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Hudson Valley Press

March 19th, 2014

SUNY Orange Presents Sojourner Truth Awards

The Honorable Maria Vazquez-Doles was the Keynote Speaker for the 28th Annual Sojourner Truth Awards, held at SUNY Orange in Middletown, NY on Friday, March 14, 2014. Hudson Valley Press/CHUCK STEWART, JR.

MIDDLETOWN - SUNY Orange celebrated the outstanding achievements of 480 local students attending Orange County schools last Friday when the College hosted the awards ceremony for its 24th Sojourner Truth Awards Program at the Middletown campus.

The Sojourner Truth Awards Programs hails students from grades 6 through 12 who have excelled in areas such as athletics, citizenship, creative arts, diversity, English language arts, foreign languages, perseverance/effort, sciences and technology.

The program aims to promote education in a positive manner and motivate students who are from groups that are traditionally under-represented in the college population to consider college as a viable and attainable goal. The honored students were acknowledged during the awards ceremony.

The evening’s keynote speaker was the Honorable Maria Vazquez-Doles, Supreme Court Justice for the Ninth Judicial District of New York. Her district includes the counties of Orange, Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess and Putnam. She is the only Latina Supreme Court Justice in those five counties.

Vazquez-Doles graduated and earned her Juris doctorate from Touro Law School in 1997, and began her career working as a defense attorney. Very quickly she was promoted to litigation manager in the Mass Toxic Tort litigation. In 2001, she worked as a court attorney for the Supreme Court, New York County, where she researched and drafted decisions for approximately 60 judges.

She later opened her private practice and concentrated in the area of residential and commercial real estate transactions, landlord/tenant proceedings, family law and matrimonial law. Vazquez-Doles became a Town Judge in the Town of Monroe in 2009, where she received an overwhelming 85 percent of the votes in the general election to become the first and only elected Latino judge in Orange County. As town judge in Monroe, with the largest population in Orange County, she presided over 400 cases per month, including misdemeanor criminal cases, landlord/tenant actions, small claims, traffic, zoning and town ordinance cases.

On Nov. 5, 2013, Vazquez-Doles was elected to serve as Supreme Court Justice for the Ninth Judicial District.

She has served as the Chair of the Latino Democratic Committee of Orange County and was president of the Friends of the Monroe Free Library. She has earned numerous awards, including the Orange County Award for Volunteerism, the Orange County Annual Youth Bureau Award, and the prestigious Flor de Maga Award as Business Attorney of the Year from the Puerto Rican Bar Association.

In addition to speeches and the awards ceremony, the evening’s program featured a presentation of colors by the Middletown High School Junior ROTC and entertainment by Jeremy Palermo, a member of the Newburgh Performing Arts Center.

Sojourner Truth, for whom the program is named, lived in the mid-Hudson Valley after escaping from slavery. She is hailed as one of the most distinguished and highly regarded women of the 19th century. Born Isabella Bomefree (later spelled Baumfree) about 1797 in Hurley, N.Y., Isabella was sold four times, until she and her daughter were given their freedom in 1828. Isabella spoke low Dutch until she was about 10 years old and never learned to read or write.

In 1843 she changed her name to Sojourner Truth to better reflect her chosen missions of traveling to show people their sins and telling them what is true. Sojourner Truth is often referred to as one of the most effective and powerful speech-makers of her time.

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