Submitted by Cayuga Community College
With both fists pumping the air and his fellow graduates on their feet cheering, 77-year-old John Cullen of Auburn walked across the stage to receive an associate’s degree during the 57th Annual Cayuga Community College Commencement proceedings. He was the oldest of the 584-member Class of 2011 who was recognized during the May 22 ceremony on the Auburn Campus.
“I don’t like anybody telling me what I can’t do, so I decided to go to college and prove them wrong,” Cullen said of his accomplishment. “I am glad I finished my degree in psychology, and I hope to become an [Alcoholics Anonymous] counselor.”
Cullen and many of the 2011 graduates overcame challenges to complete their degrees. The graduates juggled multiple demands on their time— with the majority completing their coursework while balancing parenthood or other family responsibilities with part-time and full-time jobs.
College President Daniel P. Larson shared some information about the graduating the class, which ranged in age from 18 to 77 and was 63 percent female and 37 percent male. Approximately 42 percent are residents of Cayuga County, 41 percent of Oswego County, 7 percent of Onondaga, and 4 percent of Wayne. The remaining 6 percent came from other areas of New York State, Maryland, Massachusetts, and California.
“My challenge is that you undertake a personal, diligent, significant quest for what can be the abundant, productive life – one filled with success, achievement, goodness, and blessings,” Larson said. “I offer three simple ABCs to help you attain those goals as you go forth.” Those three items, he went on to explain, are attitude, belief, and courage.
“Keep on learning, for learning is a life-long journey, not ever a destination,” he said.
Two recipients of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence—Justin Ford of Fulton and Christina Kosier—shared stories of their journey to graduation during their Commencement addresses. Ford described the academic challenges that plagued most of his early education and how he was held back two times in grade school and how his first attempt at an education at Cayuga Community College ended in an untimely withdrawal.
“I decided to go back to working full time,” he said. “Unfortunately, like a lot of people, I was laid off. I had gained no skills during my time there. I would have to restart from the bottom again.” So he returned to Cayuga and committed himself to his education. He took on leadership roles in Phi Theta Kappa, a national honor society, and other campus organizations.
“If I had not attended Cayuga Community College, I would not have had the opportunities that came my way,” he said. “This has helped me become a better person in several ways. I became more focused on long-term goals rather than what is happening now. I learned the importance of education. Most importantly, I learned how to learn.”
Kosier of Auburn also described a non-traditional path to college, and how making the decision to engage in campus life opened her eyes to another life lesson.
“By embracing what made me most uncomfortable, I found success,” she said. “Had I not been willing to journey into the unknown I would have missed out on so much. By facing what I most feared and accepting the challenges placed before me, I ended up receiving more than just an education.”
The graduates were formally congratulated by other Commencement speakers: College Chaplain Rev. Floyd C. Duger, Board of Trustees Chairman John Camardo, Cayuga County Legislature Chairman Peter Tortorici, and Alumni Associate President Anthony Gucciardi.
Professor Paul A. Richardson received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and Senior Typist in the Student Development Office Diane Salvati received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Classified Service. Nursing Professor Cheryl Foster ’77 and Retired Auburn City School District Teacher William H. Tenity ’65 were also recognized during the ceremony as recipients of the 2011 Alumni Awards.
The Syracuse Scottish Pipe Band led the processional and recessional, Bethany McCormick ’12 sang the National Anthem, and Graduate Benjamin Janssen ’11 performed the alma mater.
Following the formal ceremony, graduates and their families were invited to a reception in the College Quad.