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Presidential Speeches

Commencement Remarks by President Andrew J. Matonak, Ed.D.

2011 Commencement Remarks
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Joseph L. Bruno Stadium

Well…Look at you!

Is there anyone in this stadium that is as proud of these students as I am?

Today, as I stand here before you, I see pride and determination, courage and tenaciousness, talent and accomplishment, confidence and apprehension. But most of all I see our future leaders of Tech Valley and of New York State.

You are the largest graduating class in the history of this college, the most diverse, and the most accomplished, boasting our highest number of honors graduates. Your degrees reflect the broadest number of programs ever, AND we have a host of "firsts": the first graduates in Digital Media, as well as the first in Disabilities Studies. Many of you took your first steps into the TEC-SMART labs in Malta and are the first to study alternative fuels and wind energy, critical needs for our future.

We also celebrate first-ever awards. Your hard work has placed this college in the running for the $1 million Aspen Prize. Yes, Hudson Valley is officially ranked among the top ten percent of the nation's community colleges. Why? Because of you. The Aspen Institute rates student success in persistence and completion, in improvement over time, and in equity in outcomes for students of all backgrounds. Does that sound familiar? It should, because this is you. This is your achievement.

You are also graduating at a time when community colleges are being acknowledged by the leaders in Washington as crucial to our society. And the President visited Hudson Valley to tell us in person. "You," said President Obama, "are more important than ever to the country's competitiveness."

We often say, at Hudson Valley, that we "deliver what the future demands," so I'd like to spend a few moments with you thinking about your future. Most of you, 369 to be exact, are holding a degree in Individual Studies, a unique combination of liberal arts and free elective courses designed to provide flexibility for reaching your goals. It is no coincidence that Individual Studies is the largest department on campus. It recognizes that the future is not fixed; it is in constant flux, shifting ever faster under our feet.

In the face of this, you have responded. You have stayed ahead of the curve, holding fast to your compass, even when the needle swings wildly. You have been steady and sure in your pursuits, overcoming a myriad of obstacles and uncertainties. You have persevered, comforted by the knowledge that that wavering needle will always, eventually, point north, settling in the direction of what is right and true for you.

How do I know this? It's easy. You are here, and, in order to be in this stadium today, you have demonstrated the very skills that will fortify you in the face of a buffeted world where the horizon keeps shifting. You have shown resilience, and you have shown talent. There are some among you who escaped persecution in other countries, or a world of poverty.

There are others who survived unexpected hardships or disruptions, who raised children, switched careers in mid-life, cared for ill family members, and held multiple jobs. Your ages range from 18 to 64, and your hometowns lie between Pawling Avenue in Troy and Uzbekistan in Central Asia. As a group, you are living proof of the abiding power of resilience.

I know that many of you exemplify perseverance in extraordinary situations, but I am going to tell you about three of our graduates.

Kathie Smith is graduating today with a degree in nursing—40 years after first announcing her ambition. She raised three children, one of whom she helped through the trials of a life-threatening medical condition while working as the office manager of a pediatric hematologist. At 58 years old, she will walk into her first day on the job as an RN in the vascular unit at Albany Medical Center, two floors above where her son spent days and weeks recovering from surgeries.

Kathie, we applaud YOU.

Michael Flynn drove a long-haul truck for 15 years. One day, he met the love of his life and, through this relationship, began to envision a life different from the road he had been traveling. At Hudson Valley, Michael discovered chemistry, and nurtured a passion for the subject's unknowns and variables. With his degree in Chemical Technology, Michael has been offered a job at an international semiconductor and nanotechnology company with a research facility in Albany—Now that's a "long haul" from truck driving!

Michael, we applaud YOU.

As a high school student, Kaitlyn Tate watched and helped as her mother cared for her critically ill father and held down a full-time job. He died while she was in her junior year, leaving Kaitlyn and her mother to care for each other. With one car, two jobs, and Kate's one-hour commute to our campus, these women persevered. Today, Kate earns her degree in Individual Studies and looks ahead to her transfer to UAlbany, and a career as an elementary school teacher.

Kate, we applaud YOU.

Kaitlyn's experience, as is similar to many of our graduates, reflect the philosophy of another self-made personality, Art Linkletter, who said, "Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out."

There is, among us, another group who deserves our attention today. They form quiet harbors within the turbulent world. They are the source that fortifies and emboldens you, and validates your choices.

They are your family, your parents, your children, your teachers, classmates, advisors, and colleagues on campus. Graduates, please stand and help me thank them for all that they have done to support you.

Together, they (we) form that supportive place, right here and within you, that will always sustain you in your pursuits. We believe in you and advocate for you, and this is what you can take—into the fluid world where the horizon keeps shifting. It is our gift to you to take wherever you go.

Today, however, you will leave with something more. You will leave this ceremony with a distinction that places you in a position not to just survive what lies ahead, but to SHAPE it. So graduates, in the words of Confucius, "Wherever you go, go with all your heart."

Remember, this world is more malleable than you might think—even as its bucks under our feet. Apply your talents. Use them to authenticate yourself. Use them--these tools and skills you leave with today--to shape a world that you want to live in.

Graduates, we applaud YOU for all of your achievements at Hudson Valley. We applaud YOU for your perseverance, your resilience, your fearlessness, and your incredible talents. But most of all, we applaud YOU for all that you will accomplish as you go out and make your mark on this unsettled world.