Number of graduates
36 associate, 168 bachelor's and 20 master's

Student speakers
Edward Shevlin III, 54, of Rockaway Park, Queens, who earned a bachelor's degree in historical studies/Irish and Irish-American studies, said he stopped drinking after the September 2001 terrorist attacks -- in which 70 of his friends and neighbors died -- and committed to turning his life around. "I changed from a high school dropout into a man of letters," said Shevlin, a New York City sanitation worker who wants to be a college instructor. He has enrolled in a master's degree program at New York University and received the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence.

Nicholas Coppola, 50, of Oceanside, graduated with a bachelor's degree in community and human services: "I for one commit to using everything I am and that I have learned to stand against countless injustices in our world and make a difference." He said he became a gay rights activist when the Diocese of Rockville Centre barred him from parish ministry work after he married David Crespo in 2012. A former electrician, Coppola now works at the Manhattan-based Gay Men's Health Crisis and plans to pursue his third degree from Empire State College.

Michael Tester, 55, of Medford, who earned a master's in liberal studies, said students were like construction workers when it came to changing their lives: "These past semesters we have been reconsidering foundations, rebuilding structures, tearing down old ones, and building, building, building." He is a professional actor, playwright and former New York City policeman.

Graduates' reactions

Taiwo V. Alamu, 49, MBA
"I want to move up in my career, and I knew adding an MBA to my resume would help," said Alamu, a Brooklyn resident who is a collections analyst for New York City's Department of Finance. "It was easy to combine work with my education because the courses are online."

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Paula J. Hart, 43, community and human services
"I want to pursue a leadership position in [health care] procurement or materials," said Hart, of Lindenhurst, who works for the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System and plans to pursue a master's degree at Hofstra University. "Jobs have come up in the past, but I didn't have the degree. Now I do."

Alexis Davis, 24, marketing
"I've learned so much that I can apply to my own business," said Davis, a Manhattan resident who owns jewelry and also works as a spokeswoman for Mazda automobiles. "I believe you never, never give up."

Carol Martin, 51, nursing
"Nursing is a second career for me, and I find it rewarding because you're helping people, giving back to the community," said Martin, of Rocky Point, a registered nurse at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead.