By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – Giselle Martinez felt the amazing uniqueness of her 2020 Class all along her collegiate journey; however, that description truly resonated just over a couple of months ago.
“I remember my Program Director, Kelvin Herrera-Hassan, mentioning when this pandemic hit that our Class was so special that the world came to a stop for us,” said the recent Mount Saint Mary College graduate Martinez, a shining member of the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) that Herrera-Hassan oversees.
Unprecedented, universal events might have curtailed the remaining few months of in-person classes at colleges around the world; however seniors still managed to virtually fulfill their course requirements, while managing a host of other issues. Their diligent, persevering efforts earned them graduation laurels. One of the first area schools to recognize those lofty achievements was MSMC on a sunny, blue sky Saturday, spring morning. Although not able to enjoy the idyllic conditions outdoors, students, along with their families, friends, faculty and staff made the very most of the live streamed 57th annual event. Diplomas were officially conferred to 550 graduates, 444 earning Bachelor Degrees and 111 Masters Degree. Filled with some similar pomp and circumstance of a regular commencement, the event included remarks from campus leaders. However, there were some twists. Student-submitted photos, containing names of graduates were flashed on the screen as faculty and staff virtually supplied congratulations. A “Kudoboard” for sharing congratulatory comments was available as was a virtual mass later in the afternoon. Although it was necessary to alter the semantics of the graduation exercise, its potent milestone significance remained.
“I’m the first in my family to go to college, so this graduation is really big because my family, who worked so hard, made so many sacrifices for me to be here today,” reflected Martinez, a history and political science major who works for Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson. “I never thought going to a four year college would be a possibility, so I’m just so grateful for everything, especially the opportunities HEOP has given me.” She added, “I’m just incredibly happy to be having this graduation; regardless of how it’s done, it is still a huge accomplishment, and doesn’t take away from anything.”
For Martinez and her other HEOP student family that “how” took on even more memorable meaning when they received care packages of love just prior to graduation. Stocked with caps and gowns, HEOP Sashes, and other gifts, the surprise allowed many Mount students to keep an important tradition alive. Martinez made sure to have on her cap, gown and sash, as she and her family, also formally dressed, gathered around the broadcasted graduation.
“Seeing the joy they expressed when they got those packages meant the world to us,” said Newburgh resident Herrera-Hassan, who also graduated Saturday, earning an MBA, and like Martinez feels blessed for the close knit bonds he formed at his college. “The support from fellow classmates and the professors is what truly separates the Mount from other colleges; the professors understood most of us had full-time jobs outside of classes and did their best to be flexible, and what they taught wasn’t about just getting through the syllabus, but really added value to the class.”
And just as the MSMC faculty and staff have been flexible and innovative during these extraordinary times, so too has its latest graduation class, attributes that are destined to take them far.
“We want the Class of 2020 to know how proud we are of their accomplishments, their resilience and their ability to adapt to new situations,” said Dr. Jason N. Adsit, MSMC President. For these incredible new graduates, the world awaits, and they’re going to do great things.”
How can they not, the world is watching.
“To know although we didn’t have a traditional form of celebration, it feels good to know the world is celebrating with us,” said Herrera-Hassan. “Our graduation, as well as all others worldwide, will go down in history.”
Further history will potentially be made at MSMC some time in August. It is then that a second, this time in-person ceremony, is tentatively slated. An exact date and further details will become available as the Covid-19 situation and its guidelines evolve.
Next up on the local collegiate virtual commencement calendar is S.U.N.Y. New Paltz, when their ceremony takes place Friday at 1pm; Vassar College will hold its 156th exercises on Sunday, May 24, and the originally scheduled traditional Marist graduation for this weekend has been postponed with dates to be determined.