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Briarcliffe College 2016 commencement

Graduating students at the Briarcliffe College commencement ceremony

Graduating students at the Briarcliffe College commencement ceremony in Brentwood on Saturday, May 14, 2016. Credit: Steven Sunshine

Briarcliffe College held its commencement ceremony Saturday on the Brentwood campus of Suffolk County Community College.

Number of graduates

384 with 166 associate degrees and 218 bachelor’s degrees.

Commencement speaker

Dr. Harold Fernandez, a professor of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine, said he came to the United States illegally from Medellín, Colombia, arriving in Florida in a small boat at age 13. He later earned degrees from Princeton and Harvard universities. Fernandez told graduates he isn’t a famous politician or athlete — “just someone who came here without documents who faced obstacles and a lot of adversity and was able to make a dream of helping people a reality . . . It doesn’t matter if people tell you [that] you can’t make it in life because you’re undocumented, because of the color of your skin, because of your gender, because of your orientation. No, you can make it.”

Student speakers

  • Valedictorian Denise Titone, 47, of Farmingville, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, said she began attending Briarcliffe after she was laid off during a downsizing of a manufacturing company. She urged fellow graduates not to fear change. “Don’t pick a job that’s safe. Take risks,” she said. “Go out there, and show the world the potential that is in you.”
  • Salutatorian Garrett Majka, 20, of Centereach, who earned an associate degree in accounting, said that “success is not how much money you make or how many Twitter followers you have. Believe me. I think success derives from respect.”

Student reactions

Vikki Castillo, 26, Brentwood, graphic design. “I hope everything does play out when it comes to our degrees, that it will be real after 2018,” Castillo said. “Everyone advises us that it will.”

Cecelia Young, 20, Centereach, graphic design. “With art therapy, I can combine my love for art with my love for helping people,” Young said.

Crystal Dunn, 21, Central Islip, health care management. “It’s hard that it [Briarcliffe] won’t be here, so that maybe one day when I have kids, they won’t be able to see the college that I went to,” Dunn said. The school announced it is closing its Patchogue and Brentwood campuses.

Maryuri Moreno-Arevalo, 24, Westbury, health care management. “Health care is the future,” Moreno-Arevalo said. “People are always going to get sick, unfortunately.”

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