Hudson Link Higher Education Hosts Graduation

WALLKILL – Hudson Link for Higher Education, in partnership with SUNY Ulster and Mount Saint Mary College, hosted a joint commencement exercise at Shawangunk Correctional Facility on Tuesday, June 18.

A dozen men received their Associate in Science from SUNY Ulster with 11 more earning a Bachelor of Arts from the Mount.

Hudson Link provides college education, life skills, and reentry support to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals to help them make a positive impact on their lives, their families, and their communities. It also aims to lower rates of recidivism, incarceration, and poverty.

The bagpiper, the Mount’s Director of Principal Gifts Thomas Burnham, ushered the degree candidates into the gymnasium with the graduation standard “Scotland the Brave.” They were dressed in their caps and gowns and sporting honor cords, and their families cheered them on with joy.

Fr. Gregoire Fluet, former Mount Saint Mary College Interim president and current campus chaplain, congratulated Hudson Link graduates on June 18.
Fr. Gregoire Fluet, former Mount Saint Mary College Interim president and current campus chaplain, congratulated Hudson Link graduates on June 18.

After speeches by Daniel Martuscello III, Commissioner of DOCCS, and Thomas McGuinness, Superintendent of the Shawangunk Correctional Facility, Fr. Gregoire Fluet, former Interim president and current campus chaplain of the Mount, told graduates that the ceremony marked the start of new opportunities.

“We’re so happy to join SUNY Ulster, Hudson Link, and Shawangunk Correctional Facility in celebrating these newest graduates of Mount Saint Mary College,” said Fr. Fluet. “The graduates have proven that there is something incredible in all of them: They have not allowed themselves to be defined by past mistakes. They have said no to the naysayers, they chose education and said loudly, ‘I can do this!’ These men are leaders and role models by their choice to pursue education. We are so proud of them all.”

The Hudson Link graduation ceremony marked Fr. Fluet’s final duty as Interim President of the Mount, having passed the torch to Dr. Robert Gervasi, eighth president of the college, just one day earlier.

For some, an education is part of a solid foundation for returning and contributing to their community. For others, it’s a way to improve themselves for their families and friends. And to all the men enrolled in the program, education represents hope.

One of the Mount graduates, valedictorian Jarrin R., was a keynote speaker at the ceremony. He and his fellow graduates, he said, believe in the power of education and the success of the Hudson Link program.

“This is a milestone in our lives,” he said. “This is just one leg in a journey and we’re all grateful for it and for the opportunities a degree brings. A degree is transformational! Now we’re better prepared to reenter society. For us to see this come to fruition, there were a lot of moving parts. It’s a demonstration of the capacity of the system to work.”
Another of the Mount graduates, Jermaine P., described the culmination of his hard work as “surreal.”

“To be in this moment – it’s greatness,” he explained. “It’s liberating. It’s giving us a sense of freedom. Hudson Link is the key, and education is the key to liberation.”

As he addressed the graduates and their families, Sean Pica, Executive Director of Hudson Link, explained that he had earned his degree in that same gymnasium more than three decades earlier. The positive change it ushered in to his life was immeasurable: “If I can do this,” said Pica when he graduated, “Maybe I can do more.”

Now it’s up to the new graduates to be leaders among their peers, he added: “You are role models in this place. You are college graduates.”

Hudson Link was formed in 1998 to use higher education to change lives during and after their involvement with the justice system. The organization has awarded more than 1,200 degrees and continues to provide college education, life skills, and transitional services to currently and formerly incarcerated people, equipping them for greater economic and social success. At this time, there are about 670 students enrolled in the program.

The Mount’s contributions to Hudson Link wouldn’t be possible without the aid of a dedicated group of faculty and staff members, including: Fr. Fluet; Jennifer Bready, Interim Dean of the School of Arts, Sciences, and Education and professor of Mathematics; Mike Daven, professor of Mathematics and Hudson Link Prison Initiative Academic Coordinator at the college; Michael L. Fox, JD, associate professor of Business Law; Kristen Hanley, Associate Registrar; Jannelle Haug, Registrar; Amanda Maynard, professor of Psychology and Chair of the Division of Social Sciences.; Deborah Meissner, administrative assistant for the Division of Social Sciences; Evan Merkhofer, Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs and associate professor of Biology; Andrea Parker, Registrar Specialist; Michelle Tennerillo, executive assistant of the Office of the VPAA; and many more. In addition, the program would not have been possible without Hilberto Ramos, Shawangunk Academic Coordinator for Hudson Link, whom the Mount thanks for his aid.

Plans for the Mount’s next semester at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility, in partnership with Hudson Link, are already underway.

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