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Presidential Speeches

05/16/2009
Commencement Remarks by President Andrew J. Matonak, Ed.D.

2009 Commencement Remarks
Saturday, May 16, 2009
McDonough Sports Complex

  • Honored graduates, distinguished guests, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff and friends, welcome to the 55th commencement of Hudson Valley Community College. As president, it is one of my proudest honors to celebrate this milestone with you.

  • We are here to mark a turning point in the lives of our graduates and to celebrate their accomplishments and the honors they have achieved. Class of 2009, this is our day to applaud you for your commitment and creativity; for your excellence and ambition; and for the many different ways you have enhanced this college community.

  • The Class of 2009 is comprised of 1,741 graduates who are receiving either associate degrees or certificates from one of the colleges 70 academic programs. That's a far cry from the 72 students from one of five academic programs at the college's first commencement in 1955.

  • Today's graduates range from age 17 to 63. Our oldest graduate, Daniel Marino, is leaving today with an Emergency Medical Technician – Paramedic Certificate. Congratulations, Daniel. We are very proud of you.

  • The 55th graduating class has students from Alabama, Florida, Oregon, Spain, Turkey and Germany. And 85 percent are from the immediate Capital Region.

  • So grads – what is in-store for you? Some of our graduates are going to work for Verizon, Johnson Controls, Albany Head Start, National Grid, Albany Medical Center, the New York State Dormitory Authority and Lia Toyota.

  • They also are transferring to Cornell, RPI, University at Albany, School of the Arts Institute of Chicago, Canton and Albany College of Pharmacy – to name just a few.

  • And one last fact: 376 of you graduated with honors. That means your grade-point average was 3.5 or higher. Nice job!

  • Students, I know that your academic achievements came with a price – but it came with lots of support from your parents, children, brothers, sisters, friends, spouses and others.

  • To our guests: You have played an important role in your student's life, and in his or her success. I thank you for everything you have done – at home, behind the scenes, to support your graduate. Now, I would like to ask all of the family members and loved ones to please stand so that our graduates can thank you. Let's give them a round of applause.

  • Graduates, you may think that your Hudson Valley experience ends today when you walk across the stage and move your tassel from one side of your mortar board to the other. I am here to tell you that this college will always be a part of your life.

  • How can I say that with such confidence? Because from every corner of campus, there are people who have guided you, challenged you, supported your efforts and championed your cause. And that support doesn't end when you leave here today.

  • Hudson Valley is all around you and throughout the Capital Region. To help me illustrate that point, I'd like to ask all of the Hudson Valley alumni in the audience to stand – parents, family members and friends of today's graduates, along with faculty and staff. They too deserve a round of applause.

  • There are more than 65,000 Hudson Valley alumni, and the majority of them reside here in the Capital Region. So chances are pretty good that your dental hygienist, auto technician, school teacher, electrician, doctor, town board member, police officer, nurse, funeral director, x-ray technician, solar panel installer, banker, daycare provider and art gallery manager are all Hudson Valley graduates.

  • It is my sincere hope that you will, like generations of 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 society and enrich our community.

  • Hudson Valley Community College is the community's college. It is here, more so than in any other place, where the foundation of our community's future will be secured. This institution empowers, enables and energies our community.

  • I can guess that many of you are feeling apprehensive about the world you are entering – it is a world of economic and geopolitical uncertainty.

  • However, you are not the first group of men and women to enter a world of uncertainty. As President Obama pointed out to us in his inaugural address, humanity has prevailed over many hardships.

  • As he said:

    • "it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."

  • Later in his speech, he said:

    • "we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

  • All of us, together, will work to remake our community and return it to an era of economic health and peace.

  • You are better prepared to assume this task than many others – you have marketable skills and relatively low student-loan debt. You have the continued support of this institution and the other individuals in this room.

  • Let me tell you about a few of today's graduates:

    • At the age of 16, Molly Bauer knew that she needed a different kind of learning environment than the high school she was attending. So in the spring of 2008, Molly came to Hudson Valley and enrolled in the college's 24-credit Hour Program. This program allows students to earn an equivalency diploma while taking college courses. Molly found Hudson Valley to be the right niche for her. She was recently named a recipient of the 2009 Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence. She is a member of the college's Phi Theta Kappa chapter and she also is the president of the college's Animal Outreach Club. Who's Who Among Students in American Junior Colleges has recognized Molly for her many accomplishments on the college campus, which include winning a Service Learning Award and participating in the Circle K and Tour Guide clubs. At the ripe old age of 17, Molly has earned enough credits to graduate today with an associate's degree in Individual Studies. She will transfer in the fall to Siena College where she will pursue a program in pre-medicine. And Molly, I haven't forgotten I owe you lunch – Molly smoked me in putt-putt golf.

    • Due to health problems William Ciampolillo knew he would no longer be able to work in the construction industry. William sought career advice from a business associate who is an engineer for the City of Schenectady. That advice? "Go to Hudson Valley." William hadn't taken classes in years. He was almost 50 years old. On top of that, he was hearing impaired. But he knew he had to do something. So William started out at the Educational Opportunity Center, where he entered the college preparation program. Then in the Fall of 2007, he enrolled in Hudson Valley's Architectural Technology program. He attributes his success to the services offered by the Disability Resource Center and to the support of faculty and staff. William would like to find a job in drafting and hopes to one day soon earn his bachelor's and master's degree to become an architect. But William's favorite thing about Hudson Valley was sitting next to his 29-year-old son in some of his classes.

    • Vito Fortino is graduating from Electrical Construction and Maintenance this year. When he heard about the chance of a job working for GE Wind, on those 285-foot tall wind turbines, he decided that a Wind Technician job is what he wanted. He investigated how to improve his chances. He then borrowed books from various faculty in other fields, such as hydraulics and braking systems, and asked for some help in the areas that the ECM course doesn't cover. He spent all of his spare time studying and preparing for the employment tests. Well, the hard work paid off! Vito went down to Texas over spring break, easily passed all of the tests, and he was offered a job last week. He will be starting in Sweetwater, Texas the first week of June and will be back in the Capital Region at GE Wind for more training.

    • As a single parent and self employed musician, Nathan Knowles had numerous excuses not to go to college. "I'm too old; I don't have a high school diploma; and math and science scare me;" – were just a few of them. But years of nudging from close friend and Hudson Valley Adjunct Professor, Virginia Dersch, Nathan returned to school. Through the colleges 24-credit program he earned his GED and today is graduating with a degree in Individual Studies. Nathan is going to pursue his bachelor's degree and wants to continue his work with Alzheimer's patients. He currently holds musical therapy sessions for Alzheimer's patients in the Veterans' Hospital in Vermont. During his time at Hudson Valley, Nathan was named to the Dean's and President's lists and received numerous departmental honors. His goal is to earn his PHD and to teach at the college level.

  • As you can see, there is no such thing as a typical Hudson Valley student – they are of all ages and backgrounds and diverse in their circumstances, talents and dreams. We have a wealth of great stories to share across the country, and it's important that we do so. We have important stories to tell, stories about the impact our graduates have on the region.

  • But I need your help: the students and alumni of this college need to become its advocates, its tireless cheerleaders, its most effective story-tellers. The stories of our progress and success are yours, and I ask for your help in collecting them and telling them -- locally, regionally and nationally.

  • I want to leave you with one final thought. We live in an age of Twitter. Blogs that follow every move of Rihanna and Brittany Spears. Magazines and shows that are devoted to unbridled consumerism. For many of us, the economic tailspin has brought us back to an understanding of what is important: family and service to others.

  • Two weeks ago, the leader in exile of the nation of Tibet came to the Capital Region. The Dalai Lama's message was one that is easy to grasp and simple to understand but in many ways it flies in the face of the culture and times we live in today. It's worth retelling that the source of happiness is not to be found in an expensive car or the opportunity to take a cruise or the ability to buy the most expensive clothes.

  • The Dalai Lama's message is about accepting yourself, loving who you are, and in turn being able to have compassion and love for others. He said: "If you don't love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able to develop compassion for others."

  • It's a simple concept but a powerful one that the Dalai Lama presents – look out for each other, lend a hand when one is needed, appreciate people for their differences. In doing so, you will find the world becomes a much happier place and you become a much happier person.

  • On behalf of the entire college community, I extend best wishes to today's graduates. Remember, stay connected to Hudson Valley. Share your positive experience with those you meet. Serve your community. Hold your friends and family close. Pay more attention to inner values. And work together to make America – and our community – a better place.

  • Congratulations, Class of 2009!