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SUNY Potsdam graduates 913 at ceremony Sunday


POTSDAM — For some it took more than a decade, for others it was a moment in time, but as the 913 graduates of SUNY Potsdam took their seats in the Academic Quad in the shadow of Satterlee Hall’s clock tower, time stood still.

“Today means a lot, because if my education ended two years ago my GPA would have been in the dirt,” Andres J. Munoz said.

The 21-year-old Bronx native came to Potsdam four years ago as a part of a multicultural weekend, and while the first half of his journey was a struggle for success, he walked across the stage Sunday with the Beacon Award for Excellence, a member of multiple honor societies, and was heading to the Western New England University School of Law.

“I didn’t start off well and over the last two years I worked my butt off and said, ‘Hey, I need to make it,’” Mr. Munoz said. “This place changed me from the person I was. A lot of people say they aren’t going to walk, but walking means more to me.”

That was a common theme from graduates Sunday morning; walking across that stage under the hands of that clock tower measured their success at Potsdam.

For Deneen M. Cole, 28, and Bobbi Jo Lauzon, 21, both of Akwesasne, not only was the commencement something they thought was recognizing them for their individual accomplishments, but they also were recognized as being among the few Native Americans to have graduated.

“There are only a few of us and they wanted to honor the accomplishments that we had,” Ms. Cole said. Both she and Ms. Lauzon donned purple and white stoles around their necks recognizing their Mohawk heritage.

“It’s not too often that you get people who graduate from the reservation,” Ms. Cole said.

It took 11 years of hard work to get to this point, she said, between transfers and attending part time at points, but she said she was relentless and determined to get her degree in biochemistry.

“I’ve never been more proud of myself,” she said. “My friends always laugh at me and say, ‘You never give up.’”

Ms. Lauzon said it was Ms. Cole’s determination that inspired her to start her college education and leave with a degree in biology.

“She is a big role model for me,” Ms. Lauzon said, adding that her friend pushed her every step of the way whenever she was ready to give up. “So this means a lot. I can’t believe this is happening to me.”

For his first and last commencement ceremony at SUNY Potsdam, interim President Dennis L. Hefner, who is returning to retirement, said the graduating class of 2014 is terrific for many reasons.

“Not only for its academic achievements and performances on stage, playing field, arena and rink, but for its willingness to be of service to those who need our students’ talents and time,” Mr. Hefner said. “We take pride in the achievements and contributions of the class of 2014.”

Keynote speaker Emmett C. Murphy, a 1965 SUNY Potsdam alumnus, chairman of Murphy Leadership Partners Inc. and president of the Wilson Center for Leadership and Innovation, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

“This is the time for you to take control, to step forward and demonstrate the capability you have so well developed here at Potsdam,” Mr. Murphy told the graduates. “I can tell you that the knowledge you have gained here at Potsdam will serve you very well. This is a very special place.”

And as the graduates’ time at SUNY Potsdam came to an ende and they looked up at the clock tower that counts the minutes before they went into the wider world, ChaRon R. Brabham, theater major and recipient of the Chancellors Award for Student Excellence, said the memories will always be with her.

“One thing I will always remember is my dance team. I’ve been on it for all four years and they were just amazing,” Ms. Brabham said. “The progression, just to see them grown from freshman year to now, is just a great experience.”

With that experience, there was one core lesson Ms. Brabham said she has learned.

“Don’t believe in failure,” she said. “Because if you believe in failure, you don’t believe in yourself.”

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