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SUNY Old Westbury grads praised for activism, passion for education

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand gives the commencement address

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand gives the commencement address during the State University of New York College at Old Westbury School of Arts and Sciences graduation on Sunday, May 17, 2015. Credit: Angela Datre

SUNY Old Westbury 2015 Commencement

Number of undergraduate degrees: 1,071

Number of graduate degrees: 74

Commencement speakers:

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) asked the new graduates to take the lessons they learned at Old Westbury and carry on their legacy of making a lasting difference. She praised the class for its work to clean up after the devastation of superstorm Sandy. "You, the students, did not stand quietly by," Gillibrand said Sunday. "You made your voices heard, you inspired action and you produced real results. My hope for this class is that this determination and courage and spirit of activism will be the rule and not the exception."

Rudolf F. Crew, president of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, told graduates that there is no amount of adversity -- be it poverty, language barriers or otherwise -- that can stop them from reaching their destiny if they are persistent in their efforts.

"This graduation is not about your degree attainment, it's about opening the window of passion you have discovered in the process," Crew said. "You are now someone who not only has a degree, but you have a passion to do something with your life."'

Student speaker:

Frank Ilozue, a 21-year-old junior from Roosevelt and president of the college's Student Government Association, told graduating seniors that they would walk across the stage with their dreams and plans for the future -- and leave the stage having earned their degree from SUNY Old Westbury. Quoting actor Alan Alda, Ilozue said, "What you'll discover will be wonderful; what you will discover is yourself."

Aisha Imran, 24, of West Hempstead; computer science:

"I was the first person to graduate out of my family, and I had no pressure," said Imran, who came to the U.S. when she was 2 years old. "I chose computer science because I really love math. I come from a Pakistani family and they're usually really hard-core about education and you have to be a doctor or an engineer. But my family was like, 'You know what? Do what you feel like.'"

Gordon Connell, 26, of Brooklyn; computer science:

"It took me a while to get through school," he said. I had a lot of things going on with school, work, an internship, but I finally made it. It just feels good to have those weights lifted off of you. You can look forward to new things, and that's exciting."

"As you look at jobs in the tech field and the computer science field, there isn't just one position," Connell said. "They're all kind of related in some way. Right now I'm focusing on web development, which in and of itself has a bunch of different types of positions. I want to focus on making apps, because I'm really interested in being my own boss. With apps you have the freedom of creating your own thing and managing it."

Scott Wesselhoft, 49, of Lindenhurst; industrial labor relations:

"It's a fresh start," Wesselhoft said, explaining he chose to go back to school after an on-the-job injury ended his 19-year career as a union carpenter. "I also have a paralegal degree, so I'm looking to get into a law firm that either handles labor relations or contract negotiations."

His advice to other older people considering a return to school: "Don't be afraid to do it. It takes four years; you're still going to go four years whether you're in school or not."

Evelyn Portillo, 27, of Westbury; childhood special education:

"I have two children of my own, so this is the next step to show them that anything is possible in life," Portillo said, adding that being a mother influenced her career choice.

"Having my children and watching them grow and teaching them ... had a big impact in my life ... I want to teach locally on Long Island, special ed, inclusion, whatever offer comes my way. "

Stephanie Dittrich, 22, of Levittown; accounting:

"I'm happy to enter the workforce," Dittrich said, adding that she is looking forward to studying for and taking the CPA exam. "I feel like all the classes I've taken at SUNY Westbury and the opportunity to do internships has gotten me ready for the corporate world."

Gregory Cohen, 23, of Queens Village; business administration:

"I feel well-prepared, I'm actually very anxious to get my career started," Cohen said. "I graduated with management. I currently work at a bank and I really want to try the pharmaceutical sales industry."

Anam Siddiqi, 21, health information management and psychology:

"It's a new chapter and a new beginning," Siddiqi said of her graduation. "I really want to get into the Peace Corps. They have a program where you can do a master's. something related to health awareness, humanitarian work and vaccinations, and -- wherever I end up being, whether it's Africa or South America -- helping students, teaching students."


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