FREDONIA?- More than 1,400 students were able to turn their tassels and become official SUNY Fredonia graduates Saturday. About 1,200 undergraduates and 200 graduates walked across the stage in Steele Hall.
SUNY Fredonia President Virginia Horvath welcomed graduates and guests to two separate ceremonies. During each of the ceremonies, a degree was awarded posthumously to two members of the Class of 2014. Family members accepted degrees on behalf of Thomas John Dean and Kofi Begyabeng Genfi Jr. Dean passed away in November unexpectedly on campus due to the rare condition lymphocytic myocarditis. Genfi passed away in a drowning accident in the city of Dunkirk in summer 2012.
Horvath welcomed students and told them to thank their parents, family and friends who have helped them to where they are today.
Dr. Sarah Ramirez, co-founder of BeHealthyTulare and recently named CNN Hero, speaks to SUNY Fredonia graduates Saturday.
Photo by Samantha McDonnell
Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. addresses the graduates.
Photo by Samantha McDonnell
Photo by Samantha McDonnell
"From this point, it's up to you to show what Fredonians can do," Horvath said. "We're counting on you to use what you have learned, to continue to learn as new questions and technologies arise, and to represent your alma mater in all you do."
She told students through their hard work, they will find success in their future careers. She asked students to help recruit future SUNY Fredonia graduates and to help build a successful alumni network. Horvath also gave a special "shout out" to her niece, Lauren Schaefer, a member of the graduating class.
"I'll miss you Class of 2014, undergraduate and graduate students. I look forward to seeing the accomplishments that you have in the years ahead. I hope you carry the spirit of Fredonia with you," Horvath said.
College Council Chairman Frank Pagano described commencement as an "emotional time" and what would mark the beginning of the rest of the graduates' lives. Pagano told them to reflect on their time spent at Fredonia and to not be afraid of failure.
"The Class of 2014 will always hold a special place in my heart because I was appointed (College Council) chairman the same year you entered Fredonia as freshmen," Pagano said. "During the past four years, I have met and developed relationships with many of you, and I have found myself in awe of your creativity and vibrancy."
Class President Patrick Kennedy called the Class of 2014 "awesome." He said the world has changed so much since they have been at Fredonia. He noted the building of the new science center, the Williams Center renovations and seeing the first female president at SUNY Fredonia as some of the changes over the past four years.
Kennedy also shared how Fredonia helped him during a tragic time. His father passed away this past August and Kennedy thought about taking time off, but then remembered he went to SUNY Fredonia. He said if he had attended any other college he would have taken time off.
"... Fredonia made it possible to move forward. The people, students, faculty and staff they ... helped me pick myself up. ... I know every one of us graduates here today can think of a time in the past four years when life was unfair or things didn't go our way ... our fellow Fredonians were there."
For the class challenge, the Class of 2014 raised more than $10,000 which has purchased dinosaur statues to be placed in the new science hall when it opens later this summer. The class also made a donation to the Thomas Dean Memorial Scholarship. To remember his time at SUNY Fredonia, Horvath presented Kennedy with a tyrannosaurus rex figurine.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Sarah Ramirez, co-founder of BeHealthyTulare and recently named CNN Hero in April. She thanked the college for the honor to speak at commencement and told graduates of how to take control of their education. She spoke of how she lost three family members and a mentor during her undergraduate career and how it inspired her.
"Do the things that propel you toward the big questions, even if there is no simple answer. The reality is that sometimes is we won't know exactly where we're going or how we're going to get there, but we'll receive a valuable education in the process if you're willing to pursue it," Ramirez said.
Ramirez was in a car accident in graduate school; she does not remember much of the accident and talked about wondering about the "what ifs" of that day - what if she would have never been found or never survived. She told students to make the most out of life and to not be afraid.
"It doesn't matter if your dreams come true if you spend your whole life sleeping. ... be present," she said.
Her third story was about defining success on your own terms. She explained how she was considered a "misfit" during her educational journey. She would ask her husband if he was OK with her having a Ph.D and no job.
"Don't waste your limited time living someone's life. Don't let other's ideas drown your own inner voice. The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you (think) as great work," Ramirez said. "Make sure that your life is the way you want it to be. Make your life congruent with your values and beliefs."
Sen. Charles Schumer attended the afternoon ceremony. He told the students to remember their special day but also remember those serving our country overseas. Since Schumer's plane was late, he joked he would save his prepared speech for the Class of 2015.
The National Anthem was performed by Gabrielle A. Mason. Student performances included the Fredonia Wind Ensemble, Fredonia Wind Symphony and the Fredonia Chamber Choir.