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SUNY Empire State College 2015 Long Island commencement

Ibrahim Muslim, 37, of Huntington Station, a bachelor

Ibrahim Muslim, 37, of Huntington Station, a bachelor of science in business management and economics degree candidate, with his son, Mansa Muhammad Muslim, 2, at SUNY Empire State College's 43rd commencement at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at LIU Post in Brookville on Saturday, June 20, 2015. Photo Credit: Angela Datre

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."

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 Hoo-Kong.com 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.

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