O’Neill Receives Honorary Degree at YSU Commencement

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Youngstown native and television star Ed O’Neill, who is currently featured in the hit show “Modern Family,” received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree at Youngstown State University’s spring commencement.

As the featured speaker at the ceremony, O’Neill talked about his days in Youngstown and at YSU. He recounted the acting classes his took at the university and his job managing the pub at Kilcawly Center.

O’Neill did not graduate from YSU but spent time working various jobs in Youngstown. He talked of eating lunch at the Royal Oaks on Lansing Boulevard and at the Golden Dawn on Wick Avenue. He took a job as a steel salesman but said it did not pan out after he ordered a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer for lunch instead of a cheeseburger.

When O’Neill couldn’t find a job that suited him, he sold his car, told his family goodbye and took a Greyhound bus to New York City where he started his acting career. After working in local theater there he was discovered by a Los Angeles agent scouting talent for the show “Married with Children.”

Through his heartfelt and comedic speech, O’Neill congratulated the graduating class and said this is a day for them to revel in their accomplishments.

“I suppose if there’s any lesson to be learned from all this is just never give up on yourself. Find a way or go down swinging,” said O’Neill, “I would like to congratulate you again for graduating from this fine university, it’s a real accomplishment. If you’re alone, enjoy it. If you’re with family, friends enjoy it, make it memorable. Don’t live with regret. I want to wish all of you the best of luck, and now, as Al Bundy once said, “Let’s Rock.”

O’Neill attended Ursuline High in Youngstown and YSU where he earned recognition for performances in productions of the YSU theater department as well as community theater. O’Neill also played linebacker for the YSU Penguins and was recognized as YSU Penguin of the Year. He later signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers but was cut during training camp.

O’Neill worked as a substitute social studies teacher at Hayes Middle School in Youngstown before becoming an actor. He is married to actress Cynthia Rusoff and they have two daughters, Claire and Sophia.

About 1,000 undergraduate students received diplomas at the ceremony.

For many, O’Neill’s words struck a chord and inspired graduates such as Eleni Hazimihalis and Torrian Pace.

“I just want to find something that I enjoy doing like how Ed O’Neill siad ” said Hazimihalis. “He said either you find something that you love doing or you’re gonna regret it.”

“The way he told his story, ultimately, if you paid attention to it, kind of just told me that he didn’t care where he was he was going to try to get to the top no matter what.”

YSU President Cynthia E. Anderson, who retires June 30, spoke at the ceremony saying she is grateful for her time at the university as a student, professor and president.

“This is my last commencement ceremony. I have had a very blessed career and it’s been a dream come true. To all of you, my faculty colleagues, staff, community members, the board of trustees, my cabinet, and deans, I am so thankful for this wonderful opportunity to serve you and for honoring me as your president of this wonderful institution,” said Anderson.

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