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The College of Saint Rose will celebrate the resilience of its graduates, who completed degrees and advanced certificates during a pandemic, with commencement speeches by three inspirational alumni who demonstrate the Saint Rose strength of spirit. Each speaker has shown a commitment to scholarship, excellence, and serving the dear neighbor through their professional and personal pursuits.

The College will host three commencement ceremonies at the Times Union Center on May 7 and 8 – the first graduation ceremonies held in the arena since the start of the pandemic. The three ceremonies will limit the crowd to 10% of the center’s capacity and meet New York State’s COVID-19 guidelines.

Featured speakers are Dr. Cecily Wilson-Turner, Ed.D., assistant superintendent for elementary instruction for the City School District of Albany and a 2007 Saint Rose advanced certificate program graduate; Edson Chipalo, Ph.D. student in social work at the University of Alabama and 2017 Saint Rose graduate; and Jermaine Brookshire Jr., Esq., Connecticut-based attorney, leader of a nonprofit organization that motivates and supports youth, and 2013 Saint Rose graduate.

“Our students have been our heroes during this pandemic, quickly adapting to remote learning, caring for each other and the dear neighbor by observing COVID precautions, and showing incredible resilience,” said Interim President Marcia White. “Our 2020 graduates have waited an entire year to walk across that stage, and our Class of 2021 had a final year at Saint Rose that was nothing like they’d imagined. It is important to shine a spotlight on our graduates, including in our selection of alumni as the featured speakers. Our focus is solely on Saint Rose students.”

“Cecily, Edson, and Jermaine demonstrate the strength of spirit at Saint Rose and have embodied the College’s founding values of an orientation toward excellence, development of the whole person, building an inclusive community, serving the dear neighbor, and meeting the needs of the times in their professional and personal lives. We are so proud of them, and we are exceedingly proud of our 2020 and 2021 graduates and can’t wait to celebrate them.”


Friday, May 7, at 7 p.m., graduate students in the Class of 2021

Cecily Wilson-Turner

Dr. Cecily Wilson-Turner, Ed.D., assistant superintendent for elementary instruction, City School District of Albany

Wilson-Turner is a 2007 graduate of the College’s educational leadership advanced certificate program, and today oversees the City School District of Albany’s 11 elementary schools.

A graduate of the city school district who was inspired by her teachers at Arbor Hill Elementary School, she says she returned to begin her career as a teacher at Arbor Hill Elementary School because she wanted to learn from the best. After teaching there for seven years and earning her certificate of advanced study at Saint Rose, she became principal of the district’s Sheridan Preparatory Academy. Wilson-Turner then went on to Albany High School, where she served as house/academy principal then principal, before becoming the district’s assistant superintendent for elementary instruction in 2015.

Wilson-Turner also holds a BA in Public Policy Analysis from Princeton University, an MA in Elementary Education and Teaching from New York University (NYU), and an Ed.D. from Teachers College of Columbia University.

She describes her leadership style as “servant-leader” and seeks to support teachers’ success in any way she can “from providing them with systems and structures to just being a human being when they need someone to be a human being with them.”

Saturday, May 8, 10 a.m., undergraduate and College Experience Program students in the Class of 2021

Edson Chipalo, MSW, Ph.D. student

Edson Chipalo is a Ph.D. student and a Graduate Council Fellowship recipient at the University of Alabama. His main research focuses on substance use and violence among refugees and immigrant populations with multifaceted mental health problems. Additionally, his secondary research focuses on cancer, global mental health, domestic violence, and health disparities in low- and middle-income countries.

He earned a Master of Science in Social Work (MSW) from Columbia University in 2018 and graduated summa cum laude from Saint Rose in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in social work.

Chipalo was born into poverty in Zambia and lost both of his parents while he was a child. He was raised by his grandparents, who were subsistence farmers. Driven by Nelson Mandela’s words, “Education is the power we can use to change the world,” Chipalo finished school in Zambia, and he worked as a volunteer with children with disabilities before he came to the United States to volunteer with an organization assisting elderly individuals and people with disabilities. He later spent two years at Berkshire Community College, where he obtained his associate degree before he transferred to Saint Rose.

“My life has been a journey from grass to grace, pessimistic to optimistic, and despondency to hopefulness, from far-fetched dreams to reality. I didn’t want to continue in the cycle of poverty I never chose to be born into,” Chipalo said upon his graduation from Saint Rose in 2017. “I am geared to join the cause – to be the agent of change society needs.”

Saturday, May 8, 3 p.m., undergraduate, graduate, and College Experience Program students in the Class of 2020

Jermaine Brookshire Jr., Esq

Jermaine Brookshire Jr., Esq., JD, associate at Wiggin and Dana LLP, a full-service law firm with offices in Connecticut, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Palm Beach, Florida

Jermaine A. Brookshire Jr., Esq. works primarily within Wiggin and Dana’s Emerging Companies and Venture Capital Practice Group. He frequently advises startups and also does work within the firm’s Health Care Practice Group.

Brookshire received his JD as a “Scholar in Law” award recipient from Washington University School of Law in 2019. At Saint Rose, he earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy with a minor in political science in 2013 and was the recipient of the President’s Leadership and Inclusive Excellence Award.

Before joining Wiggin and Dana, Brookshire worked with exchange students and international LL.M students as a teacher’s assistant at Washington University School of Law. Prior to this, he was a legal intern with the Yale-New Haven Health System in the Legal and Risk Services Department in New Haven, Connecticut. He has also worked as the Senior Analyst for the Committee on Labor for the New York State Assembly. He is heavily involved in community and volunteer work. He is the founder and CEO of The Great Expectations Movement (GEM), Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on motivational and personal development to help youths through mentorship and a series of workshops designed to help them map out their future.

“Once I found out that life doesn’t need to be fair in order to be successful, I became emboldened to work as hard as I dream,” Brookshire says. “Dreams do come true. Believe that.”

More than 3,400 undergraduate and graduate students in the Classes of 2020 and 2021 have earned degrees or advanced certificates, though not all students are attending commencement.

Each student who registered to attend is permitted to have two guests, and each ceremony will be livestreamed. Attendance is capped at 10% of Times Union Center capacity. All attendees at commencement must show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination at least 14 days before the event or proof of a negative COVID-19 test (within 72 hours for a PCR test or within six hours for a rapid test) and must pass a temperature screening prior to entry. To make the process easier, the College is offering a free on-campus COVID-19 PCR testing clinic on May 5 for graduates and commencement guests.

Sister Mary Anne Heenan, CSJ

Sister Mary Anne Heenan, CSJ ’68, Carondelet Medal recipient

During the May 8 ceremony for the Class of 2021, Sister Mary Anne Heenan, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, 1968 graduate of Saint Rose, and past chair and current member of the Saint Rose Board of Trustees, will be awarded the Carondelet Medal, the College’s highest honor. The medal is presented to individuals who, through working in the community, have enabled others to move toward a fuller development of their personhood.

“Sister Mary Anne exemplifies the term servant-leader – through not only her work at Saint Rose but as a member of multiple community boards,” White said. “As a member of the College’s founding order, she has lived the Sisters’ values out in every way and serves as an incredible example for each of us at the College, including our students.”

More commencement information can be found on the College’s website.