Photos by Lauren Thomas
Observing the lengthy procession of proud and happy about-to-be graduates filing into the Old Main Quad at SUNY New Paltz for undergraduate commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 17, it was hard not to think about where the 1,857 students receiving a degree that day would find a place to put it to use. But honorary degree recipient and commencement speaker, Bre Pettis, co-founder of MakerBot, a leading force in the world of 3D printing, told the sea of students in royal blue cap and gown gathered before him not to worry about entering a world without jobs for them. “It has never been a better time to do anything,” he said. “You have the ability to become the people you need to be to solve any problem or make anything happen… Don’t look for a job, look for interesting problems to solve.”
His own company was started in order to solve a problem, Pettis said: He’d wanted a 3D printer but couldn’t afford one. In founding MakerBot to create affordable and accessible 3D printers, Pettis achieved what he told the students they were capable of, too. And if there’s a skill to learn in life, he added, it’s knowing how to rebound. Failure in life is to be anticipated, he told them; the key is to embrace failures as critical lessons learned and bounce back.
The ceremonies were presided over by SUNY New Paltz president Donald Christian. More than 1,300 graduates participated in the day’s events, their accomplishment shared with several thousand of their friends and family members who filled every chair in the audience and packed the surrounding grounds. The ceremonies recognized two cohorts of students — August and December 2014 graduates and May and August 2015 candidates — from SUNY New Paltz’s schools of education, fine and performing arts, business, science and engineering and the liberal arts and sciences.
The salutatorian was Sarah Walling, class of 2014, who majored in Spanish and minored in linguistics and music at the university. Valedictorian Marisa Gargaro completed her degree requirements for a communication disorders major with a minor in linguistics in just three years. Her message to her fellow graduating students was simple and direct: Value your friendships, appreciate your mentors and don’t let reaching a milestone like college graduation mark the peak experience of life. Instead, she recommended, “Let it be the start to the best years of your life.”
Bre Pettis received an honorary doctorate of humane letters (L.H.D.) during Sunday’s ceremonies. Described as “one of the most influential minds in technology,” his partnership with SUNY New Paltz in the nation’s first MakerBot Innovation Center on campus has helped the university move to the forefront in 3D technology. The center at SUNY New Paltz has become the primary hub for 3D printing and advanced manufacturing in the state, educating the public about and providing local business and industry access to the technology. Three-D printers have been around for nearly 30 years, but Pettis created a desktop version accessible in both use and price for the average consumer market. To date, MakerBot has sold more than 80,000 3D printers and has more than 600 employees.
The Chancellor’s Award for student excellence was awarded to five members of the class of 2015: Fatima Ismail, Anne Jacobs, Brittany Noble, Alyssa Stock and Miriam Ward.
The processional and recessional music was performed live by the Hudson Valley Brass Quintet on trumpet, horn, trombone and tuba. A dozen or so students from the 18-member ensemble Absoluta Cappella, which includes members of the classes of 2015 through 2018, sang the school’s Alma Mater sweetly, with a little rhythmic accompaniment coming from the graduating students sitting some distance away. The National Anthem was delivered in a lovely and strong, clear voice by Julie Salvas, a Highland native (graduate of Highland High School 2010) and now a bachelor of science degree holder in classical voice from SUNY New Paltz, class of 2015. Her plans post-graduation include spending the summer in Massachusetts with her parents Anne and Bill, who were on hand Sunday proudly sharing in the festivities, and then she’ll move to the city to do graduate studies at the Manhattan School of Music, she said. The Salvas family includes sons John and Brian, but Julie is the youngest.
So how does it feel to see the youngest through college now? “Awesome,” said her dad, a SUNY New Paltz alumnus himself, class of 1990. “It’s an accomplishment.”