NEWBURGH – A bright, sunny day during Mount Saint Mary College’s 50th annual commencement ceremony ushered in a new era for 627 bachelor’s and master’s degree candidates.
The tent on the Dominican Center Field buzzed with anticipation as thousands of parents, relatives and friends of the graduates-to-be gathered to witness the academic achievement.
Inside Aquinas Hall, students could hardly contain their excitement as they waited to walk across the stage and into their future. At last, traditional bagpipe music filled the air, and James Finn Cotter, longtime Mount English professor, once again bore the mace, leading the long procession into the tent.
With faculty and administrators seated on stage, Mount president Fr. Kevin E. Mackin, OFM, continued his tradition of inviting the graduating class to "give yourself a hug" for a job well done.
He encouraged them to continue using their skills of mind and habits of heart.
"When called to choose in our work between excellence and quality, and what is slipshod or just enough, choose excellence and quality," said Fr. Mackin. "Go the extra mile to make something just right because it is the better and worthy thing to do."
Fr. Mackin went on to add, "Congratulations, Godspeed and God bless you Class of 2013, the Mount’s newest alumni."
The college conferred honorary doctorate degrees upon three accomplished speakers: William Kaplan, successful entrepreneur and philanthropist; James Patterson, best-selling author; and Sandra Gerry, chair of the Sullivan Renaissance.
A staunch supporter of the Mount, William Kaplan surveyed the graduates with a smile, before exclaiming, "This is awesome!"
Kaplan emphasized that Mount graduates have made a huge difference in Newburgh, the city he loves dearly.
"On behalf of this community, we thank you," he said to those on hand. "You’ve been absolutely amazing."
Kaplan also thanked Mount Hispanic studies teacher Karen Eberle-McCarthy for her and her student volunteers’ English as a second language classes at the Armory. He used the tireless volunteerism of Maria Moorman, Hispanic studies major and member of the graduating class, as a shining example.
He also recognized education professors Janine Bixler and David Gallagher, as well as all the other Mount faculty and students who have lent their time and skills to the project.
Kaplan has supported the Mount through scholarships and projects including the Hudson Hall renovation; Elaine and William Kaplan Recreation Center and fields; the Mathematics, Science & Technology Center; and the Dominican Center. Kaplan continues to show faith in the City of Newburgh, investing in projects which enrich the lives of residents. He has also championed the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor.
Newburgh native and worldwide literary phenomenon James Patterson returned to his hometown to congratulate the newest Mount Saint Mary graduates.
"You guys made it. All right!" he said enthusiastically, prompting a cheer from the seniors.
The author pointed out that he was born in Newburgh’s St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital, just a few blocks south of the college grounds.
"It’s really, really, really great to be back home," said Patterson. "I can honestly say that this is where I started out as a writer. The best-selling writer in the world comes from Newburgh."
Patterson described life as a juggling act, wherein work is a rubber ball that will bounce back if dropped. But family, friendship, spirituality, and health are made of glass – and will scuff and shatter if they are allowed to hit the hard ground.
The message was a simple one: "Strive for more balance in your life," he advised
Sandra Gerry, creator of the Sullivan Renaissance, encouraged graduates to give back to their communities.
Gerry believes that residents can use flowers and gardens to enhance the appearance of Sullivan County, while also cultivating community pride and spirit. Now completing its 13th successful year, Sullivan Renaissance has grown into a year-round community development program involving thousands of volunteers from all 15 towns in Sullivan County.
"Each of you can make a difference," she said. "No matter how small the contribution, the collective impact for good can be enormous. As you sit here today ready to receive your diplomas, you are in the perfect place to give back, to pay it forward, to volunteer of yourself. I challenge you to make a difference by sharing some of your great talents and resources, and to lead by example."
In addition to beautification and environmental efforts as a "renaissance woman," for many years Gerry has been an integral part of the Sullivan County Community College Foundation’s Annual Scholarship Benefit Gala. As an educator and having been involved in the teaching profession, the success of scholarship programs is one of her special concerns, raising more than $1 million in scholarship funds. She is also Director of Allocations for the Beaverkill Foundation, established by the Gerrys to assist charitable causes in Sullivan County.
As it came time for the graduates to receive their hard-earned diplomas, hundreds of hearts beat faster and faster. Delight washed over the graduates and their families, who looked on proudly. With a handshake and a beaming smile from Fr. Mackin, the candidates officially transitioned from students to alumni of Mount Saint Mary College.