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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Quinnipiac law alum sows ‘seeds of greatness’ as Hartford’s newest mayor

On May 11, 2014, Arunan Arulampalam stood before his fellow Quinnipiac University School of Law classmates as the student speaker for their commencement ceremony. While Arulampalam was not the final speaker of the ceremony, for the next eight minutes, the floor was his.

Arulampalam spent the previous year leading the school as the president of the Student Bar Association. That was finished. He was no longer the head of his class, but on that spring morning, Arulampalam was its voice.

Arulampalam spoke on the anxieties his classmates and he held regarding the future of not just the U.S., but the world.

“Increasingly, our generation is viewed as incapable and unworthy of the mantle,” Arulampalam said. “But while I believe the challenges we face as a nation and a world are great, I have every bit of faith in our generation to be the ones to meet those challenges.”

He spoke of the great and selfless work his classmates completed during their years as law students, spreading the word of what he called “seeds of greatness” he saw sprouting in the halls of the law building in North Haven, Connecticut.

“The history of our generation is yet to be written, its stories have yet to be told,” Arulampalam said. “I believe that when they are, they will be so full of the small, yet incredibly significant acts of the multitude of great men and women of our generation, that there will be no room for their biographies.”

Nearly a decade later, immediately after the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, Arulampalam’s own seed of greatness fully sprouted, if it had not already. As citizens of Connecticut were celebrating the new year, Arulampalam was sworn in as the newest mayor of the Nutmeg State capital, Hartford.

This was a moment his colleagues and peers believed he was ready for since his days as a law student.

“He had a very strong vision of service to his community,” said Jennifer Brown, dean of the Quinnipiac School of Law. “He really believes in the idea of a lawyer as a public servant. I think he wanted to be on the lookout for opportunities to make a difference rather than just opportunities to climb a ladder.”

Arulampalam and his family immigrated to the U.S. from Zimbabwe when he was still a toddler, and he became a citizen when he was 12 years old. Despite eventually settling in Connecticut as an adult with his wife, Liza, Arulampalam’s early days in California as a member of an immigrant family were what shaped his political ideology and goals as a public servant.

“I grew up feeling sometimes outside of the system,” Arulampalam said. “My family, through their hard work and sacrifice, was able to build opportunities for me, but at a high cost. It is those who are marginalized, those who are on the outside of society who I’ve always felt real, personal kinship with.”

Arulampalam might not have known as a child that he was going to be the mayor of Hartford, nor did he know what he was going to do after law school, but he knew it was necessary to make the change in society that he envisioned.

“I think the beauty of a legal degree is that there are a lot of things you can do,” Arulampalam said. “Every single job I’ve done is completely separate … I had no subject matter expertise in any of those going in, and my legal degree really helped me navigate a lot of that.”

He built his career off of time spent as an associate at the New Haven office of the Updike, Kelly & Spellacy law firm and as Deputy Commissioner at the State of Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection. He also served as a CEO of the Hartford Land Bank, a nonprofit meant to recover properties on the brink of foreclosure in Hartford and return them to the community that needs them.

Faculty members remember Arulampalam as one of the most driven in their classes, as well as someone who had mastered the art of understanding opposite viewpoints.

“(Arulampalam) was really good at listening and talking with other people and finding ways to find common ground and to solve problems,” said Brad Saxton, a professor of law and dean emeritus of the School of Law. “I think it is really promising for what he’s going to be like as the mayor.”

His commencement address also widened the eyes of those who heard it, forming lifelong memories of his speech.

“In my 40 years at the law school, it was one of the very best ever. In fact, I described it as (John F.) Kennedy-esque,” Professor of Law Emeritus Robert Farrell said. “Obviously at the time I didn’t know he was going to become mayor of Hartford. But, of course, looking back now I say, ‘Well, there was a sign of it right then.’”

Arulampalam likely did not imagine he was going to become the mayor of a state capital a decade ago, but he recognized that his story was yet to be written, so he wrote. He became the change he wanted to see in the world around him, and the timelessness of his 2014 address can be applied to young people of today wishing to make their mark.

“If anything, there’s greater uncertainty about the future,” Arulampalam said. “But I think it’s all the more reason that new graduates coming out need to take hold of their role in this world. We need people who are willing to fight for the future of this society, of this country, of this state.”

When it comes to where he is going to be a decade from now, Arulampalam doesn’t want to know.

“I think that in politics, when you wedge yourself into a specific type of career path, it can get you into trouble,” Arulampalam said. “My hope is to do the best I can, over as long a time as the citizens of Hartford will keep me, to make real change and really impact my community.”

So for now, Arulampalam will work from his office on Main Street, continue to raise his five children with Liza and tend to the fruits that grew from the seeds of greatness he planted in the halls of a law school in North Haven, Connecticut.

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Michael LaRocca
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