Graduating from Sacred Heart is a Family Affair for Mom and Twin Sons

Twins Tom, left, and Martin Horak with their mom, Ellen Brassil. All three graduated from SHU this year.

News Story: May 27, 2014

The joke among parents of twins is that both kids will graduate college not only on the same day, but on different coasts. “We don't have that problem,” says Ellen Brassil.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Not only are her twin sons, Sacred Heart University seniors Tom and Martin Horak, both receiving their undergraduate degrees on the same coast—at the same school, event—but she herself will be donning cap and gown as part of the 2014 SHU commencement exercises where she will receive her master’s degree in teaching from the University.

“My father was a big advocate of learning for its own sake,” explains Brassil. “I think that’s what I love about the graduate programs. They don't have to be about a particular job. A lot of MATs (those earning a master’s in teaching) plan to go into the public schools as teachers, but the concepts are applicable to a wide range of educational situations.”

Situations such as her own. Brassil is currently library director for Baystate Health, a premier health-care institution in Massachusetts serving as the western campus for Tufts Medical School. “Being a librarian has changed so much over the years,” she says. “We’re no longer the ‘guardians of the stacks.’ Information is omnipresent now, and any institution of higher learning has to help their students learn not just how to access that information, but also to navigate and manage it.”

She credits her understanding of the role to her time as a librarian at Sacred Heart, serving under Gavin Ferriby. (“I just can’t say enough good things about him,” she raves. “He is such a terrific leader in that library. Visionary, really.”) Brassil has also been a middle school media specialist and even served on the West Hartford Board of Education, so it's hardly surprising to hear she always found the quest for knowledge edifying in its own right.

“I’m very proud of her,” says Tom, a marketing major as well as varsity lacrosse player. “Working full time in Massachusetts and getting a degree from SHU has not been easy. But she’s smart. She’s persevered. She’s always excelled in her work."

"I’m glad to see her continuing her education," Martin chimes in, himself a sport management and marketing major, actively involved with the campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity. “And,” he adds, “it’s good to see her around on occasion.”

As a 3rd Order Carmelite, Sacred Heart’s Catholic identity is enormously important to Brassil, and few have had the opportunity to witness that identity from as many angles as she. A past employee, as well as a current parent and graduating student herself, the University’s commitment to balancing faith and reason through lifelong learning and service resonates with her to the very core.

“As a family, we have always been so inspired by the University’s message to give back,” Ellen says. It was something that had impressed them from the beginning, but touched them very personally last year when Tom and Martin’s oldest brother, Doug, passed away. The entire Sacred Heart lacrosse team traveled out to West Hartford to show their support for their teammate and his family. “We will never forget such kindness and compassion, so typical of the culture at Sacred Heart,” she says.

“There’s just something very special about that school, and you feel it the moment you’re on campus. The people are committed to their goals, but also something more. They’re aware that they’re part of something bigger,” she adds.

Something that, perhaps, will take a lifetime of learning to try and understand. And for Ellen Brassil, that’s absolutely fine.