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Presidential Speeches

Commencement Remarks by President Drew Matonak

“Good morning, class of 2013! Congratulations on reaching this exciting day! I am thrilled to celebrate with all of you as you look toward an exciting future.

Today, joined by your friends, families, and faculty, I see a class with a wide breadth of experiences, backgrounds, and goals. Throughout your time at Hudson Valley, you’ve been fortunate enough to benefit from each other’s unique strengths.

In the classroom, the diversity of your professors and classmates has enhanced discussions and debates, and has challenged you to consider new perspectives and to grapple with new ideas. Outside of lectures and labs, as you’ve worked together on group projects…shared meals in the Campus Center…played on our athletic teams or intramural sports…served on Student Senate, or engaged in a student club or activity, your varied backgrounds have enabled you to build valuable relationships that I’m sure you’ll maintain long after you’ve left Hudson Valley.

To give you an idea of just how diverse you are, graduates: your peers in the class of 2013 are earning degrees in more than 70 academic disciplines, ranging from Business Administration to Nursing to Engineering Science to Criminal Justice. And this year, we’re excited to have our first graduates in two new programs - Automotive Management and Polysomnography.

Students in this year’s class come from 12 different countries, including: China, Colombia, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, and, of course, the United States. You range in age from 16 to 75. Wow! Not only are you the largest graduating class in our college’s history earning 2,333 degrees and certificates, you’re also the class with the highest number of honors graduates, 488 to be exact. For some of you, today is a family affair: the class of 2013 has three sets of twins, 13 pairs of siblings, and two pairs of mothers and sons graduating together.

WOW! That is impressive!

Speaking of family, let’s take a moment to recognize and appreciate those who have joined us. Those who celebrate with you and who support you always…Graduates, please rise and turn to your loved ones with a round of applause. They deserve it!

As we salute you, graduates, we celebrate the unique personal stories and experiences that you’ve brought to Hudson Valley Community College.

Take, for example, Jessica Squires. Where are you, Jessica? Jessica is graduating with a degree in Electrical Construction and Maintenance. During her very first week of classes, Jessica’s home was devastated by Hurricane Irene. She returned home to a flooded basement and a destroyed first floor. Understandably frustrated and living with friends, she considered dropping out.

Who convinced Jessica to stay in the program? As Hudson Valley graduates, it should come as no surprise that it was her outstanding faculty. And it was her professor, Jim Countryman, and classmates who came to her house to replace old wiring as part of a hands-on training class. Now Jessica, who two years ago almost left the program, will begin the next chapter of her life in her new job with National Grid.

Her fellow graduate Marjorie Bleau-Waldorf knows a bit about new beginnings. Marge, where are you? After watching her grandson graduate right here in this stadium, Marge—a mother of five, grandmother of 10, and great grandmother of another 10—was inspired to enroll at the age of 72. Yes, she was nervous about returning to school—which she left in 1955—but she made up her mind and never looked back.

In attributing her success at Hudson Valley to the support of the college’s faculty, Marge says that her six-time history professor Alan Joseph is among the best, “so humble, he doesn’t know how good he is!”

Marge has the distinction of being our oldest—or should I say most experienced—graduate, and she earns her college diploma with a 3.82 GPA, membership in Phi Theta Kappa, and a spot on our President’s list at 75 years old. With her associate degree in hand, she and her husband are getting an R.V. and setting out on a new journey. Marge plans to take all that she’s learned at Hudson Valley on the road with her as she begins to write her autobiography.

Like Marge, Laurie Buitrago, who is graduating today with a degree in Chemical Dependency Counseling, came to Hudson Valley on a road that was not typical. Laurie, Please stand? It was perhaps more difficult than most. Laurie struggled with addiction from an early age, and after dropping out of high school in ninth grade, she let her education fall to the wayside. Years later as an adult learner, she found hope at Hudson Valley, where she says she was received with open arms and genuine kindness by faculty and staff who were eager to listen and help.

For Laurie, guidance from the college’s Educational Opportunity Program and support from the Learning Assistance Center were keys to her success. She notes that every time she asked for assistance, she immediately received it. Today, she graduates with honors and already has two jobs—at Hope House and Elizabeth House for Women— that enable her to use both her personal experience and her education to improve the lives of others. Like many of her fellow Human Service graduates, she hopes to enroll in the Social Work program at the University at Albany to become a Licensed Master Social Worker. She will bring what she has learned at Hudson Valley with her as she works to make a difference in the lives of others.

And just as Laurie attributes much of her success to Hudson Valley’s supportive faculty, graduate Kofi Asare, who came to the United States from Ghana, also notes the major role that his professors had in helping him to earn not one, but two Hudson Valley degrees. Unfortunately, Kofi is unable to be with us this morning, but let me tell you a little about him.

He first graduated in 2005 with a degree in Individual Studies and later earned bachelor and master’s degrees from the University at Albany. Seeking to advance his skills and improve his employment prospects, Kofi enrolled again at Hudson Valley, and today he graduates (for the second time!) with a certificate in biotechnology. He’ll attend SUNY Upstate Medical College in the fall, where he will continue working toward his ultimate goal of practicing medicine.

Nursing program graduate James Walker is entering the medical field with a different background from his peers. James, please stand?

James holds a Ph.D. in philosophy, and has taught for more than a decade at colleges around the region. His academic research focused on peace and conflict studies, and as he continued his teaching and research, his focus started shifting from talking about these issues to playing a proactive role in shaping them.

In 2010, just weeks before he started at Hudson Valley, he took his first trip to east Africa. He’s returned twice more and is now a board member of Engeye, a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure health and education in rural Uganda.

James’s short-term goal is to gain his licensure and practice as a registered nurse. He’ll enter The Sage Colleges’ Nursing program this fall and hopes to become a family nurse practitioner qualified to provide family care both here and in Uganda.

Of course, among our graduates who carry Hudson Valley with them near and far are students serving in the military and armed forces veterans. Bob Spain is one of them. A U.S. Army combat infantryman who served two tours of duty in Iraq, Bob epitomizes the growing number of citizen soldiers who are using Hudson Valley as a springboard to their future.

As many of you know, Hudson Valley began as the Troy Veterans Vocational Institute to provide educational opportunities to our veterans. We’re proud to uphold this tradition – 60 years after our founding – by educating 350 servicemen and women, including 89 who graduate today.

Let me pause here and ask all of our graduating servicemen and women to stand and let us thank them?

Bob earns a degree in Civil Engineering Technology and will continue his studies at Rochester Institute of Technology. He took on a leadership role in the college’s Armed Forces Club to ensure veterans feel welcome on campus, and he is one of eight Chancellor’s Award recipients who sit on this platform today.

These impressive students include Zachary Pearson. Zachary is 17 years old and earns his first degree today in Computer Aided Drafting. He’ll complete a second degree in Architectural Technology in January and is looking at colleges like RPI to continue his education.

We rightly praise the personal success of our graduates, however the stories I’ve shared with you also exemplify the crucial role of our faculty. Not only in the classroom, but in the broader community, they encourage students to step out of their comfort zones, to persist despite unforeseen circumstances, to keep learning, and to find ways to give back.

Faculty, graduates, families, friends: it is your unique voices and backgrounds that make Hudson Valley Community College the engaging learning environment and proud community it is.

Maya Angelou, who visited campus 10 years ago on the college’s 50th anniversary, said “in diversity there is beauty and there is strength,” and Class of 2013, you certainly embody this ideal. You are beautiful, and you are strong!

As you continue to forge your own individual paths, remember that you are forever a part of a Hudson Valley family of classmates, advisors, colleagues, professors, and friends who care about you.

So, graduates of the Class of 2013, this is your moment. Congratulations to all of you! And, all the best for your bright futures ahead!”