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Presidential Speeches

05/17/2014
Commencement Remarks by President Drew Matonak

"Welcome, Hudson Valley class of 2014!

We are here today to celebrate your achievements, to thank friends and loved ones whose support and encouragement helped you arrive at this day, and to recognize faculty and staff, whose commitment to educational excellence cannot be overstated.
Graduates, please rise, turn to your loved ones in the stands, and show how you appreciate their support with a big round of applause.

This, the college's sixtieth commencement, also provides us with an opportunity to think about Hudson Valley's rich history.

In 1953, Hudson Valley was a different place. The college was a single former factory building in downtown Troy and our nine faculty members often spent their weekends repairing the college's classrooms and equipment.

Today, our campus stretches over 120 acres, and offers state-of-the-art facilities, including the newly reconstructed Marvin Library Learning Commons and the recently completed Science Center, one of the most technologically advanced academic facilities in the region.

Six decades after its founding, Hudson Valley has nearly 650 faculty members and they are experts in a wide range of fields. In 1954, the college awarded just five associate degrees. Today, we offer 76 degrees and certificates, including programs in emerging fields like entrepreneurship, digital media, health sciences, semiconductor manufacturing and architecture technology.

Sixty years ago tuition was only $28 dollars per year – that's about the cost of a meal when you eat out. And now, while I know that we all wish this were still the case, Hudson Valley still offers one of the lowest tuitions in the entire SUNY system and one of the best values in higher education. In fact, annually Hudson Valley Community College is recognized as one of the leading community colleges in the country.

In an economic climate marked by rising costs and increasing student debt, it is our ability to make high-quality education accessible and personal that allows us to serve the diverse range of students who are graduating today.

To give you an idea of how our student body has evolved, Hudson Valley's first class was 88 students, all of whom were male, and all of whom were enrolled in technical programs.

By contrast, this year's graduating class consists of more than 2,200 students (472 who have earned academic honors I might add) and almost evenly split between men and women, who are graduating with degrees in fields like Criminal Justice, Nursing, Early Childhood Education and Computer Information Systems. Once only serving Troy, our programs now serve students from 44 different countries, from Turkey to Nigeria, and our graduates range in age from 17 to 68.

As each of you know, Hudson Valley students come to campus, or study online, with diverse life experiences and backgrounds, and they use their time at Hudson Valley to pursue a wide array of passions.

For example, James Rosen, who graduates today, came to us after spending four years as a helicopter jet mechanic in the United States Navy. Uncertain of what he wanted to study, he enrolled in Individual Studies. By the time he got to his first calculus class, however, he knew he wanted to pursue math. And today, James graduates with a degree in Mathematics and Science. This fall, he will transfer to the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

And James is just one of Hudson Valley's many veterans who found a home and future direction at Hudson Valley. 73 members of this graduating class are service women and men. Throughout their time at Hudson Valley, they have utilized a variety of support services, including our recently-launched Veterans Mentor Program, which creates a peer network for vets and military.

For Eman Aziz, graduating from the School of Business with honors is something once unimaginable. Eman escaped the war in her native Iraq in 2005 with her husband and six children. 

The family resettled in Jordan, but in 2007 her husband suddenly died, and the Jordanian government wouldn't allow the Aziz family to remain in the country unsupported.

Following a three-year fight for freedom, a grateful Eman and her children arrived in the US where she worked hard to find a way to educate all six of them. Well, she was successful, and each of them enrolled here at Hudson Valley and then moved on to RPI, where her husband had once studied as a Fulbright scholar.

It was two years ago when Eman decided she, too, needed an education. She enrolled here as well, excelled and graduates today. Fortunately, her youngest is still an engineering student here for another year!

And today, at 61 years-old, Donna Pratt is another success story. Once discouraged from pursuing higher education, she'll walk across this stage a proud Hudson Valley graduate. Donna recalls almost giving up multiple times due to a variety of health and personal challenges, but the college's instructors, advisors and support staff provided her with that the encouragement she needed to persevere and finally graduate. Today, instead of throwing in the towel, Donna will be throwing her cap in celebration.  She is an inspiration for adult learners, as well as her two daughters and 13 grandchildren.

Jeff Bonilla also graduates today. As a student at Troy high school, Jeff was bright, but struggled due to behavioral problems and a lack of motivation. He was even involved with a gang at one point. While Jeff graduated from high school with a handful of basketball scholarships, he was unconvinced that he'd be able to succeed at college. Regardless, Jeff enrolled at Hudson Valley in the fall of 2012. 

Remembering Doreen McGreevy, whom he had met when she visited Troy High to talk about the college's Learning Disabilities Services (or LDS), Jeff made an appointment with LDS to seek assistance for his Attention Deficit Disorder and to help improve his academic performance.

Jeff's hard work and willingness to utilize Hudson Valley's resources paid off. Today, he graduates with high marks, and this fall, he will enroll at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

Also in the crowd today we have two Don Pages graduating from our HVAC program. They're father and son. The elder Don was working for Verizon in 2009 when he decided that our HVAC would give him the electrical background to climb the career ladder a bit higher. He also realized it would be a great program for his son, who, as he puts it, needed a little kick start to enroll. But, it seems that was all the younger Don (III) needed, because once he enrolled at Hudson Valley, he excelled. Today, he graduates with honors, and he has already landed a job.

And, if you can believe it, we have one more Don Page in the audience today: Don Page Sr., father to Don Jr. and grandfather to Don III, who is also a Hudson Valley graduate. He enrolled in the 1950s and is a member of one of our earliest graduating classes having earned a degree in electrical technology.

And Brittany Condon, who graduates today, also follows in her parents' footsteps. Brittany's dad Kevin, who currently serves as Captain the City of Albany Fire Department, and her mom Tracy, who recently retired from the City's Police Department, both graduated from Hudson Valley with degrees in Criminal Justice. Following high school, Brittany had acceptances at a number of elite universities, but ultimately decided to enroll in Hudson Valley's nursing program because HVCC offered the same degree as these schools, but with higher exam pass and job placement rates.

I know we have some other proud Hudson Valley alumni in the audience today. Will all of our alumni, including Don Page, Kevin, and Tracy Condon, please stand? Graduates, look around. You are now part of a vast and thriving family of Hudson Valley alumni, nearly 80,000 of them, that dates back 60 years.

And last, but certainly not least, Dorothy Jean Reinhardt, whom many of you know as DJ, is graduating today. DJ's cerebral palsy presented her with a unique set of challenges during her time at Hudson Valley.

DJ communicates through a voice technology device and used an adapted keyboard and special software to complete her schoolwork. She is graduating today with a Certificate in Disabilities Studies and her ultimate goal is to use her unique insight and experiences to become an assistive technology specialist for children with disabilities.

To achieve that, DJ has completed several internships and over the summer, she'll provide services to students who use communication devices at Bethlehem Central School District's summer program. This fall, she will return to Hudson Valley to finish a Teaching Assistant Certificate.

DJ is a true inspiration, and I'd like to invite her to deliver a special message to her fellow graduates.

Every one of our graduates has their own issues and challenges to overcome. And they have succeeded. These stories illustrate the hard work, perseverance and commitment this year's graduating class has shown to reach this day. So as we reflect on the first six decades of this college and look hopefully forward toward our next 60 years, know that your story and your legacy will play a role in shaping the school future of Hudson Valley Community College.

Just as Hudson Valley continues to evolve and transform the lives of its students, you will continue to use what you've learned here to grow and to shape the lives of those around you.

Graduates, this is only the beginning. Thank you for enriching us with your many talents, good luck on your journeys, and…. Congratulations, class of 2014!"