The Broome County Celtic Pipe & Drums played a rousing tune, twirling their drumsticks as faculty, staff, administration and elected officials filed out of the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in their multicolored medieval robes.
SUNY Broome’s newly-minted alumni prepared to make their exit, too, degree covers held proudly in hand.
Then the sky – or more accurately, the ceiling – let loose with a blizzard.
Clouds of gold, white and black confetti descended as the new graduates made the recessional. Many laughed, eyes upward. Others grabbed piles of confetti and threw it again, like autumn leaves. It was a moment of pure, giddy joy – made sweeter by a long journey, and accomplishments hard-won.
Commencement 2018 highlights
SUNY Broome’s 70th annual Commencement marked the end of one story and the beginning of another: perhaps transferring on to continue one’s education, or entering the workforce directly to pursue a chosen career.
Music Therapy major Danielle DiSaverio sang the National Anthem, applauded afterward by her fellow Hornets and the appreciative audience. DiSaverio, who placed fourth in the National Association of Teachers of Singing’s Eastern Division Conference, is transferring to Nazareth College and will earn a bachelor’s degree in music therapy.
“I’ve been singing my whole life, and I want to be able to help people through music,” she explained before the ceremony. “I’m excited to graduate in front of my parents and for them to see that I’ve done a good job.”
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer visited Commencement for the seventh time, giving a speech that has become a SUNY Broome tradition. For the uninitiated, it involves the choice between the globetrotting scholarship opportunity of a lifetime and the girl of his dreams – and the unlikely aftermath that led him to where he is today.
“You are graduating from one of the finest community colleges not just in the state, not just in the Southern Tier, but in the country,” he told graduates. “I know – I’ve been to a lot of colleges.”
While it was SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm’s ninth Commencement, the event continues to be his most rewarding and joyful duty, he said. During his speech, he praised numerous students as exemplars of the best of SUNY Broome:
- Johannes Nightingale, the youngest graduate of the night at the age of 17 and perhaps the college’s youngest-ever student: He began taking classes at SUNY Broome when he was only 12 years old. Johannes, who came from Massachusetts for the ceremony, has since started a few businesses and plans to become a CEO someday.
- The college’s oldest graduate, Hung Dang Dao, earned his Liberal Arts degree at the age of 74. As a young man, he was a law student in his native Vietnam, but the war ended his education there. Mr. Dao, who
spent time in a labor camp, came to the United States in 2007 and has become an inspiration to his fellow Hornets.
- Hekmat Zabihullah, who with his wife and fellow student Victoria Salehey, came to the United States as refugees from Afghanistan. Hekmat finished his degree in Homeland Security, while Victoria is working toward her dream of becoming a doctor.
- Kevin Carr, who failed out of college during his first attempt, but got back on track with a 4.0 GPA and a new focus on service. Carr, who earned a degree in Individual Studies in Health Sciences, was inspired by the Health for Haiti Global Service Learning course and plans to become a physician assistant.
- Becca Griswold, who left home to attend two universities but had a hard time getting a start academically. She came home to SUNY Broome, where she found academic excellence and became involved in civic engagement. Her goal is to become an educator and school superintendent.
- Oswil Liz-Reyes, who earned two bachelor’s degrees but couldn’t find a workable career. After just one semester of Business Information Management, he landed a job as a graphic designer.
- Adam Secor, a Marine Corps veteran who also earned a bachelor’s degree but couldn’t land a career. At SUNY Broome, he found his path and graduated with a degree in Dental Hygiene.
- Adam Hatala, who graduated from SUNY Broome a few years ago, followed by a bachelor’s degree at Cornell, and then graduated from SUNY Broome again with a degree from the EMT Paramedic program. Adam plans to become a doctor and currently works as a flight paramedic.
Student Village Resident Assistants Kayla Figuera, Adjua Lake and John Parker. Kayla has come out of her shell as a leader and future Medical Assistant, while Adjua – a Computer Security and Forensic major – is pursuing her dream to safeguard the country’s cyber welfare. While a local resident, John – an Engineering Science major — decided to become an RA because of the misconceptions he encountered surrounding residential students, and has come to embrace the campus’ diversity.
- Brandon Lake, part of the college’s Men of Excellence program. He had a rough start academically, but once he decided to pursue his passion in music, his academic career took off. He graduated with a degree in Sound Engineering.
- Nursing graduate Rachel Harvey, who – like many students – juggled a challenging degree program with a job and raising her family.
- Engineering Science students Suehaidee Masso and Grace Muggeo. Sue loves to work on bridges and infrastructure, and landed a rewarding internship with the Department of Transportation. Grace attended Health for Haiti, which opened her eyes to new possibilities when she used her engineering talents to help those in need.
Dr. Drumm also celebrated the year’s accomplishments, including:
- The ongoing transformation of the former Mechanical Building into the Paul & Mary Calice and Mildred Barton Advanced Manufacturing Center. Because of the project, the Quad was off-limits for the year. That’s where the geothermal wells were installed, a measure that will reduce the college’s carbon footprint. The Calice Center will open this fall.
- New degree programs in Mathematics and Web Development and Design, and a certificate program in Chemical Dependency Counseling. Plus, the college unveiled new transfer agreements, including ones with Binghamton University’s new Pharmacy School and the University of Limerick in Ireland.
- An Innovation Celebration this winter at the college’s Collaboration Lab in the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, which showcased student ingenuity. Students also displayed their engineering skills by building a fabulous structure out of canned goods for this year’s Canstruction in the Oakdale Mall, and then donated all the good to charity.
Students also again won awards for the Green Van project, which competed at the Toyota Green Grand Prix; presented original research at conferences; slept outside to understand the plight of the homeless; and engaged in volunteer work and service learning in communities near and far. For that last, they went as far afield as Haiti and rural Ireland, and learned about complex ecosystems firsthand hand in the Everglades, National Parks out west and the White Mountains.
- The campus community engaged with complex ideas during the yearly Ethics Conference and on Convocation Day, and listened as #MeToo founder Tarana Burke challenged us to change our national culture for the better.
“You’re here today because you have achieved great things, and I’m not just talking about the awards and the competitions you won, or the grades you achieved, although those are great things to celebrate,” Dr. Drumm said. “Completing a degree – just on its own – is an incredible accomplishment, and one that many of your fellow citizens never achieve.”
Meet the graduates
Perhaps the greatest lesson that graduates can learn is that of resilience. Through the course of his life, Samuel Payzant had the opportunity to learn that lesson well. Payzant, the 2018 Vanguard Award winner and Physical Therapist Assistant major, was this year’s student Commencement speaker.
He earned a degree in Elementary Education, but graduated at a time when schools were laying off rather than hiring and ended up working as a debt collector. Five years after graduation, he hit a low point.
Inspired by his wife Kathryn, he decided to relaunch with a new degree and a new career path as a physical therapist assistant. Kathryn suffered a traumatic brain injury that robbed her of her vision and left her in a wheelchair, unable to speak. Through years of physical therapy, she improved and can now speak and walk with a cane – making more of a recovery than her doctors thought possible.
“Her recovery took years of hard work where every day was a struggle, but she wouldn’t have been able to get there without learning resilience,” Payzant said. “Her experience showed me how important it is to see the whole person rather than just the damage that needs to be fixed. The damage life inflicts does, in many situations, leave you stronger.”
For Zachary Mowatt, long hours spent studying and working on projects in Mechanical Engineering Technology have paid off. A New York City native, he came to SUNY Broome based on the strength of the program, which he described as “hands-on” and focused on 3-D design. From the start, students in the MET program were doing projects and working on machines that they would use in their chosen field.
He’s headed back to the Bronx to hone his coding skills. “After that, the sky is the limit,” he said. “I feel like I’m coming out a lot more prepared to go out into the workforce.”
Education is often a family affair. Shavonne Rose was accompanied by her husband and daughter, who watched her receive her degree in accounting. She hopes to continue her education and work in her field.
“It’s great: I accomplished my goal! Not many people get a chance to do that,” she reflected.
As is tradition, many students decorated their mortarboard hats. Some featured emblems of their chosen profession: a skeletal hand for X-Ray Tech, a television test pattern for Communications and Media Arts, and teeth for Dental Hygiene, to name a few. Others featured the names of their transfer schools, or pithy and often witty slogans such as “I can nap now 2018.”
Marla Vasquez sported a white sash that declared her as a first-generation student, and a flowered mortarboard hat with the words “Work hard, stay humble.” It’s advice the Liberal Arts major has always sought to follow.
She technically graduated in December and has transferred to SUNY Old Westbury, where she will graduate next May with her bachelor’s degree in sociology.
“I’m super-excited. It’s a great accomplishment,” she said of graduation.
Health Information Technology majors Catherine Mazzarese and Stephanie Stahl put their hearts on their hats. Catherine – one of the student marshals for the Health Sciences Division – decorated hers with an image of her son, the emblem for the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and seashells, for the beach trip she is taking next week to celebrate her accomplishment.
Stephanie’s cap bore the words “Nevertheless, she persisted” in sparkling gold. In took her three years to complete her degree. “A couple times I was ready to back out, and I kept going,” she said.
Both are already working in their field at UHS.
Marissa Cicak decorated her mortarboard hat with her quirky nickname– “Throat Punch” – surrounded by flowers. Don’t worry: Marissa isn’t really going to punch anyone; it’s just a reference to a favorite saying of hers which can, she admits, be a little off-putting to some. She graduated in December and is transferring to SUNY New Paltz to pursue her bachelor’s degree, with a focus on public relations.
“It’s a really eye-opening experience because I didn’t think I would make it this far,” she said of commencement.