Fredonia grads challenged to transform society
Pomp and circumstance
On an unusually warm and dry day in Fredonia, college graduates and their families flooded Fredonia to celebrate the 152nd commencement class at SUNY Fredonia.
Feelings of excitement, happiness, bliss and accomplishment bled from the smiling faces of family members as they watched the young adults they raised and helped develop, become citizens that will make the university proud.
One of these students was Monica A. Manney, a B.A. Journalism, Summa Cum Laude graduate, who was awarded the Lanford Presidential Prize.
Manney, a member of Tau Sigma National Honor Society, Lambda Pi Eta National Honor Society, Golden Key International Honor Society, the Fredonia Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, National Association of Applied Journalists, the Buffalo Broadcasters Association and the Buffalo Urban League, received the award to a standing ovation as she humbly smiled.
Following commencement she will begin a fellowship with CNN and another fellowship after that with the National Association of Black Journalists.
Katherine E. Hanover, B.S. in Music Industry, Cum Laude and senior class president, was also honored with a beautiful charm bracelet by SUNY Fredonia President Virginia Horvath, thanking her for her service as class president and sharing her hopes of the future with her.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, but especially not yourself,” Hanover stated as she addressed her fellow graduates, giving thanks all around, to family, professors and friends.
President Horvath, who is retiring this year following 14 years of service at Fredonia, and was the first woman president in its history, reminded students that “the world needs you. This is your time to do good, lift others and to shine. I hope you’ll always carry the spirit of Fredonia with you, not just as a memory, but as an important part of yourself.”
Amidst the sincerity of the event, there were many laughs shared at Steele Hall.
Frank Pagano, chair of the Fredonia College Council gave a shoutout to a student who cleverly decorated his mortarboard in Starbucks coffee cups. He also reminisced over an alumnus he met up with who told Pagano his life’s mantra came from something Pagano had said to him while presenting him with his degree — “keep moving.”
Within the levity however, Pagano took time to remind students of a very important piece of advice. “To be successful you don’t have to be smarter than the next person all you must do is be willing to work harder than the next person. The only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
Fredonia’s keynote speaker this year was Dr. Shaun C. Nelms, a 1999 graduate who received his B.A. in Adolescence Education-Social Studies.
In his short, but lofty career so far, the Buffalo native has done much. He went on to achieve a masters degree and doctorate from the University of Rochester’s School of Education, where he later became an associate professor and Director of the Center for Urban Education Success.
Following a career as a teacher and then principal to name a few positions held, he became the Superintendent of East High School in Rochester in 2015, leading its dramatic turnaround from as inner-city school that was performing so poorly it was on the brink of being closed, to a school that parents now want to send their kids to. Feeling morally drawn, as he remembered the disadvantages children face growing up on Buffalo’s troubled east side, he began working with colleagues in the Warner School of Education, University of Rochester to design and implement a school reform model that created a new culture, that has dramatically improved the academic environment in the high poverty school. Standardized test scores are rising and suspensions have been dropping since his plan’s implementation and now schools all over the country are looking at him as the shining example to turn the system around.
“My challenge to you, as you embark on your next challenge, is to use the knowledge and skills, which were honed at Fredonia, to transform society,” Dr. Nelms said. “Plant new seeds of equity for the next generation, so that generations to come will benefit from systemic changes you’ve created.”
He reminded students that “a society grows great where individuals plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
The college celebrated more than 1,150 graduates in the class of 2019 over the course of two events Saturday.
“We’re counting on you to use everything you have learned,” Horvath stated to the packed hall. “Continue to learn as new questions, challenges, and technologies arise, and to represent your alma mater proudly in all you do.”
And all those in attendance know that they will.