The College of Westchester celebrated its 102nd Commencement Ceremony at Westchester County Center on Thursday, May 31st. As part of the celebrations, the event included opening remarks by President Mary Beth Del Balzo as well as Westchester County Executive, George Latimer
Congratulations to the Class of 2018!
The MOMentum that took 42 years to generate
Being a mom is supposed to be all sunshine, rainbows, and gifts, but it certainly wasn’t the case for Marie Russo over four decades ago, “I was forced to leave high school due to my pregnancy. I was given up on, thrown away, told I had ruined my life and would never amount to anything.”
Despite having everything against her, Marie kept working in several jobs while keeping the promised she had made to her mom, to complete a college degree. Marie worked as a massage therapist, esthetician, and even as a desairologist in a funeral home. Her true passion was definitely helping others and serving her community, “I believe we all have very individual unique gifts in life and my gift has always been to extend my hand to one in need and help bridge the gap from despair to hope. After exploring my options for college, I decided upon The College of Westchester. I now have been given the opportunity to be in the field that I have dreamed of entering over the years: The field of Health Care Education where I can grow and touch the lives of many in a positive way,” says Marie.
It’s never too late to aspire to earn a college degree, and Marie and her entire family celebrated this amazing and unique moment during CW’s commencement ceremony. As a student speaker, Marie concluded, “Now in a few short moments I will walk across this stage and with pride and dignity accept this degree and fulfill a promise I made to my mother 42 long years ago. It’s never too late to give up on a dream. If you believe it, you can achieve it.”
The Good Flavor of Victory
College graduation is a bittersweet moment in the life of a young adult. The excitement of embarking on a new adventure as a working professional is tempered by the sadness of parting ways with friends and, faculty, and staff who won’t soon be forgotten. But for Naika Saint Preux, her college degree has only one flavor, the good flavor of victory, “CW treated me like family since the first visit and they never stopped believing in me. They never stopped showing me what I am capable of— instead they kept shooting opportunities at me to see if I could handle it and I did. And guess what, we all did, because we are here today celebrating this day together.”
When Naika first learned English as a second language, she received a fair amount of criticism. “I struggled to overcome my fear to speak out loud because people made fun of my accent and still do today, but I know better to just ignore them. I will forever be the girl who learned English as a second language, but CW has helped me to be more comfortable in my own skin physically, mentally, and emotionally. The success we are celebrating today was conditioned by the amount of risk we were willing to take, but also by the friendship and the cultural exchanges we shared.”
Since Accounting is considered the language of business, one can say Naika obtained her bachelor’s degree fluently speaking three languages, “CW has provided us the material and the tools, and now it’s up to us to use them out there and mow down the competition. Let’s remember that it is the end of one chapter. Now get your pen ready to start the next chapter,” said Naika to the Class of 2018.
I am honored to be the recipient of this year’s Spirit Award. I would like to read a quote from my friend Ariel Concepcion, who used these words to nominate me. “What is it to have Spirit? To have a sense of determination? The “get the job done mentality” or maybe it’s a “never say die attitude”. Where is this determination, this mentality and attitude being applied towards? Ourselves. To not give up on someone is one thing, but to make that someone not give up on themselves, that’s spirit. I feel this quote applies to not just me, but all of us.
We’ve all been looking forward to this day and now it’s here. First and foremost, I want to thank God for giving me the strength and willpower to continue my education. There were many moments when I wanted to give up, but with the support from my family and my friends I was able to keep going. Although there were those who tried to tell me – no, tell us we won’t make it or even give up, but guess what, look who’s graduating today. Us not them. Even though people doubt, we showed them no matter what they say, we can still do it. To all the professors, whether I’ve had you or not, I thank you. To the staff, whatever your department may be, I thank you because none of you gave up on any of us. And to me, that’s true spirit.