Our 2019 commencement ceremony was a special day, not only for the nearly 1,400 undergraduate and graduate students whose achievements were recognized, but for me as a college president. I was proud to have an esteemed colleague in higher education, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), serve as our honorary degree recipient and commencement speaker, inspiring our graduates with her personal story of overcoming discrimination and bias as a young woman of color.
That young woman would go on to become the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate from MIT. She would receive important appointments by U.S. Presidents, and serve as the first woman president and first African-American president at RPI, but these things would not have happened without a significant amount of grit and determination paired with her incredible intellect. She told our graduating students that “Chance had made me an African-American female, a heritage I proudly embrace. I also saw that I had a choice here. I could give in to ignorance or persevere and pursue excellence.”
I appreciate the theme of chance vs. choice as I observe our students, many of whom are counted among underrepresented populations within higher education. They made the choice to pursue their education with the desire to create more options for themselves and their families. That day at commencement, I shook the hands of students whose families fell below the poverty line, who are parents and toted toddlers on their hips as they crossed the stage, and who are older students who returned to Saint Rose to finish degrees they had started long ago.
I am so glad all of these graduates made the choice to come to Saint Rose, and I know their time here will serve as a springboard to endless possibilities. As I told our 2019 graduates, “Never doubt the value of what you have earned through your determination. Your degree is yours forever and will pave the way for your future.”
We appreciate your continued support of Saint Rose as we work to help our students build bright futures.