SUNY Plattsburgh Celebrates Class of 2023 at Annual Spring Commencement
SUNY Plattsburgh gave nearly 900 of its graduate and undergraduate population a rousing send-off Saturday at the annual spring commencement exercises at the Plattsburgh State Field House gymnasium.
Three different ceremonies were held during the day, honoring students graduating from the School of Business and Economics, the School of Education, Health and Human Services, and the School of Arts and Sciences.
Students filed in to the traditional “Pomp and Circumstances,” followed by faculty, staff and platform guests, who were themselves escorted by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Bagpipe Band. Carrying the ceremonial mace, an honor bestowed upon senior members of the faculty and staff, was Jackie Vogl, director and associate vice president of global education, at the 9 a.m. ceremony and Dr. Mohamed Gaber, distinguished service professor of accounting, at both the noon and 3 p.m. ceremonies.
Honoring ‘Original Caretakers’
After the National Anthem, President Alexander Enyedi recognized and paid tribute to the Native American people whose land it was on which Plattsburgh was built.
“As an institution that takes pride in conscious efforts toward building a more inclusive community, we must take time to acknowledge that our campus is situated on land that belongs to the Iroquois, Western Abenaki, Mohican and Mohawk peoples,” he said. “We honor the original caretakers of this and surrounding land and offer respect to the Haudenosaunee, who are still here.
“This land and body of water, now known as Lake Champlain, was inhabited and nurtured by these peoples for thousands of years. We must do the same to nurture and protect this sacred land. This statement is a mere fraction of the steps needed to fight against systemic indigenous erasure.
“We are settlers on their land, and we strive to be accountable by remembering this history and cultivating respect in our relationships with our Indigenous neighbors and the land,” he said.
Turning his attention to those gathered in the field house, Enyedi welcomed platform guests, faculty, staff, students, and their friends and families.
“You are what today is about,” he told graduates. “I want to thank you for attending SUNY Plattsburgh. We are a better place because of your presence on campus. This semester, much of your experience was as it was in your first days. But most of your time in higher education has been incredibly tough.
“The Class of 2023 bore as many challenges as any in recent memory. For most of you, a shift to remote learning took place in the spring of your first year. COVID testing, vaccinations, masking and more became part of your daily life for years,” he said.
“The university you experienced changed from that day, as it did for each of us. Only this year has a return to a regular rhythm taken place. No one in a century faced the difficulties you have, of a pandemic, the shift in expectations, and the dramatic altering of your course work and university life,” he said. “You have persevered and overcome, which is cause for celebration. I ask everyone to give these graduates a special round of applause. You have demonstrated what Cardinal Strong means. Your peers here today and those watching by livestream commend you, and celebrate with you. We are very proud of you.”
Saran Kaba, a communication sciences and disorders major from Guinea, West Africa, and the Bronx, addressed her classmates at the 9 a.m. ceremony, telling them that Saturday was not just a day “of celebration of our academic achievements but also a celebration of our diversity and our unique journeys that have brought us to this moment.”
The African American of the Islamic faith, said her experience at SUNY Plattsburgh “has been one of tremendous growth, discovery and self-reflection.”
“While my academic achievements have been a major source of pride, my experiences as a Black Muslim woman have also shaped my journey in ways that are both unique and challenging,” she said.
Sense of Community
“One of the defining aspects of my experience at SUNY Plattsburgh has been the sense of community that I have found here. From the moment I stepped on campus, I have been surrounded by supportive and caring faculty, staff, and fellow students who have embraced me for who I am and have helped me navigate the challenges of my intersectional identity in a predominantly white institution.
“As president of the Muslim Student Association and vice president of the Student Association, I have had the opportunity to connect with other students who share my cultural and religious backgrounds and who have faced similar challenges,” Kaba said. “Together, we have worked to educate our peers and raise awareness about issues of social justice, inequality, and discrimination that impact our communities both on and off campus.”
Pilar Balader Herrero, marketing and art major from Las Palmas, Spain, the noon student speaker, addressed the profound impact no one envisioned as they entered as freshmen in the fall of 2019.
“I look around this room and I see truly inspiring individuals. I see business men and women, CEO’s, marketers, economists, I see brokers, accountants, and hopefully some people who will take us out of the next recession,” she said. “But in each and everyone one of you, I see resilience.
“In 2019, before we left our homes to come here, we were told all these amazing things about college. That they would be the best years of our life, that we would make memories we will guys, but a global pandemic never came up in that conversation for me. Our very first year of college, that perfect picture we envisioned was shattered, and none of us thought we would be able to glue the pieces back together.”
But that is why commencement was a day of celebration, she said, a day to commemorate “how, in the midst of all the when we were feeling lost and the uncertainty of our future was almost unbearable, we were still able to find small things that made a big difference. Things that kept us going. Because we told ourselves: no one will determine our own future but us,” Herrero said.
“The Class of 2023 is the first graduating class whose entire four years of college have been impacted by Covid-19. We are making history here today. And, even though we may not be able to put that in our resumes, we know these experiences have changed us — they have made us stronger. We know we are just one call away from reaching our goals — as crazy as that may seem — because we have made connections in these past four years that will remain with us forever.”
Thanked Faculty and Family
Malika Saleem, biomedical sciences major from Port Henry, N.Y., thanked the many faculty and staff who helped her along the way and gave a shout-out to family and friends, who “teach us to distinguish the good from the bad,” Saleem said.
“They help us pursue our goals and make sure we do not face any hurdles alone. The role of our families in our lives is immeasurable,” she said, giving a special thank you to her parents.
“Mom and Dad, I took advantage of every opportunity in my path because you gave me the confidence to do so. I understand how privileged I am because I have watched you appreciate the little things. Although I am the one who did the assignments and took the exams, you are the ones who answered my calls in the middle of the night when I would be stressing about them,” Saleem said. “Thank you for always encouraging and supporting me. Without you, my graduation would not have been possible.
“Whoever those people are to you, whether your parents, grandparents, guardians, or friends, do not forget to thank them for the sacrifices that they made to put you in these seats,” she said. “Those sacrifices were made so that we all could receive an education, but there is more to getting a good education than simply attending classes and taking exams.
“There are many valuable lessons we gained from our collective experiences at Plattsburgh. As I have progressed through my time here, I learned the value of empathy, and utilizing the skills and career opportunities that a university degree provides to make a positive contribution to society,” she said.
Class of 2023
After instructing their classmates to move the tassels on their mortarboards from right to left, over their hearts, graduates were officially welcomed into the Plattsburgh Alumni Association by Matthew Veitch '94, association first vice president, who urged them to keep in touch and return in the fall for their first homecoming as SUNY Plattsburgh alumni.
All three ceremonies will be accessible via livestream at: https://www.plattsburgh.edu/plattslife/commencement/livestream.html.
— Photos, Story by Associate Director of Communications Gerianne Downs