MIDDLETOWN – The more than 400 graduates who participated in SUNY Orange’s 73rd Commencement ceremony on Thursday (May 18) were celebrated for returning a vibrancy to the College’s two campuses and were encouraged by student speakers to overcome their fears, give themselves credit for a job well done and become beacons of light in their chosen careers.
Thursday’s festivities included three ceremonies outdoors under a tent in which graduates were honored according to the academic division in which their degree or certificate was housed. Health Professions graduates were feted during a crisp morning ceremony. The BMST (Business, Science, Math and Technology) ceremony in the afternoon and the evening Liberal Arts ceremony were both held under beautifully sunny, cloudless skies with some guests choosing to sit outside the tent.
“Your class has the superpower of collaboration for the betterment of communities,” SUNY Orange President Dr. Kristine Young told the graduates as she detailed how students are injecting life back to the College’s campuses following the pandemic. “You lived through something isolating, a global pandemic, and you decided to make an effort to thrive in higher education during it and as it waned. Perhaps, intuitively, you realized that it was really going to take a community of learners to bring out the full potential of your effort in higher education. And like a swarm of bees or flock of birds, when you could, you surged our campuses and brought them back to life, you lit up our services and you reinvigorated our student clubs for the betterment of our college community.”
In all, approximately 654 students completed their degree and certificate programs over the past academic year, pending final review of transcripts, with approximately 420 electing to participate in one of the three ceremonies. Thursday’s participants also included approximately 60 graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021 who were invited back to the College to walk across the Commencement stage in person after their ceremonies were required to be held virtually due to the pandemic.
Student speakers Faith Moore (Health Professions), Nathalia Santana Hidalgo (BMST) and Rancelli Burdier (Liberal Arts) were joined by faculty speaker Christine Henderson, a professor of psychology. Young hosted the ceremonies and graduates also heard from SUNY Orange Board of Trustees Chair Ralph Martucci Jr., Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and representatives of the SUNY Orange Foundation. The BMST grads were also joined by State University of New York Trustee Stanley Litow.
“Nothing comes easy but even when it did, like that A on that paper, or that award, or passing the class, it never felt like enough, or it’s on to the next without stopping,” Burdier (Ellenville, N.Y.) said. “There is this pressure in society to compete, to be the best, to achieve with the feeling of being watched and criticized. Especially with the pressure of social media, to prove something. Let me tell you, and I had to learn this myself, big or small, give yourself the credit. Remember to embrace every moment, celebrate your small wins, remember to give back to yourself. When you look at your degree, do not forget the fight. Be kind to yourselves and instill that in others.”
“In my time at SUNY Orange, I have learned the importance of taking small steps forward that could potentially increase my opportunities and knowledge, and that taking action despite not knowing where to go is better than standing by, contemplating and taking no action at all,” Hidalgo (Warwick, N.Y.) told her classmates. “Keep going because failure does not directly mean you aren’t fit, ready, or worthy. It is an experience to learn from. So, no matter if you feel you aren’t ready for your step forward to have a higher job position, a better education or even be a better person, no matter if you feel fear or insecurity, grasp and jump into every opportunity that is presented to you. Fear will likely always be present, but after all, being brave does not mean overcoming these feelings of fear, but taking action despite those feelings.”
“We made it!” Moore (Middletown, N.Y.) said to her fellow Health Professions graduates. It was a special day for the Moore family as Faith Moore’s sister Eve graduated with a nursing degree. “We committed to the hard work and it has paid off. Yes, we all have big (licensing) exams to take, but that’s for another day and another speech. In this moment we celebrate our accomplishments for a job superbly done. Soon it will be time to merge the hard work with the work of the heart … taking on the responsibility of tending to the needs of our neighbors. As we work in our respective professions may strength be granted to us from a source that is much greater than ourselves, carrying hope, and healing…moving us as beacons of light amongst humanity.”
“Congratulations Class of 2023, you deserve a nap and a cheers,” Burdier said as she concluded the day’s events with a second Harry Potter reference from her speech. “And I leave you with a reworked quote from one of the greatest minds who ever fictionally lived, Dobby the elf: ‘Master SUNY Orange has given Dobby a diploma, Dobby is free!’”
Each year, SUNY Orange awards diplomas to students who earn Associate in Arts, Associate in Science and Associate in Applied Science degrees, while presenting graduation certificates to those who complete the College’s various certificate programs.
Thirteen graduates were members of the Honors Program … 24 were graduates of the Excelsior Academy [the collaborative P-TECH program at Newburgh North High School in partnership by SUNY Orange and IBM] … five accepted certificates of completion from the BRIDGES program … two students earned the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence [Laurie Atiste of Westtown, N.Y., liberal arts degree; and Rancelli Burdier of Ellenville, N.Y., liberal arts degree) … five graduates were presented their award by a family member employed by the College (Scott Hedderton, son of Steve Hedderton, arts and communication adjunct instructor; Kyle Smith, son of athletic director Wayne Smith; Jaimie White, daughter of assistant safety and security director Joe White; and Nina and Mya Zylberberg, daughters of nursing professor Lisa Zylberberg).