May 23rd, 2012
62nd SUNY Orange Commencement Ceremony
Student speaker Erica Cruz of New Windsor, NY claps in celebration of her fellow graduates during Saturday’s 62nd annual Commencement Ceremony at SUNY Orange’s Middletown campus. Photo by/STEVE HEDDERTON
Middletown - When student speaker Erica Cruz 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.
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, mathematics 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.
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.
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.”