SUNY Potsdam graduates celebrate and mourn early Saturday

May 21 – POTSDAM – It must have been hot for the nearly 5,000 people in attendance at SUNY Potsdam’s graduation on Saturday, held on the grounds outside Lougheed Learning Commons. It was 85 degrees.

However, the weather did not distract from the festive and emotional occasion, which touched on themes of the pandemic and remembrance.

SUNY Potsdam honored more than 1,000 graduation candidates this year and invited 2020 and 2021 alumni who were unable to attend a traditional in-person ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the procession of students, the ceremony began with the Canadian and American national anthems sung respectively by Nate Strock and Ben Johnson, both of the class of 2022.

Next, College Council Chair June F. O’Neill spoke of collective achievement and grief.

“When we celebrate,” she said, “we celebrate together. When we cry, we cry together. Today, we do both together.”

The officer in charge of SUNY Potsdam, John L. Graham, died in November. Elizabeth M. Howell, a 21-year-old music education student at the college’s Crane School of Music, was shot and killed near campus in February.

Ms Howell was due to graduate this year and her father accepted a degree on her behalf.

“Beth accomplished so much during her time at SUNY Potsdam and the Crane School of Music, including being named principal cellist of the Crane Symphony Orchestra,” said William J. Gibbons, dean of the Crane School of Music, during his speech.

Former New York Yankee and musician Bernie Williams gave the keynote address. He talked about the importance of personal growth and self-acceptance.

He traced his personal development from growing up in Puerto Rico to unexpectedly playing Major League Baseball and then rekindling his love for music in retirement.

“After my baseball playing career ended in 2006, I was faced with another crossroads in my life and had to ask the question again, ‘OK, now what?'” he declares.

He said he decided to go back to school full time to study music and even wrote a book about the symbiosis between music and athletics.

He stressed that it’s never too late to learn something new or to embrace who you really are, and told graduates their learning isn’t over. On the contrary, it has only just begun.

“Whatever path or paths you find yourself on in life, I think you just have to be yourself,” he said.

He then left the graduates with a saying widely attributed to philosopher and writer Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone’s taken.”

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