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SUNY New Paltz grads walk in ceremony, receive diplomas

by Erin Quinn
May 26, 2011 11:23 AM | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Co-valedictorians Sallie McPherson and Ghadi Al Rahhal.
Photo by Lauren Thomas.
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The weather loomed, but held out for the approximately 1,700 undergraduates of the State University of New York at New Paltz’s commencement ceremony last Sunday morning at the Old Main quadrangle. Interim President Donald Christian -- who has announced that he is also a candidate up for consideration to become the official president of the university -- presided over the ceremonies that highlighted commencement speaker Noah P. Dorsky, chair of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation and son of Samuel Dorsky -- the namesake of the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art on the New Paltz campus.

Earlier this spring, that museum celebrated its tenth anniversary.

While there were many awards presented to students and faculty, the cheers of joy and pride could be heard across the entire quadrangle as family and friends waved to their respective graduates, snapped pictures and jumped up and down in celebration of this milestone in their loved one’s life.

As the undergraduates filed in during their procession, one couple who was cheering and clapping, were the Corleys, of Fallsburg in Sullivan County. Edward and Theresa Corley had a lot to be proud about. “We’re here for my sister-in-law, Barbara Speller, (56) who just graduated with her bachelor’s in human services,” Edward said. “We’re just elated for her.”

Only two years ago, the Corleys attended the SUNY New Paltz commencement ceremony for their daughter Aliana Corley, who after receiving her undergraduate degree, went on to complete her master’s in English and literacy.

“We went to her commencement ceremony for her master’s this past Wednesday,” said her mother Theresa. “But she really grew up on this campus. When she left here, she left here ready for the world, with a focus and a passion.”

“She struggled a bit in high school,” noted her father. “But when she came here, she blossomed. She had great roommates and the three of them went on to get their master’s at the same school, Long Island University. We couldn’t be more proud.”

These sentiments were felt throughout the quad, lined with the flags of every nation, the faculty donning robes and stripes all signifying their various academic and professional achievements.

“I’m here for my son, Vincent Smith, who is graduating with a degree in computer engineering,” said Smith’s father, who came all the way from Bellmore on Long Island to mark this significant occasion. “He loves the school, the town -- he even works at a computer repair shop on Main Street.”

Asked if Vincent might continue to live in New Paltz, his dad smiled and said: “I don’t know. I think I’m going to find that out today.”

Steve Chocolate and his wife were there from Sullivan County to support their daughter, Toni Riehle, who received her degree in education. Her mom explained that this moment was so emotional for her because, “Toni has been through a lot.”

“She was attending the University of Miami when she came down with spinal meningitis and almost died,” she recounted with tears in her eyes. “We had to go get her and bring her home and she lost an entire year to that almost deadly virus. So to see her now, having stuck it out and graduating is incredible. She’s going to make a great teacher. She loves children.”

While the students received rounds of applause, they in turn, whooped it up for their various professors and adjunct faculty who had helped them navigate through their academic challenges and successes during their years at SUNY New Paltz.

Interim President Christian noted that this was an age-old tradition whereby the faculty celebrates and honors those that “were our students and are now entering a new chapter in their lives, equipped with intellectual tools, the habit of mind, inquisitive natures.”

To exemplify this, two valedictorians were recognized this year -- Sallie McPherson, of Rifton, a biology major with minors in both black studies and chemistry, and Ghadi Al Rahhal, of New Paltz, who is also a biology major with minors in philosophy and chemistry.

Christian awarded the prestigious President’s Medal to retired Dean of Education Robert Michael, noting that his 37 years of “commitment and service to SUNY New Paltz’s School of Education, its students and colleagues” had greatly enriched the teaching profession.

Five SUNY faculty members received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence: Nurse Denise Sirrine in student health services; Associate Professor Hamid Azari-Rad, chair in economics, received the Award for Excellence in Faculty Service; Professor Peter Kaufman, in sociology, received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching; Associate Dean Lynn Spangler, of the College of Liberal Art and Sciences, received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service; and Professor Reva Wolf, of art history, received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Speaker Dorsky was both poignant and funny and towards the end of his speech, encouraged graduates to not be afraid of failure, but to take risks.

“If there’s a secret of success in life, I sure don’t know it. At best, I can share a little wisdom gleaned from the pinball game of my own life,” he said. “Stay curious and never stop learning. Embrace the mystical power of art. Be optimistic -- believing is seeing, not the other way around. And don’t be deterred by setbacks or failures because we learn from them, too.”

He noted that from this day forward, each graduate will go on to add to the legacy of SUNY New Paltz, enrich its reputation and forever be a part of the institution that provided them with this springboard of education that will now launch them into the larger world.

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