More than 1,500 graduate at SUNY New Paltz commencement

SUNY New Paltz grads celebrate at commencement exercises last Sunday in the Old Main quad. (Lauren Thomas)

Families, friends and educators flooded the Old Main Quadrangle this past Sunday morning to celebrate the 2012 SUNY New Paltz commencement, which included 1,291 undergraduates and 231 graduate candidates. As the graduates marched into the Old Main seating area outdoors, people crowded against the exterior fencing to try to wave to their graduate, take a quick photo or video of the prestigious rite of higher educational passage. One of these was the brother-in-law of Devon Walker, whose family is from Brooklyn. “We are excited and proud of him,” said his brother-in-law with a thick Jamaican accent. “It’s always wonderful when a family member has reached that level of education. I hope that he dedicates himself to whatever he chooses to do in his life, even when obstacles present themselves, and that he remains true to himself.”

Although her daughter had long graduated, Lucille Carlini of Clintondale was waiting anxiously to see her daughter Corinna Coracci, director of residence life at SUNY New Paltz, announce the names of the graduates. “I’m so proud of her,” said Carlini, who raised Corinna and her sister as a single mother and waitress. “She really put herself through college at SUNY Oneonta. She worked as an RA [Resident Assistant] there, which helped pay her tuition. She kind of got her tenure at Oneonta, and then came to New Paltz when there was an assistant director position. And eventually, after the director’s position became open and the college did a worldwide search, they hired her!”

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Carlini, who has just recovered from open-heart surgery, noted how “well Corinna took care of me. This is my first day in heels!” She said that she was inspired by her daughter in many ways. “Corinna is a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed when she was 18 and a freshman in college. That brave girl would travel down to New York City for treatments and then back up to college. She’s everything a mother could dream of in a daughter.”

Proud aunt Vicky DiStefano was there to watch her niece Lori Harris graduate with a degree in journalism. Harris, who hails from Long Island, “already has a job with a law firm, where she works in their Media Relations Department, so I’m ecstatic for her. She’s a happy young woman who loves what she’s doing, and she said she owes so much to her experience at SUNY New Paltz.”

There were several local graduates, including Kristen Gray of Modena, who received a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Communication. She began her college career at Dutchess Community College, and said that it was a smooth transition over to SUNY New Paltz, as well as being close to home and having the major in which she was interested. Even though she was a commuting student, Gray said that she always felt “a part of the campus community,” and credited her faculty mentors, Professor Munz and Professor Wrench, for “being vital to my success.” While studying at SUNY-New Paltz, Gray was able to secure an internship with Target through the school’s Career Resource Center, and is now returning to Target, where she is expecting to be hired to a full-time management position.

Rachel Carr, from Middletown, received a Bachelor’s degree in Science and Marketing and was very much a part of the SUNY and greater New Paltz community during her tenure at the college. As an active member of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), Carr helped to sponsor an event at Water Street Market in downtown New Paltz where college students, particularly artists and craftspeople, were able to sell their wares, meet local business-owners and network. “This club provided me with a group of people that I felt I belonged to,” said Carr. “I have made extensive connections with teachers, local business-owners and students, which I would not have made otherwise.” Her future plans are to interview locally looking for sales jobs and event planning positions. She said she that would “eventually like to return to school” for her Master’s degree.

These are only a few of the many stories and experiences of graduates who are now entering the workforce or internships, heading back home, staying in New Paltz and/or pursuing further education.

The commencement speaker was College of Staten Island president Dr. Tomás Morales, an alumnus of SUNY-New Paltz who has recently taken a new post as president of California State University at San Bernardino. SUNY New Paltz president Dr. Donald Christian honored Morales with an honorary Doctorate of Human Letters at the ceremony, and said that for more than “three decades” he has served in various higher education administrative positions, and had to “overcome financial and cultural obstacles,” having been born in Puerto Rico and immigrated to the US. “He is the ideal role model for all of our students, but particularly those who come from traditionally underrepresented cultural groups and lower-income families,” said the president. “Dr. Morales’ belief in the transformative capacity of education comes from his personal experience and the benefits of being the first in his family to become a college graduate,” added Christian.

Hats and tassels flew through the air as the crowd roared and the graduates took their first step into a brave new world. ++