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Presidential Speeches

05/17/2008
Commencement Remarks by President Andrew J. Matonak, Ed.D.

Commencement Address to the 2008 Graduating Class of
Hudson Valley Community College
Delivered by President Andrew J. Matonak
May 17, 2008

The Power of Shared Experience

One of the great pleasures of being a college president is being able to share this milestone in the lives of our students, many of whom I've come to know. Unfortunately, there are a few of your fellow graduates who are missing today's ceremony, but for a very good reason. Right now, our baseball team is in Texas, competing in the Division III Junior College World Series, and we wish them the very best of luck.

"Commencement" announces the completion of one goal and the start of new possibilities, new challenges, new opportunities. Like so many other milestones in life, Commencement is an occasion of shared joy and shared celebration. All of us here today—graduates, guests, faculty, and staff—are integral to this particular celebration, because everyone here has contributed, in some way, to the pursuit of the dream shared by every individual in this extraordinarily diverse group of graduates—the dream of making a better life.

We are here today to celebrate, with pride and affection, the talent, hard work, and accomplishments of the 1,842 members of the 2008 graduating class of Hudson Valley Community College.

Class of 2008: this is our day to applaud you for your commitment and creativity; for your excellence and ambition; and for the many different ways in which you have enhanced the life of our college. Congratulations to all of you for a job well done! [applaud students]

Graduates, your Hudson Valley success was rooted in your own hard work, your professors' expert teaching and guidance, and the support of our college staff. But what made it possible for most of you to be here in the first place was the support and encouragement of friends and family. Let's take a moment to recognize the vital roles played by every spouse or partner, every mother and father, every sister and brother, every friend and colleague, every supervisor and baby-sitter, who have helped you get to this day.

You have all contributed so much--thank you for making this day possible for our graduates. Graduates please help me thank your family and friends? [applaud guests]

Today's Commencement also provides all of us with an occasion to reflect on what it means to be a part of this college community. It is my sincere hope that you will, like the generations of Hudson Valley alumni who preceded you, choose to invest the power of your education here in the Capital Region, and that you will use that education not only to build better lives for yourselves and your families, but to strengthen our economy and our society, and enrich and enliven our community.

This may seem like a lofty goal I'm setting for you, but it's one well within your grasp, given what I know of the character and tenacity of the Hudson Valley Class of 2008, and of the tradition of graduates of Hudson Valley who have come before you. To make my point, let me speak briefly of just three members of this outstanding class:

Melissa Lee. A young woman with energy and initiative to spare, Missy started her Hudson Valley career in Individual Studies but soon switched her major to Human Services. As a student with a disability, Missy has had to deal with significant health concerns and mobility issues, but that has never deterred her in the pursuit of her goals.

During her time at Hudson Valley, Missy devoted countless hours to her studies but still found time to pursue many volunteer activities. Perhaps inspired by the support she received from so many others within and beyond the Hudson Valley community, Missy was tireless in her support and encouragement of others. Even with the work required of an honors student, she found time to volunteer with Special Olympics and the Capital District Development Disability Service Office, and recently interned as an advocate with the Independent Learning Center of the Hudson Valley, helping people negotiate the complicated landscape of disability services. For the past two years, Missy has also served as president of Hudson Valley's Not a Bit of Difference Club.

Her message to everyone she counsels? "Don't ever give up. If you stop fighting, you won't get anywhere." The unstoppable Missy plans to study Social Work at SUNY Albany this fall.

Samuel C. Wright III. A returning adult student graduating in the Civil Engineering Technology program, Sam's experience exemplifies the importance of scholarship funding in helping a student to achieve his or her dream. After more than 20 years working in farming and running an excavation business, Sam returned to school with the goal of obtaining a professional engineer's license. Like so many of our students, he juggled coursework alongside the demands of job and family. He has proven to be an outstanding student and was named to the President's List.

In addition to taking on numerous extracurricular activities within his department, Sam was elected president of Hudson Valley's student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Hardworking, creative, and always willing to lend his fellow students a hand, Sam plans to complete his professional licensure after graduation.

Dayna Cook. Dayna Cook is a Liberal Arts graduate who plans to attend Virginia Wesleyan University in the fall, and, eventually, move on to medical school. Her classroom performance and her membership in the academic honor society Phi Theta Kappa helped her earn a $10,000 scholarship to Wesleyan.

Dayna wasn't always so sure about her future, however. In fact, like many gathered here today, she used her experience at Hudson Valley to help shape the direction of her life. While a student here, she also took the opportunity to volunteer at Albany Medical Center's emergency room, and that experience cemented her decision to pursue medical school.

In her own words: "The faculty at Hudson Valley is the best there is; honestly! The teachers were the most helpful; instead of teaching for a paycheck they teach to help students." Dayna, I look forward to the day when you add the initials M.D. after your name.

Missy, Sam, and Dayna, on behalf of your college and your fellow graduates, I congratulate you on a job well done— and I offer you our best wishes as you pursue the bright and fulfilling future you came to Hudson Valley Community College to achieve.

Each of these stories—and there are so very many others—testifies eloquently to the mission of Hudson Valley Community College, to our commitment to the success of each individual, and to the purposeful ambition and community spirit of you, our students. You are going out into the community as the largest graduating class in our history: 1,842 students strong, whose majors include 47 specialties across a very wide range of academic disciplines.

Additionally, this year we have the largest number of honors graduates in the history of the college. Honor graduates please stand and let us recognize you? [applaud]

In the 50 years since our college's founding, we have graduated over 65,000 students across three generations. But the contribution of this college to this community runs even deeper than that: nearly one quarter million (240,000) other citizens of the Capital Region have come to this campus to pursue non-degree course work to advance their careers and their personal lives. To steal a wonderful line from our Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Carolyn Curtis…."What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens at Hudson Valley does NOT stay at Hudson Valley."

Wherever you turn, you will find Hudson Valley alumni contributing enormously to the social, intellectual, and economic capital of our community at large. Our alumni are business leaders, healthcare and human services professionals, educators, engineers, public servants, attorneys, accountants, nurses, technologists, and technicians who ensure that our region (and in turn, our state and our nation) will thrive. You might say that there isn't more than one degree of separation between Hudson Valley and everyone who lives in the Capital Region.

You may not know this, but you have benefited as a student in many ways from the support of our alumni in our community. Let me introduce you to a few of them right now: Will all of you who have either taken courses or earned a degree from Hudson Valley Community College please stand (Applause)

Graduates: always remember that you will never have to look far to find someone who understands how hard you have worked, who appreciates the value of your Hudson Valley education, and who believes in you. These men and women here today are but a few of the thousands of Hudson Valley alumni in and around our community, all proud of this institution, and all proud of you. When you are looking for professional advice, for a mentor or a role model, you will find fellow alums all around you.

Take pride in being an alumnus of this institution and a part of the vibrant community that is the Hudson Valley Community College alumni network.

As you leave here today as an alumnus, I ask you to assume a special responsibility to look out after this College and the students who will follow in your footsteps. It will take all of us, working together, to ensure the future of this institution and the crucial work it does. I ask each one of you to recognize and embrace your role as an ambassador of this college. Take up this challenge to help the institution on its journey forward by taking every opportunity that comes your way to shape the perceptions of the people of the Capital Region about this institution. The message I want you to convey is this: Hudson Valley Community College changes lives.

As I said earlier; today is not the end point of your educational journey but rather the beginning of a lifelong adventure. Think of your diploma as a license to think…to question….and to learn. The critical skills and professional expertise you developed here will enable you to make the most out of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. But never forget that your education does not stop with graduation. Never stop learning and never stop challenging yourself.

So when, down the road, you need to take a course, or obtain a new credential, or enhance your life with a new skill, or you want to get your child started right on their higher education journey, remember that Hudson Valley Community College is here for you.

Let me leave with you this observation from the late civil rights activist, Dr. Ralph Abernathy: "I don't know what the future may hold, but I know who holds the future."

Graduates, you hold the power to shape a better tomorrow for yourselves and your families, but you also have the responsibility to exercise your power to shape the future of your community.

On behalf of the faculty, the staff, the trustees of Hudson Valley Community College and the State University of New York, congratulations to each and every one of you. Thank you for being, and for remaining always, a vital part of Hudson Valley—the community's college.