SUNY Old Westbury 2012 commencement

Michael Arroyo, 24, of Farmingdale, receives his master's Michael Arroyo, 24, of Farmingdale, receives his master's degree in adolescence education from SUNY Old Westbury on Sunday. (May 20, 2012) Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

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Number of graduates

The 903 graduates, including 839 bachelor's and 64 master's degrees, was the largest graduating class in SUNY Old Westbury history.

Keynote speaker

Paquito D'Rivera, Grammy-winning clarinetist, saxophonist and native of Cuba, who received an honorary doctorate of music, spoke of his humble beginnings in Cuba and how May 20 marked his nation's independence from Spain. However, he noted that Cuba has been "independently kidnapped" by the Castro family for five decades. "So many Cuban luminaries of the arts and sciences have been banned from history books of our impoverished country," he said.

D'Rivera said after his father brought home a recording of The Benny Goodman Orchestra, his dream was to become a working musician in New York. "What I never dreamed was that a prestigious American university was going to honor the vision of that humble Cuban," he said.

 

Graduates

 

Bilal Bashir Butt, 22, of Elmont, bachelor of science in biology and recipient of the Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence

"I've been accepted into SUNY Upstate Medical School. My residency will be in orthopedics and I hope to work with the United States Olympic Team or the New York Giants."

Lisa Valente, 33, of East Meadow, bachelor of arts in politics, economics and law, mother of three children and paralegal at Raskin & Makofsky, who received the President's Medal for Scholarship

"I'm overwhelmingly grateful. This is very rewarding and I'm feeling a great sense of accomplishment." She said she will continue work as a paralegal and is considering taking the LSATs and pursuing a law degree.

Mechellé Grayson, 22, of Brooklyn, bachelor's degree in marketing

"I'm looking to jump into the job market for a year and then pursue graduate school."

Michael Arroyo, 24, of Farmingdale, master of arts in teaching in adolescence education, English language arts

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"My hope is to become a teacher and educate children."

Rory Goldson, 30, of Freeport, bachelor of science in accounting:

"I plan on taking the CPA [certified public accountant exam] and starting my own accounting firm."

Thomas Thompson, 56, of Coram, bachelor of science in criminology. Thompson pursued his degree in 2008 after serving six months in prison after being charged with signing false statements. He plans to attend John Jay College for graduate studies and become a lawyer:

"I was falsely accused of a crime and now I plan to clear my name."

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