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Hudson Valley Community College Commencement Brings Family Together in Caps and Gowns

CONTACT: Sarah Boggess (518) 629-8071; beeper 342-4905
FOR RELEASE: Immediate, Saturday, May 17, 2003

"All in the Family" was the theme for the Kolars of Hoosick Falls on Saturday.

As Hudson Valley Community College celebrated its 50th anniversary, the Kolar family saw three family members receive diplomas at the college's annual commencement ceremony – parents Eileen, 52, and Al, 52, and son Nicholas, 20. The Kolars' story epitomizes the variety of reasons people choose the accessible education of Hudson Valley Community College. This year, the college saw its student population rise above 11,000 for the first time ever.

Eileen Kolar grew up in Southern California and attended college after graduating from high school. Life got in the way, though, and she dropped out, got married to Alan, moved to New York and raised their two children.

She was working at Hoosick Falls Central School in 1997 when the administration asked if she was interested in a position that required college credits and teaching assistant certification through the state Education Department. She enrolled at Hudson Valley. After finishing the courses she needed for certification, she continued with night and summer classes.

"I'm not going to say it was a breeze, but I had a goal in mind," she said. "My family supported me through the years. And when they started attending also, we were each other's support system."

Al enrolled at Hudson Valley after the laminate company he worked for closed up shop. He will graduate with a Computer Information Systems degree. Nicholas will earn an Electrical Construction and Maintenance degree. Another son, Jake, also attends the college.

"An advisor commented to my husband that we are a ‘Hudson Valley family,'" Eileen said. "I guess that's what we have become. It has been a great experience for all of us—a great college, a great start. I will never forget my experience at Hudson Valley. I met many wonderful professors and students." The commencement was held in the college's McDonough Sports Complex. More than 1,300 students graduated this spring from Hudson Valley Community College, the area's second largest institution of higher education.

President John Buono delivered a keynote speech to the packed field house, retelling the 50-year evolution of the college, which started in a former shirt factory in downtown Troy. Buono, a 1968 graduate of the college, also envisioned the growth to come in the next five decades at the college. "As a graduate of the college, I have a special bond with all of you who are receiving your diplomas today," Buono said. "We are alumni together now and my hope is that you remember this place as I do. Hudson Valley Community College is where my future became a reality."

Approximately 40 percent of those graduating on Saturday will transfer to four-year colleges and universities, with the University at Albany, The College of Saint Rose, Siena College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute among the most popular transfer institutions.

Of those entering the workforce immediately, college surveys show that more than 90 percent are employed in their field of choice within a year after graduation.

One of those who hopes to find a job soon is 77-year-old Andrew Kisela, who may well be the oldest new graduate the college has ever had.

Kisela is a native of Tarrytown but currently lives in Shohola, Pennsylvania. He completed his degree in Mortuary Science almost exclusively through online learning. When he had to be on campus for certain classes, Andrew and his wife Lucille stayed at a local motel and drive the three hours back to their home on weekends.

"I never even owned a computer before taking this program," he said.

Kisela came out of Navy service in 1946 and began what would eventually be a 40-year career in sales for Hallmark Cards, first in the Metropolitan New York region and later on the West Coast. After leaving one career, he decided to pursue another that had interested him for years. He wanted to become a funeral director. Kisela heard about Hudson Valley from a local funeral director who had attended the college, came up for a visit, and was soon enrolled.

Kisela, whose sons flew in from around the country for the commencement, praised the program and instructors. "I found the courses challenging, but I've been out of school for 60 years. Many times, when I walked into the classroom for the first time, the students thought I was the professor," he said. "They soon learned I was just another student."

Sue Smith is another graduate who's had a long wait from her first college class to her commencement day. As a secretary in the college's Student Services office, Smith, 49, one of her main job duties this time of year is to make sure students get the documentation they need to participate in the commencement ceremony. This year, she viewed graduation from a different perspective – as a member of the Class of 2003.

Smith graduated from Clayton A. Bouton High School in Voorheesville in 1971 and entered Hudson Valley, but only lasted one semester. She married in 1972 and gave birth to a baby daughter a year later. "Returning to school was the farthest thought from my mind," she said.

"By the fall of 1990, now working as an employee of Hudson Valley, I attempted to return to school by taking evening classes. Unfortunately, life obligations made it impossible to continue my education at that time. I had no alternative but to work one full-time job and one part-time job to pay the bills." Smith returned to the classroom again several years later. In 2001, she matriculated into the Individual Studies program and this spring graduated with an associate's degree. Encouraged by her success, she plans to pursue a bachelor's degree.

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 11,000 students each year, and is known as a leader in distance learning initiatives and workforce training.