Amid a flurry of confetti, the Class of 2019 walked forth boldly into their future as SUNY Broome graduates and alumni. At 1,333 graduates, it’s one of the largest graduating classes in recent years, with proud Hornets ranging in age from 18 to 74.
The 71st annual Commencement marked not an end but a beginning for the assembled graduates, in their robes, stoles and mortarboard hats.
All of the graduates in attendance have made sacrifices to attain their goals, both great and small, SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm reflected. These include time, money, opportunities for leisure – and other qualities that, although less tangible, aren’t any less real.
“You have sacrificed old beliefs about what you can and can’t do, and about who you are,” he said. “Education requires us to give our consent to change, and change is never easy – even when it broadens your horizons and leads to a better life.”
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer wasn’t able to give his annual speech due to thunderstorms that grounded his flight from the nation’s capital. Instead, the Buzz Tones – the college’s student-led a cappella group – delighted the audience with their rousing rendition of “Lean on Me.”
The college also took a moment to remember a long-time community leader and SUNY Broome champion: Board of Trustees member George Akel Jr. A prominent local businessman, Mr. Akel served on the college’s Board of Trustees for 29 years. He passed away after a two-year battle with lung cancer shortly before graduation – a ceremony that he looked forward to every year.
Dr. Drumm also addressed another bittersweet milestone: the retirement of Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Francis Battisti, a SUNY Broome alumnus who has been part of the campus community since 1978. He started on campus as a counselor, then became an inspiring professor and dean before joining the administration.
“Thank you, Francis, for all your incredible contributions, which have helped to shape SUNY Broome into the amazing academic community it is today,” President Drumm said to a roar of applause.
As is traditional, during his 10th annual Commencement address, Dr. Drumm shared the stories of several students who exemplify the best of SUNY Broome:
- Joshua Baker, who grew up in a tough New York City neighborhood and was inspired by his high school English teacher to succeed. The General Studies major became the first in his family to graduate college and moves one step further to his ultimate goal: becoming a teacher himself and inspiring future generations of students.
- Tyler Gregory, a nursing major and one of this year’s Vanguard Award winners. Inspired by his mother, Tyler became a paramedic and returned to SUNY Broome to shift paths in the healthcare field. He has already accepted a position in the UHS Wilson Hospital emergency room and ultimately hopes to become a nurse practitioner.
- Minhyung Park, an international student from South Korea who found community, friendship and academic excellence at SUNY Broome. Minhyung will transfer to Cornell University to work toward her dream of becoming a dentist.
- Rachael Klug, a criminal justice – corrections major who overcame addiction and personal tragedy to achieve her degree later in life. She is transferring to Binghamton University, with the eventual goal of going to law school to become an attorney and judge.
- Orion Barber, a dual major in mathematics and paralegal studies who served multiple terms on the college’s Board of Trustees. Incredibly involved in campus life, Orion established his own scholarship for SUNY Broome students who advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. He is headed to the University at Buffalo to study mathematics, and also plans to someday study law and run for political office.
Dr. Drumm also celebrated the year’s accomplishments, including:
- The grand opening of the Calice Advanced Manufacturing Center, attended by SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson during her first trip to campus.
- The grand opening of the Applied Learning & Career Center’s new Career Closet, which provides free professional outfits for jobs, interviews and internships. The center also held its very first Career Week to connect students with their professional futures.
- The start of the Hive, the college’s online radio station, and the opening of the Multicultural Resource Center.
- The IEEE Club’s first-place win for the most efficient vehicle at the 2019 Toyota Green Grand Prix.
- A new degree program in Culinary Arts, which will eventually be housed in the Culinary & Event Center currently under construction in downtown Binghamton.
- The Health for Haiti global service learning course, which continues to bring clean water, solar power, healthcare and more to people in need. Students also slept outside to learn about the plight of the homeless, brought holiday cheer during the annual Giving of the Toys, donated books to women in prison, and created an elaborate edifice for Canstruction, donating the proceeds to people in need.
- Events such as the Mock Environmental Disaster and Mock Wedding, which allow students to hone their skills outside the classroom, as well as clinicals, internships, service-learning projects, and adventure courses both across the U.S. and abroad.
- The annual Ethics Conference and Convocation Day, which challenged the campus community to engage with complex ideas, and visits by an Irish law professor and the nation’s oldest park ranger.
Anthony Paniccia, a SUNY Broome alumnus and vice chair of the college’s Board of Trustees, also offered some words to encouragement to graduates. He encouraged the newly-minted alumni to follow their dreams and passions, adopt an attitude of gratitude and not to fear life’s failures, but instead find mentors, have faith and respect for others and remember to give back. Above all, they should enjoy the ride.
“Enjoy the ups, the downs, the good and the bad. Life is one big wonderful journey!” he said. “I wish all of you the best life has to offer you. Go out into the world and do something special.”
Meet the graduates
Gregory Thurston, this year’s student Commencement speaker, took the opportunity to show his appreciation for his biggest supporter: his wife Erika. He led his fellow Hornets in wishing his wife a happy birthday, and thanked her for her “encouragement, patience and unwavering love – and being so fine.”
A Marine Corps veteran and Business Administration major, Thurston heads the college’s Student Assembly and his ultimate goal is to become a successful businessman. During his speech, he offered up his mixtape for life, which includes tunes such as J. Cole’s “Motivate,” 2Pac’s “Smile,” Nipsey Hussle’s “Dedication” for its phrase “the marathon continues,” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.”
The flight paths of Hornets are many and varied, with some entering the workforce and others going on to continue their education.
Mike DiGiacomo is doing both. Graduating with a degree in electrical engineering technologies, he is transferring to Binghamton University and also working at Raymond Corp over the summer.
“It’s great to have an event to celebrate all the hard work we put in,” he said of commencement.
Nursing major Carley Smith is also transferring – with the goal of earning her BSN and someday working with psychiatric patients.
“I can’t believe it’s finally come to this point!” she said. “I’m ready to move on to Binghamton University, my next major milestone.”
Fellow nursing major Emily Parke chose a different path: She’s headed to Rochester, where she will work as a cardiology nurse. “It took me a long time to get here and I never stopped,” she said. “I felt like I couldn’t have had a better opportunity.”
Like Emily, criminal justice – police major Oshawn Worthen is also entering the workforce – in his case as a corrections officer, with the ultimate goal of becoming a state trooper. “It was a stressful year, and I’m happy to be ending my college career successfully,” he said.
As is campus tradition, many Hornets decorated their mortarboard hats. Alexis and Ashley Sisson went with “Twin 1” and “Twin 2” respectively; Alexis is the oldest by one minute, as it turns out. The Honors Program graduates are currently majoring in Business at SUNY Cobleskill.
Brenna King went for a truly out-of-this world theme for her hat: an inscription in the Star Wars language of Aurebesh that says “These are my first steps.” The environmental science major is a huge Star Wars fan and her dream job is working for Disney, she said. She is transferring to Binghamton University to continue her environmental science studies.
The award for best hat may go to Orion Barber: an image of Senator Schumer, with excerpts from the now-famous speech he has given at colleges throughout the state for the past decade.
Gathering with his division before the start of Commencement, David Robbins wore a stole proclaiming his status as a first-generation student. At 56 years old, earning his degree in Chemical Dependency Counseling feels “pretty darn good,” he said. He’s now looking into pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work.
His success, however, is bittersweet. He dedicates his degree to his wife, who passed away in December.
“This is for her,” he said. “She pushed me through college.”