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Student Spotlight: Meet Nicholas Coppola ’91, ‘15

By Anthony Doran, student, SUNY Empire State College

August 6, 2015

Nicholas Coppola, Empire State College Student, speaks at graduationA week before Empire State College’s 2015 Long Island location commencement ceremony, I had the honor of looking over undergraduate student Nicholas Coppola’s speech. I knew immediately that Coppola’s story of perseverance and dedication had to be shared. He has never let an obstacle get in the way of his achievements, and I admire his resilience and passion.

A lifelong resident of New York, Coppola lives with his husband David and their two dogs Molly and Pepper. He graduated this past June earning a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services, with a concentration on HIV/AIDS Advocacy. He also is the founder and president of Empire State College’s first student alumni club that represents Empire’s LGBTQ community and their allies.

After sustaining a back injury in 2008, Coppola was forced to retire from his job as an electrician. Not caring for the word or concept of “disabled” Coppola saw this as an opportunity to redefine himself. Because he’d already received an associates from SUNY Empire State College in 1991, Empire was the obvious choice for his bachelor’s. After his injury, Coppola’s experience with the healthcare system inspired him to study human services because he noticed that no one seemed to be advocating for the people who could not advocate for themselves.

Coppola’s experience brought back memories of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Coppola himself, has seen firsthand the devastation of the disease. In the mid ‘80s Coppola met someone special. He describes the relationship as being the first time he felt truly free. He no longer felt the shame and guilt from a lifetime of being told homosexuality is evil and perverted. Their relationship brought happiness when he needed to escape the animosity he faced at home after being “outted” by a family member. But sadly, the relationship ended as all too many did in the gay community during the ‘80s when Coppola’s partner died of AIDS related complications. When asked about that period in his life, Coppola said he was terrified. “People were dying literally overnight. I was numb to my surroundings. We knew nothing and it was scary as hell.” He said. Most people would be crippled by fear, but not Coppola. He has used that feeling of loss and fear to fan the flames that keep the advocate in him going. He has been on the front line with many organizations, including the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), advocating against HIV/AIDS discrimination and working tirelessly for nearly 30 years to remove the stigma of the disease. Today, Coppola serves as one of the board of directors at GMHC.

Coppola did not stop there. When he saw a need at SUNY Empire State College for a club that would represent its LGBTQ community and its allies, Coppola called his mentor, assistant professor Leah Perry, and within weeks the club had its first meeting. Since then, the club has participated in Long Island Pride and Coppola has gone out to Rochester Pride for a networking event. The club also has quite a few events in the works such as a human library, a bus trip to Washington, DC and volunteer opportunities. When asked what his goals for the club are, Coppola said, “To see it grow!” In just three months the club membership has increased to 30 members, not including those who signed up during the Rochester Pride networking event, which have not yet been processed. Coppola plans to remain involved beyond his recent graduation.

Coppola has faced many obstacles throughout his life, and has managed to turn them into something positive for himself and for people who may face similar hardships. He is not just a fighter, but also a giver. Coppola has left his mark on Empire State College and society because of his selflessness and desire to give back. He is a relentless advocate that I am lucky to know and call a friend.         

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Did You Know

40 percent of 2013 SUNY Empire State College graduates surveyed got jobs directly related to their areas of study.

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