It was a threatening and overcast Sunday afternoon. A few thousand people had gathered at Veterans Plaza, the grand concourse at Suffolk County Community College's Ammerman campus, for its' annual commencement.
There was a contagious spirit and positive energy among the more than fifteen hundred graduates who had assembled for this time honored tradition that they had earned the right to participate in.
Dr. Shirley Robinson-Pippins, the President of Suffolk County Community College, welcomed the graduates, their families and their friends. After her warm welcome, she set the positive tone for this year's commencement exercises, she reminded the graduates of their many gifts and untapped potential and possibility. She also reminded them not to settle. She said if you want to be a teacher, think about becoming a principal, a superintendent or even a college president. If you are interested in nursing, think about becoming a nursing supervisor. If you are interested in business, pick management and even the possibility of creating and owning your own business.
Her enthusiastic words of encouragement reminded the graduates that Suffolk Community provided them with an excellent foundation to take their careers to the outer limits and become the best that they can be.
Her opening remarks were interrupted a number of times by enthusiastic responses from the graduates. It was apparent that as president, she was very connected to her students and not an absentee administrator like some college presidents.
Many of this year's graduates were continuing on their higher education journey by attending some of the finest colleges and universities in the country.
Probably, the most touching moment at this commencement was the student speaker, who was chosen from her peers. Christine Schmidle graduated among the top of her class. Her journey to Suffolk was amazing. She elected to leave her home country, Germany and live in a foreign country, learn a new language and adapt to all of our cultural nuances.
Her address was amazing. Her use of English was exceptional and her message was both challenging and affirming: the important mission of the college. She spoke about how as a foreign student, she was overwhelmed with people's hospitality and willingness to help her. She spoke of the dedication and exceptional caliber of the faculty. Most importantly, she spoke about how Suffolk County Community College empowered her to make her dream come true - to pursue the performing arts and theater.
She was articulate, witty, challenging and refreshing. The only down side to the experience is that there were too many speeches from the political bureaucracy. That really took away from the reason we were all there.
As I took leave that Sunday, after that invigorating experience, I realized what has energized me to be a part of the adjunct faculty at Suffolk these past twenty-four years. The students, the faculty and our leadership have created such a life-giving environment that if one is open to learn, what a tremendous opportunity Suffolk County Community College offers any student of any age, background or career interest. It is one of our greatest treasures in Suffolk and also one of our best-kept secrets.
Over the years some of my finest students have sat in my classes. I stood before them amazed at their capacity to critically think. Equally as important was their desire to learn and soak up as much new knowledge as possible.
Our Community College provides an endless list of opportunities for students who want to develop a solid foundation in higher education. In addition to exceptional educational opportunities, the college offers a wide range of athletic opportunities. And for the socially minded who wish to strengthen their social consciousness and awareness, there are a wide range of clubs and activities that are both challenging and enjoyable.
The spirit of celebration and mutual respect was so refreshing, especially at a time when we constantly hear in the media about all the negative behaviors college students are engaged in. How wonderful to be at such an event that celebrated diversity in achievement and that celebrated the best within so many of our young people.
As parents, we need to take a closer look at what opportunities in higher education are available to our children. Too often because we operate out of ignorance, we dismiss a community college as not having the right foundation for our children.
Due to our close mindedness, too often Suffolk Community is referred to as "grade thirteen and fourteen" or as "Scruffic." To the contrary, some of the most challenging intellectual opportunities in higher education can be found at Suffolk. At any college or university around the country, if a student wanted to get over on the system, there is always a way.
Over the years, I have heard countless stories of men and women who began their higher educations at Suffolk. They were unsure of what career path to pursue. At Suffolk, they each found direction and developed the skills that they say contributed substantially to their success.