For thousands of students across Western New York, today is the first day of the rest of their lives.
Several schools in the region – including the University at Buffalo, Villa Maria College, Alfred State University and Genesee Community College – held their commencements Sunday, unleashing another generation of enthusiastic students into a shaky job market.
UB President Satish Tripathi acknowledged that today’s students are “graduating into an uncertain future” but assured them that their time at the school had prepared them well for it.
“You have been researching, experimenting and studying for careers and roles that are not even in existence yet,” he told roughly 1,400 graduates from the school’s College of Arts and Sciences in Alumni Arena.
He added later that students were “ready to make a profound difference as global leaders” in their chosen fields and urged them to use their education to “open new doors” for themselves and others.
Ira Flatow, host of Public Radio International’s “Science Friday” and a 1971 graduate of UB’s School of Engineering, said he was returning to the university to complete some “unfinished business,” having skipped his own commencement ceremony due to political unrest at the school. He received an honorary doctorate.
“You should always be proud to be a graduate of your university,” he told students. “When you say you graduated from Buffalo, people will pick their heads up and pay attention.”
Mary Wilson accepted UB’s Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal on behalf of her late husband, Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. She urged students to “give their best” every day, the way Wilson had, as exemplified during his time with her on the tennis courts.
“He always gave it his best shot,” she said. “It wasn’t always a really good shot, but it was the best he had.”
UB’s student speaker was Marjorie Breslawski, a Brockport native who graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in French, psychology and an international studies concentration.
She reveled in her and fellow students’ ability to achieve “feats that once seemed so impossible,” lamented that their undergraduate adventures were complete and marveled at the great things she believes they will achieve in the future.
“This part of our lives is now a time capsule; never to be touched again, only fondly remembered,” Breslawski said.
As she filed into the arena for Sunday’s ceremony, international trade major Samar Kassim, of Queens, said she feels UB prepared her for the world, allowing her to try out different majors and study in Japan. Still, she wasn’t sure it would be enough.
“The entry-level jobs out there are not made for graduates, they’re made for people with years of experience,” she said.
The nation’s struggling economy and unfavorable job market was on the minds of many graduates, but it wasn’t enough to dampen their celebration.
“I went through a lot over these four years,” said Raul Villar Jr., an international business major from the Bronx. “I should be ready for anything.”
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, a Buffalo native and graduate of Canisius High School, spoke to more than 200 graduates at UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions commencement later Sunday in UB’s Center for the Arts. He said the job market is improving, with 50 consecutive months of job growth, and that there are bipartisan measures in the works to pick up that pace.
He said coming to UB brought back great memories of his mother, a UB graduate who became a student at the school as a single mom the same year he started college. His niece is a sophomore there now.
“I think this is a world-class university and people are leaving today with a great credential,” he said in prepared remarks. “Credentials are really wonderful, but they’re not worth anything if you don’t put them to use in the service of folks who need it most.”
At Genesee Community College in Batavia, State Sen. George Maziarz addressed about 190 graduates.
He told students to embrace the mistakes they are bound to make, because they will learn something from each one of them.
He told them to beware the fear of failure, which can be paralyzing.
“The greatest freedoms we have in this country, to think for yourself and say what you want, are not endangered by any foreign invaders or secret government programs, they’re endangered by the fear that many of us have inside of us – a fear of failure, a fear of looking or saying something foolish,” Maziarz said in prepared remarks.
David Campbell, a former CEO of Computer Task Group, a board member at Gibraltar Industries and the current chairman and founder of the nonprofit organization All Hands Volunteers, gave the commencement address to about 900 graduates in Pioneer Stadium at Alfred State College.
The student speaker was Tsu Zhu of Flushing, a graduate of both the culinary arts department, where she earned an associate’s degree, and the technology management program, where she earned a bachelor’s degree.
Sister Mary Marcine Borowiak, who will retire next month from her position as vice president of development at Villa Maria College, gave the school’s commencement address before more than 100 graduating students.
Her prepared remarks talked about the benefits of positive change and touched on each of the college’s core values, including respect for human dignity, compassion, transformation, solidarity with the poor, justice and peace.