May 3, 2016
Class of 2016 Commencement Speakers Announced
For the First Time, Each Commencement Event will be Streamed Live Via the Internet
(SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – May 9, 2016) Statewide celebratory events beginning in Buffalo and concluding on Long Island mark SUNY Empire State College’s 44th annual commencement.
Approximately 3,300 associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as many undergraduate and graduate certificates, will be conferred on the class of 2016.
In keeping with the college’s long-standing tradition, graduate and undergraduate students will provide commencement remarks at each of the college’s eight events.
For the first time, all of this year’s events will be streamed live via the Internet.
The time, day, date and location of each event and information about the commencement speakers are listed below.
About SUNY Empire State College’s Commencement Events
Post-event update: More than 250 associate, bachelor’s, master’s degrees and advanced graduate certificates were conferred at Buffalo, as part of the college’s 44th annual statewide commencement.
Images from the Buffalo event now are available on the college’s Buffalo and Western New York Facebook group page.
The Buffalo and Western New York commencement event takes place at 10 a.m., Saturday, June 4, Buffalo State College, 1300 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, NY
In keeping with the college’s long-standing tradition, graduate and undergraduate students will provide commencement remarks at each of the college’s eight events.
For the first time, all of this year’s events will be streamed live via the Internet. The Buffalo - Western New York commencement event will be available at http://www.esc.edu/commencement/buffalo/live-stream/
The class of 2016 commencement speakers at Buffalo are:
- Barbara Burgett, 45, Williamsville, NY, Master of Arts in Teaching
- Norma Rosa, 48, North Tonawanda, NY, Bachelor of Science in Business, Management and Economics.
Graduate Barbara Burgett '16, is surrounded by her family right after the Buffalo commencement event. She was selected as a student speaker and completed her Master of Arts in Teaching. Photo/Mary-Ann Ferree
About Barbara Burgett ’14 ’16
The mother of four children, Burgett, 45, is the first person in her family to go to college. She said that her mother is very proud of her.
As a child, she always dreamed of becoming a school teacher, but, painfully shy, she instead went to work as a legal secretary and volunteered in her community.
Burgett credits her SUNY Empire undergraduate and graduate education for providing her with the confidence to come out of her shell. At parties, “I would hide behind my husband, Wayne, and find the nearest corner. Now, I talk to everyone and I even dance if there is dancing.”
Embarrassment at not having a college degree, combined with a strong desire to have her children see her graduate, provided the motivation for Burgett to return to college in 2010.
She completed her bachelor’s with SUNY Empire in 2014 and earned 12 credits for her college-level learning acquired through work and life experience.
Success at the undergraduate level led her to believe that she could complete her master’s.
“I finished six years of school while raising four children, working part time and volunteering,” said Burgett. “I can do anything. I have been so fortunate to get such wonderful professors in all of the classes I have taken.
“Now that I will be receiving my master’s, I dream of having my own classroom and inspiring students the way teachers in my past have inspired me,” said Burgett. “I do not think I would have gotten this far if not for SUNY Empire. The professors and the staff really care about you as an individual and want you to succeed. I truly believe that SUNY Empire is one of the best colleges because of everything that is offered. There are so many services to help you. The professors and staff are always willing to go that extra mile to make sure you succeed.”
Certified to teach English at the fifth- and 12th-grade levels, Burgett is a substitute teacher at Tapestry Charter High School in Buffalo.
She is active in the Williamsville PTSA Council’s units, where her children attend school.
Burgett is a member of the Williamsville North High School PTSA, where she volunteers at the school store, and as a member of the PTSA Heim Middle School Board of Directors.
A member of the Maple West Elementary School PTA, one of the council’s other units, she volunteers as a lunch monitor and with other activities, as needed.
For more than 21 years, Burgett has volunteered with the SPCA serving Erie County and is licensed as a state wildlife rehabilitator. She also volunteers at her church and is the treasurer of her 10-year-old daughter’s Girl Scout troop.
She also writes a column for The Buffalo News. In her story from the Sept. 5, 2015, edition, “Don’t let self-doubt quash your dreams,” she wrote about her inspirations, dreams and determination.
The Burgetts live in Williamsville, N.Y., with their children, Corinne, 15, Ian, 13, Miranda, 10 and eight-year-old Aidan.
Norma Rosa was selected to be a student speaker for the 2016 commencement event in Buffalo. Photo/Mary-Ann Ferree
About Norma Rosa '16
Rosa, 48, is the first in her family to attend college.
“I am very excited and proud to have been chosen to address my fellow graduates,” said Rosa. “Walking across the stage is a dream I never imagined would come true, but it did.”
Rosa participated in the college’s corporate partnership with GEICO and first enrolled with the college in 2010.
An employee in GEICO’s payment recovery department and a licensed insurance agent, she also is a licensed real estate agent in Florida and New York.
Part of Rosa’s motivation to complete a degree in business was her desire to be considered for other positions within the company.
She completed her degree through a combination of online and face-to-face learning, and also earned college credit for her college-level learning acquired through her career, including credit for her insurance and real estate licenses, as well as credit from her 16 years of experience in the hospitality industry.
Rosa said that she loved her experience with SUNY Empire so much that she is likely to return to the college as a graduate student.
Currently, she is studying to earn professional certification as a Charter Property Casualty underwriter.
She also invests in real estate and her husband, Juan Zea, fixes up the homes.
“We like our projects,” said Rosa. “It keeps us busy and working together.”
Rosa and Zea live in North Tonawanda.
Rosa is the mother of Anthony Steven, 32, Jenny, 26, Diana, 21, Daniel, 12, and the grandmother of 11.
The Syracuse commencement event takes place at 11 a.m., Sunday, June 5, Civic Center, 411 Montgomery Street, Syracuse, NY
In keeping with the college’s long-standing tradition, graduate and undergraduate students will provide commencement remarks at each of the college’s eight events.
For the first time, all of this year’s events will be streamed live via the Internet. The Syracuse commencement event will be available at
The class of 2016 commencement speakers at Syracuse are:
- Nichole Lent, 31, Cortland, NY, Bachelor of Science in Community and Human Services
- Rebecca Reese, 30, Jordan, NY, Bachelor of Science in Community and Human Services.
Nichole Lent '16 was chose to be a student speaker for the 2016 Syracuse commencement event. Photo/Empire State College
About Nichole Lent ’16
After completing an associate degree in business at Thompkins-Cortland Community College, Lent, 31, entered the banking/financial services field and, she said, was “moving up the corporate ladder quickly.”
Her first child, Seth, now 9 years old, was born with special needs and she struggled to find the balance between her career and caring for her son.
Eventually, Lent decided to leave her job and a promising career to devote her time to Seth.
“I was suddenly a stay-at-home mom lost in a world of doctors, specialists, acronyms and systems that I did not understand,” said Lent.
She found the world of special-needs services daunting and said, “I began to think ‘it is like you need a degree to figure this stuff out.’ It was at this point it kind of dawned on me that to help my son, and the countless other families out there who stand in my shoes, I did need a degree. That is how I ended up at SUNY Empire pursuing my degree in Community and Human Services with a concentration in children and family studies.”
In addition to Seth, Lent also cares for her 6-year-old daughter, Aubree, works full time as the owner/operator of a licensed home day-care center and manages a household.
Lent acknowledges that it took hard work to accomplish her goals and credits the support of her husband, Kevin, and of her parents, in helping her to complete her degree.
Her parents have expressed particular pride in her being the first in the family to earn a bachelor’s.
“When I receive my degree, it will be not only one of the greatest accomplishments in my life, but one that my family can share,” said Lent.
With her degree in hand, she plans on re-entering the workforce outside of home in a field that she believes she “was meant to be in.”
The Lent resides in Cortland, N.Y.
Rebecca Reese was selected to be a student speaker for the 2016 commencement event in Syracuse. Photo/Empire State College
About Rebecca Reese ’16
Rebecca Reese, a 30-year-old native and resident of Jordan N.Y., earned an associate degree from Cayuga Community College in 2006.
She began work on her bachelor’s in childhood education shortly thereafter, but after a few years of attending classes, she stopped because of her student debt.
She began her professional career with the Neighborhood House in Auburn, a now-closed day care facility, while still attending Cayuga, and then, in 2011, moved on to the E. John Gavras Center, which assists individuals with developmental and physical disabilities and their families to reach their potential and beyond.
But, she said, she had not finished her bachelor’s, never thought she would and experienced feelings of failure.
“To finally complete this degree means the world to me, because I have proven to my friends and family, and most importantly myself, that even though the work was paused, I followed through and came out successfully,” said Reese.
Reese credits Danielle Ambrose, Gavras’s current executive director and a SUNY Empire alumna, with suggesting she consider attending the college.
“My entire experience with SUNY Empire, from beginning to end, has been nothing but enjoyable,” said Reese. “I am forever grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way of this journey: Heidi Nightengale (Reese’s faculty mentor), Danielle Ambrose and, of course, my family and boyfriend. Without these folks, there is no way that I could have finished my degree the second go-round.”
In addition to her work as an accounts receivable billing specialist and certified professional coder at the Gavras center, Reese volunteers at Seward House Historic Museum in Auburn, and has begun the process of becoming a volunteer at the DIRT Museum and Hall of Fame in Weedsport, N.Y.
The Capital Region commencement event is scheduled for 11 a.m., Saturday, June 11, Empire State Plaza, South Mall Arterial, Albany, NY
For the first time, all of this year’s events will be streamed live via the Internet. The Albany - Capital Region commencement event will be available at
The class of 2016 commencement speakers at Albany are:
- Matthew Krzyston, 42, Delhi, NY, Master of Arts in Social and Public Policy
- Kim Russell, 50, Metairie, La., Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies.
Matthew Krzyston was selected to be a student speaker for the 2016 commencement event in Albany. Photo/Empire State College
About Matthew Krzyston ’16
In addition to his selection as a student speaker, Krzyston, 42, will be presented at the Albany event with the Dean’s Medal, in recognition of his academic achievements as a graduate student.
“It is an honor to be recognized and to be given the opportunity to address the graduates,” said Krzyston. “There were definitely times when I felt like I would never finish my (master’s) degree. I do not think I realized that online learning was going to be as demanding as it was for me. I am really grateful to the faculty and administration at Empire State College for getting me to the finish line. I feel like every adult learner who can manage a graduate degree, while balancing job and family, should be celebrated. I am certain that this graduation day is something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
“Matt's organization provides policy advice and humanitarian assistance in developing countries and, perhaps more importantly, currently serving nutritious meals to some 20,000 women, children and institutionalized patients each day,” said Tai Arnold, dean of the college’s School for Graduate studies, who will present Krzyston with his medal. “Putting his SUNY Empire education to work for the benefit of those less fortunate around the world amazes me and I am very proud that he is among our dean's medal recipients for the class of 2016.”
In 2003, Krzyston launched Resource & Policy Exchange, a nonprofit organization, whose mission is to equalize health-care standards, as well as improve access to information and local participation in government around the world.
RPX works closely with U.S. elected officials and foreign ministers to advocate for improved human services for vulnerable populations in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.
“I am so glad that I chose to pursue this specific degree (Master of Arts in Social and Public Policy) at Empire State College,” said Krzyston. “I chose the degree because I believed that it would be relevant to both my professional and personal interests, but honestly, I really did not realize just how beneficial it would be. I continually apply knowledge gained at ESC to both my domestic and international work. This journey has changed how I look at issues and how I solve problems.”
RPX receives operational funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of State, corporate sponsors, private foundations and individual contributors.
Krzyston also founded RPX Consulting Group, which has advised governments and international nonprofits on sustainable development programs and policies in more than 40 countries.
“I knew that I wanted to gain more knowledge to make me more effective as a community leader and as an international consultant,” said Krzyston. “Empire State College offered what I needed at a very fair price. My father inspired me to enroll, telling me that education is always a good investment. My wife kept me motivated to complete the journey.”
For his leadership and success in humanitarian efforts, Krzyston has earned special recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives and the New York State Assembly.
Previously, he was an automotive designer for Honda R & D Americas, Inc. before deciding to pursue international development and he earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Binghamton University in 1995.
Krzyston also is a visiting Instructor at SUNY Delhi and is actively involved in several community organizations including:
- the Greater Delhi Area Chamber of Commerce, where he serves as a member of the board of directors
- the Delhi Community Fund, where he serves as a member of the board of directors
- the Delaware County Community Action Network.
Krzyston and his wife, Maja, live in Delhi, N.Y., where he is a member of the Delhi Town Council, with their children Angelo, 7, and Niko, 7.
About Kim Russell
Kim Russell was selected to be a student speaker for the 2016 commencement event in Albany. Photo/Empire State College
Russell, 50, an interdisciplinary studies student, and a resident of Metairie, La., is legally blind and earned her degree online.
“I still cannot believe that I have been selected to be one of the commencement speakers for my graduation,” said Russell.
She also is a 2016 recipient of The Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, SUNY’s most prestigious student honor.
“SUNY Empire State College has given me the opportunity to work with some of their amazing faculty and staff,” said Russell. “These individuals have helped to make it possible for me to achieve my dream of earning a bachelor’s degree.”
Russell’s notable achievements include marching with the National Federation of the Blind on Capitol Hill and speaking in front of Congress and the Senate to help enforce the rights of the blind and elderly blind.
The Louisiana Center for the Blind newsletter published her article “The Phone Call That Changed My Life.”
In the fall of 2015, Russell was chosen as the keynote speaker for the SUNY FACT2 Disability Symposium, where she delivered “My Journey Through the Darkness.”
Her address focused on her experiences, what led her to this point in her life and the challenges and opportunities higher education has presented to her.
Russell is an active member of the Greater New Orleans Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind; an advisory member of the Mississippi/Louisiana Region of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for two-year colleges; presented a decision-making workshop at the University of Mississippi; spoke at the Batavia Bayou Cross Cultural Connection conference; and is vice president of the Grace King High School Alumni Association.
She also is a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and was involved in helping to rebuild the greater New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina. Russell also participates in the annual food drive for homeless veterans in the greater New Orleans area, created and wrote plays for graduations and Christmas celebrations at Noah’s Ark Christian Pre-school and Kindergarten and was chosen as a “Quiet Hero” by Channel 4 Eye Witness News for her work with children who live in the Methodist Home for Children, specifically launching a children’s literacy program.
Update: As of June 1, 2016, 293, associate, bachelor’s, master’s degrees and advanced graduate certificates were conferred at the college’s commencement event, which took place on the Purchase College campus this past Sunday.
Family and friends turned out in large numbers to support their graduates, proud members of the class of 2016.
The Hudson Valley commencement event takes place at 3 p.m., Sunday, June 12, PepsiCo Theater, Purchase College, 735 Anderson Hill Road, Purchase, NY
For the first time, all of this year’s events will be streamed live via the Internet. The Hudson Valley commencement event will be available at
The class of 2016 commencement speakers for the Hudson Valley are:
- Rosalyn Rodriguez, 48, Brewster, NY, Bachelor of Science in Business, Management and Economics
- Eileen Sullivan, 60, Somers, NY, Bachelor of Science in Business, Management and Economics.
Eileen Sullivan '16 addresses her fellow graduates at the college's commencement event at Purchase College. Photo/Empire State College
About Eileen Sullivan
In 1973 Sullivan, now 60, was the first in her family to attend college. She earned an associate from Westchester Community College two years later.
“I am extremely proud to be receiving my bachelor's degree at this time in my life and 41 years after receiving my associate degree,” said Sullivan. “I am honored to have been chosen to speak at graduation. It has been an amazing journey.”
She completed her degree through a combination of online and face-to-face learning.
“I prefer having in-person contact with classmates and I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated both modes of learning,” said Sullivan.
She also earned 19 credits for her college-level learning acquired through work and life experience.
“It is thanks to SUNY Empire's flexibility, varied modes of learning and mentoring program that I could complete my degree plan while working full time and spending time with my family and friends,” she said.
Sullivan credits her return to college to the advice of her best friend, who cautioned that it would be to Sullivan’s advantage to continue her education, “just in case.”
Unfortunately for Sullivan, after enrolling with SUNY Empire and finding the right work and life balance, she was laid off from her job in the health-care field in March of this year.
More than ever, she is grateful for her friend’s advice because, she said, “I am actively looking for employment and every position I am qualified for requires a bachelor's degree.”
Sullivan enjoys reading, exercising, spending time with her six grandchildren and traveling with her husband, Chris.
The Rochester commencement event takes place at 2 p.m., Sunday, June 12, Rochester Riverside Convention Center, 123 East Main Street, Rochester, NY
For the first time, all of this year’s events will be streamed live via the Internet. The Rochester commencement event will be available at
The class of 2016 commencement speakers at Rochester are:
- Joshua Cohen, 39, Henrietta, NY, Bachelor of Arts in Human Development
- Eric Schultz, 44, LeRoy, NY, Bachelor of Arts in Social Science.
Joshua Cohen completed his Bachelor of Arts in Human Development. Photo/provided
About Joshua Cohen
Cohen, a 39-year-old native of Henrietta, N.Y., said that completing his bachelor’s degree with SUNY Empire unlocked a passion for learning that he will bring to every area of his life.
“I am deeply honored and humbled to be addressing my fellow members of the class of 2016,” said Cohen. “Each one of us knows the struggle and triumph of academic rigor. Walking across the stage epitomizes the journey we have taken together. The (SUNY Empire State College) medallions signify not a destination but a token of new beginnings.”
About Eric Schultz
Eric Schultz, a citizen scientist and disabled veteran, is seen with his faculty mentor Julie Gedro, at left, and his wife, Jean, at the ceremony honoring The Chancellor’s Award Recipients. Photo/Empire State College
Schultz, 44, a disabled veteran from upstate Le Roy, N.Y., is a 2016 recipient of The Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, SUNY’s most prestigious student honor.
He served in the SUNY Student Assembly as a college representative, and is a research associate at the University at Buffalo Archeological Survey, Spaulding Lake dig site in Clarence, N.Y.
“I am very sad that college is over now, I wish I could stay there forever,” said Schultz. “I am, however, very happy to be going to graduate school and to be running the Western New York Osteological Survey, which has recently collected its 100th specimen.”
Schultz is licensed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation as part of his role as a founder of the Western New York Osteological Survey, which focuses on the study of bones. He is responsible for coordinating both his own specimen collection and those of other people, and prepares and analyzes specimens for cataloging in his home lab.
He was severely injured during a training mission while serving in the U.S. Army and, as a result, suffers from a significant disability. Through intensive rehabilitative work, he no longer needs his wheelchair and walks without the assistance of a cane.
Schultz also has autism spectrum disorder and completed his course work through guided independent study because of his discomfort with groups.
Beginning in 2013, he presented his academic work at SUNY Empire’s annual Student Academic Conference for three consecutive years.
At last year’s StAC, he presented on how, in the Western world, concepts of normative gender are reified and reproduced by a set of cultural rules and, in 2013, presented “Time is a Culturally Relative Social Contract,” demonstrating that time is a significantly important social contract and not a finite expression shared by all peoples.
Schultz also published an essay on the University at Buffalo Zooarcheology website titled, “Our Unsung Hero, the Blowfly,” based on his independent work, and presented at the biennial SUNY Undergraduate Research Conference in the area of small-animal specimen preparation.
He is a 2016 recipient of the Genesee Valley Center for the Rochester Area Colleges Outstanding Adult Student Award, given annually to adult students who demonstrate excellence in academics, while balancing family, employment, civic and community-service commitments.
Schultz is a volunteer field researcher for the Seneca Nation Elk Reintroduction Project Archaeological Survey. His efforts will provide the foundational data for a historic population study of elk in the state, which will be utilized by both the state DEC and the Seneca Nation to reintroduce elk into the state’s ecosystem.
He also developed and installed an odor-regulation system through the Dermestid Beetle Laboratory, helping to deploy an effective ventilation system at a UB dorm, which cost the university less than $100.
The New York City commencement event takes place at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, June 16, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY
For the first time, all of this year’s events will be streamed live via the Internet. The New York City commencement event will be available at
The class of 2016 commencement speakers at New York City are:
- Michael Bailey, 26, Manhattan, Bachelor of Science in Business, Management and Economics
- Lorraine Pippins, 49, Brooklyn, NY, Bachelor of Arts in Community and Human Services.
About Michael Bailey
Michael Bailey ’16 was selected to be a student speaker at the 2016 commencement event in Manhattan. Photo/Empire State College
Michael Bailey, a 26-year-old native and resident of New York City, sought out a SUNY Empire degree in order to advance his career.
“What I failed to recognize is that Empire State College is a platform for individuals to be empowered with knowledge and have access to tools to reinforce one’s skill sets,” said Bailey. “In the process of pursuing higher education, I am humbled to acknowledge that many individuals, professors, students and faculty have contributed to my success. I owe a debt to those who have brought renewed value to my life and enabled my moving forward in life with less uncertainty. It is to the members and community of SUNY Empire State College that I give gratitude and recognition in making me a better human being.”
Bailey attributed the value of a SUNY degree, in part, to the college’s legacy of success.
He specifically pointed to several alumni, Dorothy Brunson ’78, the first African-American woman to own a radio station, Brian Curran ’80, who graduated Harvard Law School to become legislative director of the New York State Public Employees Federation, and Lisa Brescia ’08, an actress who starred in the Broadway production of "Wicked" and many other productions, as tangible examples of what completing a SUNY Empire degree can mean.
“I am jubilant that Lorraine Pippin (the other student speaker at the Manhattan commencement event) and I are able to share in this honor and that we can stand before everyone to fully grasp how all members of the SUNY Empire State community have worked towards this pinnacle,” said Bailey.
About Lorraine Pippins
Lorraine Pippins, a 49-year-old resident of Brooklyn, completed a Bachelor of Arts in Community and Human Services and now is a proud member of the SUNY Empire State College class of 2016.
“I thank my husband, children, friends and all of SUNY Empire’s faculty for their support and encouragement,” Pippins said to fellow graduates. “I will tell you all, like my son told me, ‘It’s time for you to soar.’ Soar, excel to your fullest potential and make a positive impact on the world in which we live. Congratulations class of 2016. You are awesome.”
Pippins has been a foster parent to more than 20 children. She played a major role in establishing a nonprofit organization in Brooklyn, BedStuy Advocates, which trains individuals to become family advocates who, in turn, provide support for parents of children being served by various systems, such as education, child welfare, juvenile delinquency and mental health.
Pippins said, “So often, we are lost in the daily grind of life and family – work, school, everything – that we forget to give ourselves the credit we truly deserve for the incredible accomplishments we achieve, regardless of the demands we face every day.”
Associate Professor Shantih Clemans, Pippin’s faculty mentor, said that her student/mentee has a “… history of successful work in human services, as well as tremendous sensitivity and understanding about the complex and delicate needs of vulnerable populations, especially children and people with mental illness.”
Pippins also was a member of SUNY Empire State College Leadership Institute’s inaugural cohort, which provides students with a year-long experience to develop and enhance their skills in working with others to achieve common goals and positively impact the world.
“Three years ago, I entered an academic environment filled with support and flexibility and I was able to follow a degree plan that I designed,” said Pippins. “All of these factors played an important role in my journey and completion of my degree.”
As a student, Pippins was a 2015 recipient of the Student Service Award, which recognizes the college’s students who have dedicated themselves to improving the college community and the communities where they live and work.
The commencement event for the college’s labor students takes place at 6:30 p.m., Friday, June 17, Alfred Learner Hall, Columbia University, 2920 Broadway, New York, NY
For the first time, all of this year’s events will be streamed live via the Internet. The labor commencement event will be available at
The class of 2016 commencement speakers at event for labor students are:
- Hana Georg, 28, Brooklyn, NY, an apprentice with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3
- Robert T. Gouldsbury, Centereach, NY, an apprentice with the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry Local 1.
About Robert T. Gouldsbury
Robert T. Gouldsbury lives in Centereach, N.Y., with his wife, Marissa, and their two boys, Robert, 9, and Shane, 6.
He completed his Associate of Science in Labor Studies and earned a GPA of 3.95.
Gouldsbury said he was very surprised and honored when he learned that he had been chosen to be one of the commencement speakers, that he was nervous about making a speech and even briefly considered declining the invitation, “… but my wife talked me into it.”
Working all day and going to college at night was tough and hard on family life. “I leave at 4 a.m. in the morning, my kids are sleeping and I don’t get home until 9 o’clock at night,” said Gouldsbury. “I remember going home after my college nights. My wife’s in bed and I haven’t seen the kids all day, so that’s a little rough. But it’s all for the better. I am really happy with the outcome.”
In his commencement remarks, he praised Marissa for being such a strong woman, and thanked his sons for being good boys in school while he was working and studying.
Gouldsbury focused much of his speech on another union plumber, George Meany, who, after working in the field for 12 years, became a full-time union official and went on be the first president of the AFL-CIO, a post he held for 24 years.
He praised Meany’s vision, “… for union tradespeople to be respected, earn a fair wage and have opportunities to pursue their dreams. He knew that the better educated the membership was, the more intelligently the entire organization would run.”
Meany, Gouldsbury added, “… was a great unionist and, like Harry Van Arsdale Jr., who this program is named after, (he) helped many accomplish more with their lives through union membership. The vision of these great men have come true for us here at Empire State College.”
In expressing his appreciation for his SUNY Empire education, he praised his two favorite teachers: Stephen Flynn ’85, who taught U.S. History, and Barrie Cline ’01, ‘04, his art teacher.
Gouldsbury also thanked Local 1’s Arthur O. Klock Jr., director of trade education, and John Senay Jr., head trade instructor, and all the instructors at Local 1’s training center, “… for being such great mentors, and supplying us with the knowledge and skills we need to become masters of our trade.”
In conversation just prior to commencement, Gouldsbury said he had been working as a non-union plumber and, when he saw the opportunity to apply for an apprenticeship with Local 1, he went for it. “It was the right choice and I never looked back,” he said.
“Local 1 is a great organization,” he added. “I like the fact that (Local 1) is pushing to continue education and to keep everyone learning. It’s needed. We never stop learning. I think you’re a student for life, no matter what you are doing. You have to keep on improving in everything that you do.”
In closing his commencement remarks, Gouldsbury said, “As union people we must not only adapt, but remain leaders of innovation. We must work today to solve the problems of tomorrow and, by using our tradition of training and education, we will keep raising the bar and keep setting the highest industry standards.”
The Long Island commencement event takes place at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 18, Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, LIU Post Campus, 720 Northern Boulevard, Brookville, NY
For the first time, all of this year’s events will be streamed live via the Internet. The Long Island commencement event will be available at
The class of 2016 commencement speakers at Long Island are:
- Stefanie Bruemmer, 44, Miller Place, NY, Bachelor of Science in Business, Management and Economics
- Christopher Tarello, 39, Islip, NY, Bachelor of Science in Community and Human Services.
Stephanie Bruemmer was selected to be a student speaker for the 2016 commencement event on Long Island. Photo/Empire State College
About Stefanie Bruemmer
Stefanie Bruemmer, 44, the first of four children to earn a college degree, is a volunteer firefighter with the Miller Place Fire Department.
“I had a wonderful learning experience at SUNY Empire,” she said. “I was very concerned when I first enrolled that I would really struggle keeping up with my studies while working full time. However, all of my professors were very accommodating and worked within my schedule when coordinating meetings. Empire (State College) has a plethora of online resources and workshops available to students that made me feel very connected, even though I was not learning in a classroom setting. I personally feel that Empire (State College) provided me with an opportunity to earn a college degree in a manner that was more conducive to my learning style and did not have any negative impact on my professional life.”
Bruemmer works at Northwell Health (formerly the North Shore LIJ Health System) as assistant vice president for ambulatory applications.
“I have been very fortunate and, as a result of earning my bachelor’s degree, I was given a promotion at work to my current position of assistant vice president,” said Bruemmer. “In the future, I plan on sitting for the HIMSS CPHIMS certification, which requires a bachelor’s degree, in addition to years of experience.”
She completed her degree through one-to-one guided independent study with faculty mentors and two study groups, which are similar to a small class at a traditional college.
Bruemmer attributed much of her success to her primary faculty mentor, Ann Becker, whom, she said is, “… an unbelievably compassionate individual, who provided me with the guidance I needed to navigate Empire State (College). She instilled in me a confidence I did not know I had.”
Bruemmer credits Becker with getting to know her and her background and for identifying areas where she could earn credit for college-level learning she acquired through work and life experience.
By working with Becker through the college’s program of Individualized Prior Learning Assessment, Bruemmer earned 67 undergraduate credits, “… which allowed me to earn an associate degree in only 12 months and a bachelor’s degree in 24. I truly feel that without her support and encouragement, I would not be graduating so soon.”
Bruemmer also emphasized the benefits of a SUNY Empire education and degree apart from their job and career advantages.
“Completing my education at Empire State has given me peace of mind and a sense of security that I never had before,” said Bruemmer. “Even though I have been successful in my professional life, I always felt very vulnerable, as I work in an industry that emphasizes education. Personally, I feel that I now have opportunities available to me that I never had before.”
Bruemmer and her husband Matthew, live in Miller Place, N.Y., with their 18-year-old son AJ.
“I feel accomplished and empowered but, most importantly, I feel as if I am finally a good role model for my son,” she said.
About Christopher Tarello
Christopher Tarello and his wife, Theresa, a teacher, live in Islip, N.Y., with their sons Max, 5, and Caydon, 4.
In his remarks to members of the SUNY Empire class of 2016, he talked about discovering a love for learning as a young child, and used flying a kite as an analogy for his life’s journey.
As a kite, he soared, “… above the clouds, above the buildings, deep into the vast, blue sky. You could spin in the wind relentlessly, for hours, days, weeks, months, years.”
What he said he did not know until later in life was the difference between aimlessness and ambition.
As Tarello’s life journey continued, he related to his peers how his real-world experiences, good and bad, led him to discover his talents and true passions: “This down-to-earth, hands-on, day-to-day living, struggling, reevaluating, climbing-back-up-again kind of experience doesn’t come from chasing our colorful tails in fairytale skies; it comes from using hands and feet and intuition.”
For him, climbing over obstacles was an ongoing process, which enabled him to recognize the “gravity” of existence.
A large part of Tarello’s life struggles concern Max, who was born with significant learning disabilities and is legally blind.
His experience and challenges in getting the help and services is son needs, has led Tarello to help other families through volunteer work with Autism Speaks, a national, nonprofit science and advocacy organization.
Completing a college degree was another significant, life obstacle.
“I started college in 1994 and was in and out of school for 20 years and not able to attain a degree,” Tarello said after the commencement ceremony. “Empire enabled me to do that, which was amazing.”
Even before completing his bachelor’s degree, he completed the substantial education, training and work requirements required to become a New York state credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor.
Tarello’s next academic goal is to earn a Master’s in Social Work so that he can advance his career and help more people recover from alcoholism and substance abuse.
Today, Tarello told members of the class of 2016, he has his feet firmly planted on the ground, while his hands hold tightly to his kite’s string.
Media contact: David Henahan, director of communications
518-587-2100, ext. 2918