Briarcliffe grads urged to embrace the future

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Number of graduates

675 associate and bachelor degrees

Faculty speaker

George Santiago Jr., fourth president of the college, told graduates life is not about the destination, but the journey . "No one ever said life is fair, but the tragedies have meaning," he said.

Commencement address

NBC4 New York anchor/reporter Michael Gargiulo told students to dream, lead their own lives and to be ready for change. "The experience of getting that first job, the experience of that career, wherever it takes you, is worth it," the anchor said.

Student speaker

Valedictorian Brett A. Schmidt, diagnosed with autism at age 2, said: "My wish for all of us is to recognize our strengths and weaknesses," Schmidt said. "Don't be afraid of future challenges, and don't let others define who you are."

Students' reaction:

Erick Valerio, 30, of Brentwood, who received a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, said he recently had a perfect score on the Suffolk County Police Department test and wants to join law enforcement. "Being a police officer is my childhood dream, and I want to help people out."

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Emily Conroy, 19, of Patchogue, who took an associate degree in business, said she plans to return to Briarcliffe in the fall to work toward her four-year business degree. "I know this degree won't fail me," said Conroy, who wants to open a '50s-themed diner.

Jonathan Bonacore, 21, of Sayville, who received a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, said that while he has a few interviews set up, he's keeping his options open but "just wants to be happy" and that "money will come later in life."

Timmy Dillon, 22, of Medford, who took a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, said he leaned on his mother, a widow, for support in college, and now that it's over, he wants to join the New York Police Department as a K-9 officer. "Graduating feels great, and I can't wait to move on to the best phase of my life."

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