SUNY Empire State College held its 45th commencement Saturday at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of LIU Post in Brookville.

Number of graduates

373: 49 associate degrees, 223 bachelor’s degrees, 78 nursing degrees, 23 master’s degrees

College president

Empire State College president Merodie A. Hancock saluted graduates for pursuing their studies while working full time, caring for family and, in some cases, overcoming tragedy. She said education drives social equality. “So, your job now is go out and take that skills set” learned in college, “and as you see others fail, help them set their dreams, help them move forward.”

Student speakers

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Michael W. Contario, 32, of Moriches, who graduated with a bachelor’s in public affairs, spoke about his career in the military — first the Marines and now as a staff sergeant in the New York Air National Guard. “With my degree in hand, I not only have the opportunity to become a military officer but the chance of completing a small boy’s dream: becoming a flyer,” he said.

Christina R. Gugliero, 27, of Massapequa, a future social worker who earned a bachelor’s in community and human services, said: “Every struggle that we encounter provides us with the ability to learn more about ourselves and to become a stronger individual than we were before.”

Graduates

Debra A. Erario, 53, nursing

“I’ve been going to school part time for nine years to become a nurse,” said Erario, of Middle Island, who recently became a full-time nurse at John T. Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson. “When you are helping people, there is no better feeling in the world.”

Abdul Afolami Olabomi, 56, community and human service

“This is a dream for me . . . I wasn’t able to finish school as a young person in Nigeria,” said Olabomi, who came to the United States in 2011 and works for Catholic Charities and is a Pentecostal minister.

Carol Hartmann, 55, business administration

“I want to use what I’ve learned to move up” at her employer, said Hartmann, of Sayville, who earned a master’s degree. She works in managed long-term care for the elderly.

Andres A. Gutierrez, 39, technology

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“I wanted to change my life around . . . this is just the beginning for me,” said Gutierrez, of Deer Park, who hopes to land a job in computer network security after years of working in pharmaceutical manufacturing.