commemorate their achievements in academia.
University of Hartford President Walter Harrison began his speech by asking, "Who decided to have this outside in the rain, anyhow?" before announcing that he would not give a speech, in order to reduce the amount of time participants would spend in the rain.
"I don't think anything could dampen the spirit of this amazing institution and your achievements," Garrels said. "And to honor you all, this is going to be the shortest commencement speech ever."
Garrels spoke about the great challenges that lie ahead for the graduates.
"Your world is going to change in ways that are unimaginable," Garrels said. "You're not going to be able to fix every problem, but I'm counting on all of you, I really am - you've got to help us navigate this troublesome world in a wiser way than we've seen in recent years."
Students from around the county and from around the world listened as university faculty, fellow students, and guest speakers noted their achievements. Garrels, Peggy Lyman Hayes, Simon Konover and Paul Winters were each given honorary degrees for contributions to their respective fields.
Nathaniel Palma, a graduate of the Barney School of Business, noted the diversity of the student population at the university, with students from 60 different countries and 47 American states.
"It is our understanding and appreciation of diversity that make this world a better place," Palma said. He charged his fellow students with the mission of staying true to their democratic values and to seek answers to problems that face the world, both in Hartford and wherever they may be after graduation.
At the completion of the ceremony, Harrison thanked the crowd for tolerating the weather, and the students were then ushered off to separate, covered locations to receive their diplomas.
"I wish you only the best in your lives and careers," Harrison said. "Remember that as you go forward you will always carry the University of Hartford with you."
To view the University of Hartford Commencement program, which includes a complete list of graduates, visit the university's website.