May 25, 2016

Greece, N.Y. Husband and Wife to Walk Stage Together at SUNY Empire State College Graduation

Husband and wife graduate from SUNY Empire State College in Class of 2016
P. Shane and Renee McAfee graduate from SUNY Empire State College, Class of 2016.

‌‌‌‌‌‌It’s been said that adversity is the mother of invention, but it also can be the source of reinvention. Husband and wife Renee and P. Shane McAfee, of Greece, N.Y., will be graduating together in the Class of 2016 from SUNY Empire State College at 2 p.m., Sunday, June 12, at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. Renee will receive her Master of Arts in Social and Public Policy, with an advanced certification in nonprofit management. Shane will graduate with his Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a concentration in organizational communications. The college has arranged for the two to receive their degrees one after the other and walk the stage together. Daughter Brianna Cansdale, 24, a new mother and a SUNY Empire student herself, will be cheering them on along with their three other children and grandson.

Renee McAfee ’13 was two classes shy of her RN, when she had an accident at her job in the pulmonary ICU that derailed those plans. She decided to change careers and pursue a bachelor’s degree in Community and Human Services at SUNY Empire. She liked the access the college offered. “Because SUNY Empire is a nontraditional college, I was able to pursue my degree at home,” she said. Now, with a successful surgery behind her, Renee, 48, would like to start a new career working at a nonprofit organization, preferably one that serves families affected by autism. Their youngest son, Caleb, 22, received a diagnosis 20 years ago. As an undergraduate, she was able to obtain an internship with Autism Speaks. She is proud to have worked on federal and state legislation, including the New York State Autism Reform Act of 2011.

Shane, 50, on the other hand, began his post-Navy career as a phlebotomist. When he lost that job, in 1996, he spent the next few years doing whatever he could, including working at a convenience store, “to put food on the table.”

Together, the couple decided to support each other through school in order to take care of their family of four. Renee worked full time in a local hospital, while she began her degree. Shane looked into working with computers. He started his Applied Associate in Science degree in computer information systems at Monroe Community College. After graduating from MCC, Shane began working with software and hardware testing, but was blocked from advancement by lack of a bachelor’s degree. He briefly studied health information management at SUNYIT.

Shane was able to bring 80 transfer credits to his SUNY Empire degree. Renee brought 75 to her undergraduate degree.

While the two were advancing in their education, juggling work and school, Renee underwent spinal surgery related to her workplace accident, Shane suffered a mild stroke and two loved ones died. On a happier note, both their elder son, Tom, and their elder daughter Shayna, married in 2012 and 2015, respectively. Daughter Brianna, who battles rheumatoid arthritis, gave birth to their grandson, Taelor-James, and is engaged to be married in 2017.

Both McAfees credit the college’s independent, flexible study model with their degree completion. “You can work from home on a comfy couch and still get the same quality education,” Renee said. “Without this environment, my husband wouldn’t have been able to pull off working full time and taking care of family, while I was disabled, and getting his degree,” she added.

“Some couples go to the movies together; we decided to graduate together,” says Shane with a laugh.

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