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Hundreds of Success Stories at 48th Annual Hudson Valley Commencement

CONTACT: Sarah Boggess (518) 629-8071; beeper 342-4905

FOR RELEASE: Immediate, Saturday, May 18, 2002

Hudson Valley Community College graduated 1,452 students in its 48th annual commencement exercises this morning. Commencement photos.

"You have built a record of excellence and success here at Hudson Valley, and it is now time to build on that record to fulfill the dreams and goals that you have set for yourself,\" said Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, who offered the commencement address. Noting that this was the college's first commencement ceremony since the terrorist attacks, Bruno added: \"The events of September 11 remind us that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary actions. If you keep this simple fact in mind, success is sure to follow."

After his address, Bruno received the college's first ever award for Excellence in Service to Education.

College President John L. Buono told the graduates: "I am in awe of your accomplishments during your time at Hudson Valley, and I am proud to know that you are about to begin a new stage in your lives with a rock-solid foundation from your time here with us." (President Buono\'s Remarks)

Buono mentioned several graduates by name in his remarks, telling their personal stories in an attempt to portray the wide variety of individuals graduating from the college's 50-plus academic programs. Two graduates he mentioned were Roman Radomyslsky and Loren Felsman.

Many of this year's graduates have compelling personal histories, and have widely divergent goals and plans. Hudson Valley Community College, known for its value, academic excellence and support services, attracts a wide variety of students. Hudson Valley is ranked 25th among the nation's 1,500-plus community colleges in the number of degrees awarded annually. If this class follows past trends, about 80 percent of the graduates will settle in the Capital Region.

The college maintains articulation agreements and joint admission agreements with dozens of four-year colleges and universities, and more than 40 percent of its graduates transfer to four-year colleges and universities. The rest seek immediate employment. Of those that choose to enter the workforce, more than 90 percent are employed in their field of choice within a year after graduation. Of students who must take national certification exams for their field of choice, Hudson Valley students consistently score in the top 10 percent.

Radomyslsky, 21, of Schodack Landing, graduated with an Accounting degree. Nominated as the "Best Accordion Player in the State of Smolensk" in 1996, he first came to the United States in August of that year from his home in Smolensk, Russia as part of a student exchange program. He has maintained a 4.0 grade point average at Hudson Valley Community College, is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, and plans to continue his studies at a four-year school.

Loren Felsman, 22, of Troy, was president of the Student Senate and also earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average during his time at the college. He was one of the college's four recipients of the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence and was recently named to the second team of the national All American academic team, sponsored by USA Today and Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for two-year colleges. This honor places him among the top two-year college students in the country. His degree is in Individual Studies, and he will attend Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations the fall.

In addition to the Rodomyslky and Felsman, the Class of 2002 includes:

  • Mark Richeson, 26, of Albany, who graduated with a degree in Individual Studies. Richeson has cerebral palsy. He uses a wheelchair, and he was assisted during his student days by personal aide Gail DeDominces, as well as the college's Disability Resource Center and his family. "I had good days and bad days. When I got home, my father and I sat down together and talked through my stress, which really helped me out. I feel extremely honored to have made it through these four years with the help of the Disability Resource Center. The staff went beyond the call of duty to help me receive the best testing accommodations and to receive the proper equipment and desks to work with," Richeson said. "I feel extremely honored to graduate with the rest of the students. I hope other students see their future the way that I see it. My father and mother taught me to see my future by taking one day at a time."
  • Denise Watso, 40, of Latham, a Mathematics and Science major who left work in construction to study at Hudson Valley, starting with basic arithmetic. With the support of specialized instructional staff, Watso earned a spot on the President's List in her first year and continued on through Calculus III. Instead of transferring to civil engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as she had planned, Watso has decided to pursue Native American Studies at University at Albany. Her dream is to establish a Native American community center in the Capital Region to help her Abenaki people to learn their ancestral language and preserve their heritage.
  • Joseph Vanags Sr., 48, of Albany, who graduated with an Individual Studies degree. A former truck driver who wants to become a secondary social studies teacher, he has been accepted into the secondary education program at The College of Saint Rose and plans to start there in the fall. Vanags had been a truck driver for much of his adult life but an accident three years ago -- in which he was thrown off the top of a tanker truck -- broke both of his wrists and left him unable to work behind the wheel. He came to Hudson Valley, and since he\'s always been interested in the field, he decided to study education. Vanags also had his poetry published in Threads, the campus literary magazine, and served as president of the college\'s History Club.
  • Jacob Zaccagnino, 36, of Delmar, who maintained a 4.0 GPA in his field of study, Electrical Construction and Maintenance, while caring for his family – a wife and three children – and working full-time. He attended classes during the day, and held down the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at CSX Transportation, spending his nights as a locomotive electrician. He also served as executive officer of the Electrical Construction and Maintenance Club, organizing various club functions. He regularly helped his fellow students, providing notes to those who missed a class or two and holding study sessions at his house. Zaccagnino, who did not go to college immediately after graduating from Fort Plain Central High School because he didn't think he was mature enough, plans to return to Hudson Valley, possibly to pursue a degree in the Heating/Air Conditioning/Refrigeration Technical Services program.
  • Sean Grady, 31, of Albany, president of the college's Alpha Xi Sigma chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, and vice president of the Student Senate, who graduated with a Business Administration degree. While attending classes full-time at Hudson Valley, he has worked full-time with at-risk youth. He also helps to raise his two children: Imani, 11 and Iesha, 8. Another recipient of the Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence, Grady was actively involved in several campus leadership positions, and received numerous honors while a student at the college.
  • Frances Suggs, 40, of Troy, who graduated with a degree in Human Services. She plans to continue her education at the University at Albany and eventually earn a master's degree in social work. Suggs first became a mother at the age of 14. Now a mother of four, Suggs juggled her coursework while maintaining a full-time job as a therapeutic support counselor at the Center for the Disabled and caring for her children and a seriously ill husband. She has received numerous awards and accolades both on campus and from community organizations, including the Outstanding Public Service Award from the Commission on Economic Opportunity. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, and has received the Second Chance Scholarship, the Continuing Education Scholarship, the Dr. Ruth Waller Scholarship and the Mary Margaret Scholarship. She currently works as a therapeutic support counselor at the Center for the Disabled.

Hudson Valley Community College, located in Troy, offers more than 50 degree and certificate programs in four academic divisions: Business; Engineering and Industrial Technologies; Health Science; and Liberal Arts and Sciences. One of 30 community colleges in the State University of New York system, it has an enrollment of more than 10,000 students each year, and is known as a leader in distance learning initiatives and workforce training.