Three commencement ceremonies. Three valedictorian speakers. And thousands of graduates, relatives and friends comprising three sets of energized crowds at NYCB Theatre at Westbury for SJC’s Class of 2017 graduation.
Before SJC Long Island’s guests of honor departed with their diplomas, they processed through the VIP entrance at NYCB. The three graduating classes of the day – the Blue and Gold commencement ceremonies for undergraduates started at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., respectively, while the Green Ceremony for students receiving advanced degrees kicked off at 6 p.m. – arrived in giddy anticipation.
Many families were on hand to offer their support and share their stories. “I’m really excited and confident,”said Karina Pistorio of Deer Park. “I’m going to be a teacher. Next step is my master’s.”
“I’m very proud of her, I raised her as my own daughter,” said Pistorio’s grandfather Joseph Citrano. “She lost her mother and her dad. So her grandmother and I raised her.
“I was there when my daughter graduated from college, and now I’m here for my granddaughter,” he added.
Not Going to See His Mom “Just Late at Night”
It’s hard to imagine words that better represent the importance of the day than the ones uttered by 10-year-old Jacob Faison after he watched his mom, Christin Elliott, walk off the stage with a bachelor’s degree in hand.
“I feel happy for her that I can spend more time with her. I’m not going to see her just late at night,” Jacob said of his mom, a computer information technology major who will start work immediately as a software engineer at Netsmart Technologies. “We can do more things together.”
Elliott, 36, a 1999 William Floyd High School graduate, explained that she had worked full-time as an ophthalmic technician in Hauppauge, while attending SJC Long Island since 2014.
“This degree – this moment – means a better life for my child and myself. The sky is the limit,” said the single mother. “The biggest challenge for me was working full-time, and then raising a child … and making sure I didn’t miss any of his lacrosse games.”
A photo of Jacob was glued to the top of Elliott’s graduation cap, next to the message, “Many times I wanted to give up, but then I remembered why I started.”
“At St. Joe’s, they really want you to succeed,” Elliott said with a beaming smile. “It’s not a college where they just take your money and not care whether you pass or fail. They really want to see you succeed and they really genuinely care.”
Jacob wasn’t the only proud child at the ceremonies. During the Gold commencement ceremony, when Sophia SandraLee Johnson was called to the stage to get her degree, a little boy screamed, “That’s my mom,” and the entire theater erupted in laughter and applause.
Sisters and Degrees at Commencement
Christina Bernstein of Medford, a child study major whose sister Melissa previously graduated from SJC Long Island to become a teacher as well, was joined by her father, David.
“SJC has a really good program for what I wanted to do,” Bernstein said. “They prepare you exceptionally well for the field, so I feel like I was given the knowledge for what I needed. And what I needed to be successful.”
For others, it was a second chance to be present for a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
Brian Rooney was on deployment in spring 2010 when his wife Cassandra graduated from SJC Long Island as class valedictorian.
“I was on deployment at the time, so I was unable to attend,” Rooney said.
“He came home and was thinking about going back to school,” said Cassandra, who also earned her master’s degree from SJC in 2012. “He got back to his education. Now we have a daughter, and he’s graduating today.”
Rooney completed his degree in human services, a diploma that serves him well as a Suffolk County Veterans Office employee. “(At SJC) I learned how to advocate for my fellow veterans and service them better,” he said.
Ryan Mumford, a 2012 SJC graduate, had the honor of hooding his mother, Deborah Mumford ’14, as she received her master’s degree in human resources. Ryan, 30, and Deborah, 62, both previously received bachelor’s degrees in organizational management from the College. Deborah Mumford earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees B.S. while working at SJC’s Office of the Registrar in Great River.
A Husband and Wife Who Study Together, Stay Together
Michael Paterno and his wife Meghan, who both earned a bachelor’s from SJC Long Island in 2013, collected their master’s degrees in literacy at the Green ceremony.
“It’s the end of a very long journey together, and now we get to start the rest of our lives,” Michael Paterno said about graduating with his wife. “We’ve come full circle,” added Meghan Paterno.
The three ceremonies featured opening and closing remarks by SJC President Jack P. Calareso, Ph.D., as well as speeches from students — psychology major Amanda Rose Butera at the Blue Ceremony; mathematics major Travis Villez at the Gold Ceremony and Veronica Pezdan, a mathematics education major at the Green Ceremony.
“I know that I have the most amazing group of professionals in my field completely backing me up and cheering me on, and nothing is better than that,” Butera said.
Villez stated in his commencement address that “The future is now present and the idea of going into the world and creating a life is now a reality.”
“St. Joseph’s College has provided us with a unique opportunity to help make a difference in the world,” Pezdan told a late afternoon crowd, before the conferral of graduate degrees at the Green commencement ceremony. “We, the graduating Class of 2017, have the power, wisdom and courage to change the world, so let’s do it!”
Three Back Surgeries Couldn’t Stop Her
Feeling particularly inspired at the ceremony for graduate students was Mitsie Paisley, who received her master’s in human resources management. It was her second degree earned in two years from SJC Long Island, part of an educational journey that began in 2008 and was nearly derailed – but later inspired – by three back surgeries.
“I am overjoyed. I have accomplished this through hard work and perseverance,” said Paisley, who suffered a freak back injury during a slip while serving in the Army. “There were times I felt like quitting. But I determined that quitting was not for me.”
As families came together to celebrate the culmination of their graduates’ hard work, it was the commencement ceremonies’ closing words from President Calareso that called them to action:
“Today is your call to active citizenship,” said Dr. Calareso,” Go and make your mark in the world, and on the world.”