SUNY ORANGE CELEBRATES 62ND COMMENCEMENT
College Confers More than 800 degrees in 2011-12; A Total of 424 Graduates Participate in Commencement Event
MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. – When student speaker Erica Cruz (right) reached the podium to deliver her address during Saturday’s 62nd annual Commencement Ceremony at SUNY Orange, her message was clear: “Don’t ever tell yourself that you can’t do something because you’re not smart enough ... or ‘this’ enough ... or ‘that’ enough.”
“Having fear is among the worst things you can do to yourself. It stops you in your tracks, keeping you from moving forward,” she said, addressing the newly minted graduates arrayed before her in 22 crisply aligned rows of sparkling white chairs under a cloudless spring sky. “Remember to always push yourself further and further. Whatever you aren’t good at, do more of it until you get better.”
Cruz’ speech concluded the fast-paced 90-minute ceremony that served as the culmination of studies for more than 800 graduates who completed their academic degree or certificate requirements during August, December and May. The event also included remarks from Joan Wolfe, chair of the SUNY Orange Board of Trustees; Orange County Executive Ed Diana, a 1968 graduate of the College; and mathematics professor Judith Schwartz, who is retiring from SUNY Orange this summer following 32 years on the faculty.
A crowd of approximately 3,000 packed the sun-splashed Alumni Green in support of the 424 graduates who elected to participate in the ceremony. Meanwhile, another 20 watched live video simulcasts at two indoor, climate-controlled locations on campus. Additionally, at least 150 computers or devices were logged onto the College’s live online video stream of the ceremony.
Saturday’s event was special for a number of reasons. The College presented the prestigious SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence to Dr. Melody Festa, professor of biology, and Dr. Elizabeth White, business professor. The Chancellor’s Award is the highest honor that can be earned by a community college faculty member in the State University of New York system.
SUNY Orange also presented a Franklin University bachelor’s degree to Beth Wagner of Port Jervis, who graduated from the College with her associate’s degree in 2005 and has been working toward her bachelor’s through an alliance between SUNY Orange and Franklin. Wagner was granted permission by the Ohio-based university to accept her diploma during the SUNY Orange Commencement.
Additionally, the College issued a posthumous degree in honor of former business student Kevin L. Sumstad who passed away this past February. Sumstad was in his final semester and was on track to graduate in May. Sumstad’s father, David, accepted the degree on behalf of his family.
For 11 graduates, their day was made even more memorable because they were presented their degree by a relative who is employed at the College. Generally, the degrees are presented by members of the Board of Trustees, but those employees who have a relative in the graduating class are given the option to deliver the degree if they wish.
Cruz, who was one of two students this spring who received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, was the student representative to the College’s Board of Trustees this past academic year. The New Windsor resident was also a student ambassador and was president of the Student Senate during the 2010-11 academic year. An engineering student, she has been on the Dean’s List during each of her semesters at the College and is also a member of the SUNY Orange chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for students at two-year colleges and universities.
As she prepares to take her SUNY Orange engineering degree to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute this fall, Cruz was quick to admit she did not achieve her successes alone. “I can’t imagine having better professors than the ones I’ve encountered here. I’m actually concerned I may have been spoiled. I doubt my professors at RPI are going to be as caring and dedicated to my learning like the professors were here at SUNY Orange. Whenever I had a question, concern, anything, I knew I could always rely on them to help me.”
Speaking on behalf of the College’s trustees, Wolfe captured the true essence of the event. “Today is a day that fills us with pride. But that pride arises not from the accomplishments of the College, but rather from the achievements of each and every one of you who we honor today. Each of you has already put your best foot forward. After all, that’s how you have arrived at this most special occasion. Today is the day where you truly shine. This is your day in the limelight.
“Your challenge now is to build upon your accomplishments and to continue striving to be the best you can be. As you leave us today, please know that we are proud of you. We celebrate your successes and we wish you only the very best in your future,” Wolfe added.
“Today is the beginning of a future that will be shaped by you ... shaped by you. It is a future with limitless opportunities and potential for growth,” added Diana, who spoke following a rendition of “Like An Eagle” performed by the SUNY Orange Madrigal Singers. “Fly like an eagle. That’s a great song if you listen to the words. And that’s what your future is all about.
“I am proud of my alma mater and how much this institution has accomplished since its founding in 1950. It was the first county-sponsored community college in the state. It was the best then and it is still by far the best today.”
Both Diana and Schwartz noted the recent growth of the College--an expanded Newburgh campus along with current and upcoming construction projects on the Middletown campus--but Schwartz adeptly highlighted one significant way, among several she noted, in which the College has not changed.
“First and foremost is our commitment to excellence, the tradition of high standards we have here at SUNY Orange. We believe that just sitting in classes isn’t enough. We insist on studying and learning,” she explained. “That’s why students who graduate from here and go out to work know how to work hard.
“That’s why students who graduate from here and transfer to a four-year SUNY school have the highest retention rate in the state. That’s why some of the top graduates at the University of Binghamton, RPI and Clarkson come from SUNY Orange. I believe we are the finest community college in the state, with the highest standards, and because of that, the finest graduates.”
Each year, SUNY Orange awards diplomas to students who earn Associate in Arts, Associate in Science and Associate in Applied Science degrees, while presenting graduation certificates to those who complete the College’s various certificate programs.