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50th Commencement Remarks by President Marco J. Silvestri, Ph.D.

Remarks by President Marco J. Silvestri, Ph.D.
Hudson Valley Community College
50th Commencement
9 a.m. McDonough Sports Complex
Saturday, May 22, 2004

Thank you for being here today to celebrate this milestone in the College's history, and in our graduates' lives.

At this significant point in our college's history, we mark fifty years of helping students fulfill their dreams; fifty years of proving our academic excellence; and fifty years of unprecedented growth that saw a technical college with five fledgling academic programs transform into one of the most dynamic, caring, productive, respected and comprehensive institutions of higher education within and beyond New York State.

While this amazing transformation occurred, the legacy of the faculty and staff of 1955 continues today as our proud vision of focusing passionately on excellent teaching, engaged learning and enriched lives.

In honor of this special occasion, we have received congratulations from both Governor George Pataki and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as resolutions from the Legislatures of New York State and Rensselaer County. Some of our speakers will be referring to these congratulatory comments during the ceremony.

As president of Hudson Valley Community College, I am honored to preside at this ceremony as we reflect upon milestones in the college's history, and at the same time, celebrate the achievements of each one of you, the graduates who will help shape the future.

The college and, indeed, the world was a much different place fifty years ago when Hudson Valley first held its commencement ceremony.

In 1955, standing before a graduating class of 72 students, State University Executive Dean Lawrence Jarvie encouraged the all-male class to make good use of the skills they had learned, but he also encouraged them to do more.

He said to them: "Occupational competency is insufficient. You must be thinking human beings. Life is something more than three meals and a sleep … You must broaden your knowledge and become intellectually alert."

Dean Jarvie told those first graduates that they would contribute to the creation of "a good and decent society." Fifty years later, I encourage you to do the same.

What are some of the changes that occurred in those fifty years since the college's first graduates launched their careers? Well, look around you. When the college held its first commencement on Wednesday, May 25, 1955, it did not even have the facilities on its campus to hold the event: the ceremony was held in Slocum Hall at the Emma Willard School.

In fact, calling Hudson Valley Technical Institute's one building located in a former shirt factory in downtown Troy a campus is, in itself, a bit of a stretch.

Today, our college is home to more than 11,400 students and 17 buildings, with more than one million square feet housed on 90 acres. There are now more than 50 academic programs and an array of services that meet the needs of our community – from the Viking Child Care Center to the Center for Creative Retirement.

In 1955, the pinnacle of high technology was a computer not available to our first graduates that took up an entire room and cost one million dollars. Mention a keyboard back then, and a piano came to mind, not a P.C.

Today, the hundreds of computers found in classrooms and labs across our campus can run applications 300,000 times faster than that first computer – and at one-thousandth the cost.

In 1955, we celebrated our first class of graduates. Today, we celebrate the graduation of our first online graduates, Individual Studies students who have earned their degrees by taking all of their required courses via the Internet. Remember when a web was just something spun by a spider – and online had more to do with laundry day than a learning alternative?

In 1955, the college was one building with a five-day a week, nine to five schedule. Today, our college can provide instructional services anywhere, on any day, at any time. We are available and accessible, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year.

We have moved from a campus housed in a former shirt factory to a college whose facilities help students design factories.

In 1955, 72 associate\'s degrees were awarded in 5 technical program areas. Today, 1500 Associate's degrees will be awarded in more than 50 programs – including those initial five.

The growth of this college from its earliest days is nothing short of remarkable. Yet, for all of the technological changes, growth in programs and expansion of our mission, Hudson Valley Community College remains an institution where excellence in teaching is the critical component to its success.

Consider this quote from Robert S. Menchel, a member of the college's first graduating class and the college's first deaf graduate who went on to earn a doctorate from Harvard:

"I owe much to Hudson Valley Community College because they gave me a chance when nobody else would. If in some small way I can pay back society for the opportunity that I had, than let me do it in any way I can."

Dr. Menchel has made a difference in many, many ways, as an advocate for the deaf, as a professor of mathematics and physics, and as a respected scientist whose work has helped shape the NASA space program and the United States Air Force weather tracking system.

Now, fast forward to the Fall of 2003, in the college's 50th year, and listen to what a current student had to say to a representative from the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association, which accredits the college: "You can tell our professors are brilliant, and you know what -- they can also teach."

The expertise of the faculty and dedication of the staff of this college create one of the most caring, dynamic and productive teaching and learning environments in all of post-secondary education.

It is our legacy to ensure that Hudson Valley maintains its reputation for academic excellence and continues to prosper, for the next 50 years, and beyond, so this college can remain a powerful change agent in students' lives.

Our students come from a variety of backgrounds and have different goals. Here's just a small sample of what the Hudson Valley Class of 2004 has to offer:

Adjima Moreira came to the United States in 1996, after his support of the opposition party in his native Togo made it dangerous for him to remain. He spent the next five years working odd jobs.

Searching for a better life, in January of 2003 – after months of seeing Hudson Valley stickers on cars throughout the region – he enrolled at age 34.

In his own words, \"When I started school, I got my life back. I have never been happier.\"

Today, just a short 17 months later, he graduates with a degree in Engineering Science, and will attend RPI in the fall to study electrical engineering. A bachelor's, master's degree and a Ph.D. are all in his future – as are two very different dreams:

Given the opportunity, he wants to return to Hudson Valley to teach. But he also holds fast to the possibility of returning to Togo one day – to run for president.

Adjima, good luck with your future plans. If we are fortunate, Hudson Valley will be included in them. If not, I will look forward to an invitation to your Presidential Inauguration.

Laura Thierry epitomizes persistence: today – 32 years after first enrolling at Hudson Valley Community College – Thierry receives her associate's degree in chemical dependency counseling.

She first enrolled in the Math and Science curriculum at the age of 18, but left to marry. Throughout the course of the next three decades, she attended off and on and took a variety of courses, trying to find her niche. Constant support from her father, and faculty and staff at Hudson Valley who treat everyone, in her words, "like gold," allowed her to press on, and achieve her degree.

Thierry has applied to the College of Saint Rose, where she hopes to earn a degree in social work.

There is no doubt that Hudson Valley has become a family tradition over the past fifty years.

Class of 2004 graduates Morgan and Julia Moldoff of Nassau share a unique family tie – the bond of being a twin. Julia, a Liberal Arts Honors student, will transfer to Union College in the fall, while her sister, Morgan, an Engineering Science student, will continue her studies at Clarkson University's Civil Engineering program.

In 1955, most graduates went directly into the workplace. Our 2004 graduates have the option of either entering the workforce or transferring to dozens of four-year colleges and universities across the nation – from the University at Albany to Stanford University. Those graduates who begin at Hudson Valley and transfer elsewhere after graduation can save up to 40 percent on the cost of their four-year degree.

While our graduates usually transfer for a higher degree, we are also finding that some students come to our college with higher degrees already earned, such as Miriam Kramer.

With a Ph.D. in psychology from the University at Albany, Dr. Kramer is graduating today with an associate's degree in nursing, which will allow her to pursue her plans to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

A wife and mother of four children, she worked full time and earned her degree in the evening – and believes the Nursing program has prepared her very well for the next step in her career.

Many of our graduates juggle the demands of work and/or family as they pursue their degrees. Others overcome tremendous personal obstacles to achieve success that may once have seemed out of reach.

Stephen Carter did both. The single father of three children, graduates today with a perfect GPA of 4.0 and a degree in accounting. Siena College is his next step on the road to becoming a certified public accountant.

As these six graduates illustrate, Hudson Valley is a place for anyone – anyone with a desire to succeed, the commitment to work hard and finally, an understanding that education can lead to a more enriching life.

On behalf of the entire college community, I extend my best wishes and congratulations to today's graduates and their families. I leave you with a quotation that in many ways echoes the sentiments delivered five decades ago by Dean Jarvie at the college's first commencement.

These are the words of Woodrow Wilson, our nation's 28th president, who also served as president of Princeton University:

"You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forgot the errand."

As our college motto states, "To improve the world, we must improve ourselves."

Think about your legacy. By completing your studies at Hudson Valley Community College, you have given yourself the ability to make a difference – and a solid foundation from which to make a life and enhance the lives of others.

Congratulations, Class of 2004.