Class of 2015 Suffolk County Community College
Number of undergraduate degrees: 4,306
Class speakers: Students Andrea DiMaria, Satoko Matthews, and Steven Curcio
Standing at the lectern, Andrea DiMaria, 20, of Brentwood snapped a quick selfie Sunday with about 1,100 of her fellow graduates at Suffolk County Community College's Brentwood campus before continuing her address at the school's 53rd commencement.
"Suffolk has been the mold that has made us into the well-rounded and respected individuals we are today," said DiMaria, a liberal-arts major who served as a peer mentor and an active member of the Orientation Planning Committee at the Michael J. Grant Campus in Brentwood.
"Today is a testimony of our tireless effort to commit, complete and compete," she said.
A total of 4,306 students across the two-year school's three campuses were eligible for graduation this year, the highest in the school's history, a school spokesman said.
Satoko Matthews, 31, of East Patchogue, the second of the ceremony's student speakers, said the decision to go back to school was one she wrestled with for some time. The Eastern Campus culinary arts grad said she had "no idea" what she was getting herself into when she joined the program.
"I gave myself two rules to live by: always say yes," and "experience as much as possible," said Matthews, who served as president of the campus' Culinary Arts and Baking Club, captain of the Culinary Knowledge Bowl team and was a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor's Award.
The third student speaker, honors liberal-arts major Steven Curcio, 21, of Patchogue, challenged his fellow students to question the mission of their pursuits going forward.
"So driven in the pursuit of our goals are we, that we often forget why we pursue them," he said, acknowledging family and friends in the packed venue. "Always appreciate what you have and why you're here."
For two years, Curcio rode his bike to campus four to six times a week, even braving this winter's snowfall to attend class.
Curcio is the 2015 Daniel DePonte Student of the Year, and will be attending the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill through an annual $40,000 scholarship given to fewer than 100 students across the nation each year. He plans to pursue a degree in psychology there, and hopes to eventually return to Suffolk as a professor.
Gary Chacon, 22, accounting, Ammerman Campus
"I want to do accounting full time, but eventually I want to get enough money for a startup so I can start my own business here on Long Island," said Chacon of Lindenhurst, who hopes to open a service-related business in Nassau.
Turryqunia Bennett, 22, business administration, Michael J. Grant Campus
"I plan on getting my bachelor's degree, but I plan on getting it in health administration and information technology," said Bennett of Amityville, the first of her family to graduate from college. "As far as working, I'll probably come back here for [job opportunities at] Northshore LIJ."
Derek Guiliano, 20, computer art, Eastern Campus
"The plan afterwards will probably be to go to Briarcliff College to continue education there as a 3-D animator," said Guiliano of Ronkonkoma. "I'm hoping to stay on Long Island," he said.
Desiree Ladd, 21, accounting, Ammerman Campus
"I just got accepted into St. Joseph's, so I'm going to go there for a couple years," said Ladd, a Shirley resident who plans to get her bachelor's in accounting as well.
Kerri Cuiffo, 28, business administration, Michael J. Grant Campus
"I'm going to change my major from business to accounting, and from there I don't know," said Cuiffo, an East Islip resident and a full-time client relationship specialist at EverBank. "I plan on attending SUNY Old Westbury."