By Dan Hust
LOCH SHELDRAKE May 18, 2004 Christie Failla was just one graduate amongst 156 Saturday.
But just like the rest of those who completed a course of study at Sullivan County Community College, she was both relieved and anxious.
Failla, 27, felt great about earning her first-ever college degree, an associates in nursing. But inside the colleges humid Loch Sheldrake fieldhouse Saturday afternoon, she was already making plans to continue in the new four-year program SCCC is now offering in cooperation with SUNY New Paltz.
No slowing down here Faillas got plans to head down the road from her Loch Sheldrake home to the college this fall to gain her bachelors in nursing and fulfill a blooming dream.
I felt there was a need for nurses, and I like to help people, she remarked just before joining her classmates in the procession down the fieldhouses springy gym floor.
Her husband Bobby, a corrections officer with the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department, wasnt nearly as modest about her accomplishments.
Im very proud of her, he said happily. It was a lot of hard work, while also trying to be a wife, a mother.
And it wasnt just tough for Christie Bobby and their daughter Heather, 7, put up with sleepless nights studying and rendezvouses with mom sometimes just once a week.
And in the fall, it will start all over again. Only this time, Bobby sees something much brighter: the familys future.
You need two incomes these days, he said. And we can pretty much move anywhere now.
That bright future was painted in quite a wide range of colors Saturday at the college, from class speaker and Human Services grad MaryAnne Silverstrim to New Hope consumer Margaret Doran.
At 89, Doran easily took the title of eldest graduate.
Receiving a diploma in music, Doran proudly joined fellow New Hope clients who had completed coursework through SCCCs Special College for Enrichment, run by Karen Speckler and servicing people from New Hope, SullivanARC, the Center for Discovery and Crystal Run Village.
Every Monday, I come here to class, said Doran, who evidently didnt plan on stopping just because she graduated. I enjoy music very much.
Those earning accolades, however, werent just the students.
Photography/Graphic Arts professor L. Jack Agnew and Liberal Arts professor Vern Lindquist were each honored with the Chancellors Award for Excellence presented by none other than SUNY Chancellor Robert King himself.
King said he tries to make 6-8 SUNY graduations every May, although hes invited to every single one. With 64 campuses, its an honor to have him actually attend, said SCCC President Mamie Howard Golladay.
I put in my request early, she remarked with a smile.
Referencing Liberty businessman Alan Gerry in particular, King explained why he chose SCCC as one of the graduation ceremonies at the top of his list.
Its enjoyable seeing how supportive this community has been of the college, he said.
King was no more pleased than when he had a chance to confer SUNYs highest honor, an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, on Gerry, who has donated millions of dollars to the college for various buildings and programs.
He has taken his success and shared it with so many others, said King of Gerry. I would hope that the example he has set . . . will be learned by all of our graduates.
Gerry was his usual modest self in accepting yet another award.
Today is not about me. Its about you, he said to the grads. All of us up here [on the stage] are very, very proud of you.
Now you have become a role model.
Indeed, there was no end of advice and congratulations for the students and their families.
Surely this is a crowning moment in life, said Golladay to the crowd of hundreds. I, as president of this college, am so proud of every one of you.
I can feel the energy in the air, remarked Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther. Congratulations for staying the course. You have received a superb education which provides a foundation you can build upon for your entire life. . . . Your energy, talent and good ideas will help us move forward in these challenging times.
[SCCC] is truly one of the cornerstones of Sullivan County, added Sullivan County Legislature Chair Chris Cunningham, who urged the grads to pursue their dreams.
You are the reason we are here, said former SCCC board trustee Harold Gold to the assembled masses.
Gold recounted at length the colleges 40 years of existence, focusing in particular on its difficult but ultimately rewarding birth and infancy. The Class of 2004 stood testament to that fact.
Indeed, said Chancellor King, in many instances, community colleges make all the difference.
State Senator John Bonacic charged the new graduates, I would ask you to give something back when that time comes.
Added Gerry, Dont forget the people who helped make it possible when you go out to make your mark on the world.
Class speaker MaryAnne Silverstrim, a Monticello native with a 3.98 grade point average, took that message to heart.
There are some people who feel every individual has a chance to succeed [on their own], she began. In my opinion, these people are wrong.
Silverstrim said it often takes others willing to help the disadvantaged to create successful individuals who make an impact on society.
Many refer to these children as throwaway kids, she explained. These kids were the definition of resiliency. . . . In my eyes, they were each a survivor.
You see, I was one of those kids, she continued. In many ways, I believed my past automatically dictated my future. . . . I gradually began to believe in myself.
I am not standing here today because I alone got myself here, she said. SCCC gave me a second chance.
But that doesnt mean Silverstrim will forget the many other young people needing guidance and assistance indeed, the Chancellors Award winner for student excellence is planning on attending the College Misericordia near Scranton, Pa. in the fall to earn a degree in social work.
If I make it, I make it with the knowledge that many didnt, she remarked. If I do nothing with that knowledge, then I will have failed.
I wont forget my past, she concluded. I will do everything I can to instill hope . . . in the children who do have a chance.