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Thousands graduate from area colleges; Ceremonies held on 4 campuses

When it comes to life's indelible moments, Graduation Day ranks right up there.


Family cheered as you walked across the stage.

You said your goodbyes to friends.

You were anxious about the job you didn't have but excited about what the future had in store.

Thousands of area college students celebrated those moments Saturday during commencement exercises happening around the region, from Sanborn to Fredonia.

"It's bittersweet, but overall, I'm happy," said Juan Hernandez, 22, of New York City. "I'm a first-generation college graduate. It's a big thing for my family."

Hernandez was one of the more than 2,500 students from Buffalo State College who earned their degrees during the college's 140th commencement ceremonies on Saturday in the campus Sports Arena.

Baccalaureate ceremonies were held in the morning and afternoon, when the new graduates heard some encouragement from commencement speaker Carolyn B. Lamm, a 1970 Buffalo State graduate and former president of the American Bar Association.

"Think, for a moment, of so many others before you who have started with not much more than a college degree, who sought to find their place at the table of life and have made a profound difference for our world, our community, our lives," Lamm said. "May you be so principled and inspired to achieve."

Assemblywoman Crystal Davis Peoples-Stokes, commencement speaker during the evening's ceremony for master's degree recipients, chimed in with bits of advice, as did Buffalo State President Aaron Podolefsky, who quoted the movie pop-culture philosopher Ferris Bueller.

"Life moves pretty fast," said Podolefsky, quoting from the 1986 Matthew Broderick classic, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

"If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

That's what Alison Green decided to do.

She graduated from Buffalo State in the morning, but dropped by the afternoon ceremony to capture more memories from the hectic day.

"I'm back to take pictures," Green said.

Commencement ceremonies also were held Saturday for:

>Fredonia State College

More than 1,400 students at Fredonia earned degrees during morning and afternoon commencement ceremonies in Steele Hall arena on the Fredonia campus.

Washington attorney Dale A. Cooter, one of Fredonia's most accomplished alums, gave the commencement address.

And as for Dennis Hefner, who is retiring as Fredonia's president after 16 years, the graduation was his last as the college's leader.

"With my impending retirement, in a real sense, today represents my graduation from serving as SUNY Fredonia's 12th president," Hefner told the new graduates. "So with your permission, I'd like to consider myself an honorary member of the graduating Class of 2012."

>Niagara University

Family and friends of students earning their bachelor's degrees from Niagara packed into the university's Gallagher Center, where they heard two high-powered speakers give 750 graduates a send off.

Students from the colleges of Business Administration and Hospitality & Tourism Management heard from Tom Ashbrook of National Public Radio's "On Point with Tom Ashbrook" during the morning baccalaureate ceremony.

During the afternoon ceremony, students from the colleges of Arts & Sciences and Education listened to Sylvia Nasar. The Columbia University professor is perhaps best known as the author of "A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash," which was adapted into a 2001 movie.

It was just the second time in 36 years Niagara held commencement ceremonies on Monteagle Ridge. Ceremonies continue on campus today with 450 students receiving graduate degrees.

>Hilbert College

Nearly 235 students earned four- or two-year degrees from the Hamburg college Saturday afternoon, in Wesleyan Church of Hamburg.

A honorary doctorate was presented to Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's Music Director JoAnn Falletta, who also served as speaker.

"Today begins an indescribable journey for each of you," Falletta told the new graduates. "I hope that you will never forget what is potentially the richest source of joy -- that is the possibility of doing what you love, what you believe in, what matters to you."

In addition, Hilbert College Medals, one of the highest honors bestowed by the college, were given to Dr. William and Dawn Maher for their humanitarian efforts in the Dominican Republic.

>Niagara County Community College

More than 1,100 NCCC students received their two-year degrees or certificates Saturday morning in the main gymnasium on the Sanborn campus.

Wes Moore, a youth advocate, Army combat veteran and New York Times best-selling author of "The Other Wes Moore," served as commencement speaker.