OBSERVER Staff Writer
The SUNY Fredonia Class of 2013 has something to brag about. They were the largest graduating class the school has seen in over 180 years. The annual commencement ceremony was held Saturday with a morning and afternoon ceremony handing out about 1,500 diplomas.
President Dr. Virginia Horvath welcomed graduates, families, faculty and staff to the commencement ceremonies. She said this was a special day for SUNY Fredonia as well as for herself. Commencement marked the end of Horvath's first year as president of the college.
"Today is a special day, in fact it is a special day for Fredonia. This is the largest graduating class in the 186 year history of Fredonia," Horvath said.
U.S. Congressman and keynote speaker Brian Higgins (center, in suit) joins SUNY Fredonia President Dr. Virginia Horvath (to his left) and other members of the platform party during Saturday's Commencement ceremony procession.
SUNY Fredonia President Virginia Horvath surprises Senior Class President and Williamsville native Meagan Allers with a replica of the newly installed gazebo which she and her class donated to the campus as the Class of 2013's senior challenge gift.
"I share a sense of pride with these students' accomplishments, as this commencement marks the end of my first academic year as ... president."
Horvath asked those in attendance to honor the graduating class and show how proud they are through applause. She then asked graduates to stand and thank their families who have supported them throughout their journey.
College Council Chair Frank Pagano said commencement is the highlight of the year on campus. He spoke of 2013 as being special in marking the end of a school year of change on campus from construction to a new college president and new members of the cabinet.
"This year ... has been one of change. Construction around the campus, ongoing for several years, has subsided," he said.
Pagano asked the audience to honor Horvath for completing her first year as president. The audience gave her a standing ovation. Pagano told the seniors that today was dedicated to them. He asked the students to always look for ways to give to Fredonia and to stay connected as alumni.
"I wish you the best of luck and a fond farewell. You are and always will be a Fredonian," Pagano concluded.
The student speaker was Meagan Allers, senior class president, who received her diploma during the morning ceremony. Allers said she recently found her college entrance essay while cleaning and how seniors were so eager to get accepted into college. Graduation, she said, was a day to reflect back on the four-year journey from the first class to the first meal and the first friend made on campus. Allers recalled a story she had heard recently about a prospective student's experience on campus.
"Looking for something to do on his day off, a prospective student came to Fredonia and walked around essentially taking a self-guided tour, even though he had already paid his deposit at another university. He got lunch at Cranston (Hall) and as he described it some guy happened to sit down with him and ask him how his day was going. This guy happened to be our former President Dennis Hefner. This story embodies all that is Fredonia," Allers said.
She also recalled what is unique about the campus from music coming from Mason Hall, impromptu concerts and even the unusually large squirrel population. Allers thanked all the families, including her own, the faculty and staff for always being there to answer late night emails and being supportive and her peers. Allers concluded by quoting a famous doctor - Dr. Seuss.
"Congratulations, today is your day. You're off to great places, you're off and away," she said.
Allers was also chair of the Senior Challenge Committee which gives a lasting gift to the campus on behalf of the graduating class. The Class of 2013 raised more than $17,000 and purchased a gazebo which is located adjacent to the new Williams Center patio. Horvath, to show her appreciation, presented Allers with a miniature gazebo music box as a constant reminder of SUNY Fredonia.
"I would like to thank the Class of 2013 for their generous and lasting gift," Horvath said.
Keynote speaker this year was Congressman Brian Higgins who represents the 26th Congressional District. Higgins said he was asked two years ago to be the keynote speaker by former President Dennis Hefner.
"By (asking) it did two things: it bestowed on me this great honor and it gave my son, who graduated this morning, no choice but to graduate on time," Higgins said.
Higgins told the students he was going to tell them about love, hope and faith.
He said that families had love for the graduating seniors. He joked it was expressed since parents had to put up with the seniors.
The seniors would have to be representatives of hope as they embarked on the future. Higgins shared three stories of faith. He shared the story of Fr. Mychal Judge, a New York City fire chaplain who died in the Sept. 11 terror attacks; of John Granville, who was killed in South Sudan by terrorists as he was helping the people of Sudan gain independence; and of the band U2 who wrote an inspiring song, "Miracle Drug." The U2 song is written about the Irish writer and poet, Christopher Nolan, a quadriplegic whose mother was criticized for reading to her son when he was young. The little boy would learn to communicate via computer later on in life and would become a famous Irish writer.
"The stories of 'Miracle Drug,' John Granville and Fr. Mychal Judge teach us that we all need each other. Before we can have faith in the future, we need to have faith in another," Higgins said.
Deanna Jelardi sang the National Anthem at both ceremonies. The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Wickwire Lundquist of the First Presbyterian Church gave the invocation.
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