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Presidential Speeches

05/22/2005
Commencement Remarks by President Andrew J. Matonak, Ed.D.

Hudson Valley Community College
51st Commencement
9 a.m. Saturday, May 21, 2005

Thank you all for being here today. I am honored to stand before you – president of this prestigious institution.

But more importantly, I am honored to have this opportunity to share in your achievements – and to share with you that I also had the good fortune of building a solid foundation for my education and career at a community college.

Not too long ago … well, some 30 years ago … that, like you, I earned a degree from a community college – Butler Community College in western Pennsylvania.

I didn't attend my commencement – I was already starting work on my bachelor's degree at the College of Wooster – a place that never would have even considered accepting me had it not been for the strong foundation that my community college education provided.

You see, I had undergone considerable angst coming out of high school. I had no idea of what to do in the future. My high school academic record was, shall we say, less-than-distinguished. My high school counselor told me that I wasn't college material.

In fact (looking toward Board of Trustees Chairman), Dr. Hill, I am so fortunate that high school transcripts were not factored into the board's selection process for my position.

But things changed for me at Butler. I met faculty and administrators who shaped my future, and allowed me to come to grips with the "intimidation factor" of going college. Like many of you, my fears began to wane, replaced instead by growing self-esteem and tremendous sense of accomplishment.

So I can empathize with your pride: the pride of performance, the pride of your parents, the pride in your college and your colleagues, your faculty and friends.

For me, among the first generation in my family to go to college, such pride was particularly gratifying.

I am curious. How many graduates here today are first-generation college graduates? Please stand.

(Lead Applause)

Isn't that great? I am sure that your family and friends are very proud of you.

Now, let me ask all guests – parents, friends and other family members – and faculty and staff members – who are Hudson Valley alumni – to rise.

(Allow for standing)

Wow!

2005 graduates. Please stand – and join the ranks of Hudson Valley alumni. Always remember this image – and know that you have a tremendous support system, a strong, successful cadre of men and women who can help you as you begin the next chapter of your life.

The alumni who surround you are part of your network for success as you move on in the world. The Hudson Valley network, growing stronger every year, is a major reason for the success of our region and for the advancements of fellow alumni.

Please be seated. Now, I would ask a very special alumnus to stand.

I have the distinct honor of recognizing Dr. Robert Menchel, who is with us today – 50 years after being a member of the college's first graduating class – the Class of 1955.

Talk about inspiration for us all!

Dr. Menchel, who was also the college's first deaf graduate, went on to earn a doctorate from Harvard University.

This gentleman has truly made a difference in many lives. As an advocate for the deaf. As a distinguished professor of mathematics and physics. And as a respected scientist whose work has helped shape the NASA space program and the U.S. Air Force weather tracking system.

I would like to share some thoughts by Dr. Menchel that go to the heart of my message today.

I quote Dr. Menchel, and hope I can convey the pride in which he says:

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

Thank you, sir, for inspiring us, for demonstrating leadership through achievement and for reminding us of the importance and impact of a Hudson Valley Community College education. May we all be able to give back in the spirit you have over the years.

***

Graduates of 2005. As you build upon your Hudson Valley foundation – whether it is in further academic efforts, or directly into your career – think about its value and the value of our network.

Giving back to Hudson Valley, so that others may benefit as you have, is not only a noble gesture. It is an investment in the future and a commitment to the next generation.

As you continue to grow, learn and succeed in life, reflect on your time at Hudson Valley and always express your pride and pleasure in having that experience.

And remember – you can always come back. Hudson Valley is your life-long resource for learning, a place where you can take a single class for personal or professional development – or maybe even enroll in a new degree program, and take a whole new direction in life.

***

So how valuable is the community college experience? For me – and for so many of our graduates – it has been invaluable.

You know, I have not been in Rensselaer County for long. But I have already met business executives and successful professionals who relate how Hudson Valley transformed their lives.

Whether a congressman or a computer programmer, a skilled technician or a CEO, their Hudson Valley experience evokes pride and appreciation.

***

After gaining my associate's degree, I went on to receive a bachelor's degree, then a master's and eventually a doctorate. Not bad for a guy who was not college material. Do you know which is my most important degree? My associate's degree. Without the community college, none of the others would have been possible.

Just like many of our alumni, I owe everything to the community college experience.

If it was not for the education, the encouragement, the building of self-esteem, the guidance and the sense of opportunity I gained from certain faculty and administrators, I don't know where I would be today, maybe working in a western Pennsylvania steel mill.

But I did what you did. Ventured forward through a community college, which was a little intimidating at first. Then seizing the opportunities it presented.

***

In closing, allow me to underscore my message by pointing to the power of people. People who have taught you. People who have influenced you. People who share your desire for success.

People like the LeBarrons, father and son graduates today. Larry Duane LeBarron and Larry Duane LeBarron II of Hoosick Falls are both graduates of the Electrical Construction and Maintenance program.

When his employer – and his job – relocated to New Hampshire two years ago, Larry Duane LeBarron decided to enroll at Hudson Valley – and convinced his son to return with him.

The pair has taken their share of ribbing from classmates, including countless jokes that Larry II heard about being walked to school by his dad. Walking up to receive their diplomas, however, are steps in the right direction.

As the elder LeBarron observes: "When my older daughter graduated from college, it was overwhelming. But to be able to share this with my son – is the greatest thing."

Or like Individual Studies student Jennifer Schroeder, who put dreams of college – and being a marine biologist – on hold nearly 20 years ago when she became a mother. She returned to Hudson Valley two years ago, and graduates today.

In a letter to Vice President for Academic Affairs Carolyn Curtis, Jennifer wrote: "… I will never forget those who have given so much of themselves to my learning experience. I take with me, not only knowledge but also essential life skills – and most importantly the fact that they have made me a better person and gave me the gift to believe in myself."

Or Don Govel, a Business Administration graduate, the recipient of not one, but two SUNY Chancellor's Awards: one for academic excellence, and the other for scholar-athletes. He plans on pursuing a degree in finance at RPI.

And people like Human Services graduate Maria Jose Carranza, a native of Ecuador who plans to combine her loves of helping people and traveling by pursuing a career in international social work.

We also have with us a group of Civil Engineering Technology students who have earned a spot in the 2005 National Student Steel Bridge Competition, hosted by the American Society of Civil Engineers. They will be traveling next weekend to the University of Central Florida in Orlando to compete against colleges from across the country – and other countries.

Yes, there are so many people worthy of mentioning today. In addition to the SUNY Chancellor Award recipients that I introduced to you earlier, we also have with us this year's recipients of the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching:

  • Elizabeth Riccio, Dental Hygiene professor

  • Dr. Ann Geisendorfer, assistant professor and department chair, Criminal Justice/Civil and Public Service/Forensic Science Studies/Labor Studies

  • Joseph Forget, associate's professor/culinary arts at the EOC

***

To everyone, a heartfelt congratulations. Especially to our graduating class of 2005.

While I empathize with your achievements and anxieties, I must emphasize the importance of a solid foundation upon which to build your future. A foundation that comes uniquely from Hudson Valley Community College.

Thank you for your attention and interest.

And thank you for the privilege of sharing this day with all of you.

***

(To be delivered at the very end of the ceremony):

On behalf of the entire college community, I extend my best wishes to today's graduates and their families. I also extend an invitation to continue your involvement in Hudson Valley. Please come back to serve on advisory committees or join the Alumni Association. And, more importantly, send your kids and grandkids to Hudson Valley.

Congratulations, Class of 2005.