November 30, 2021

Graduating with a dream

Students say college prepared them for the future

Photos by Nick Graziano/contributing photographer

SUNY Cortland faculty, undergraduates, their parents and others gathered Saturday for the 2018 commencement ceremony on campus.

CORTLAND — SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum counted down — three, two, one.

The college’s Park Center Alumni Arena erupted with hundreds of parents yelling out their graduating child’s name.

And many more.

It happened throughout the weekend with the graduate commencement ceremony on Friday and three undergraduate ceremonies Saturday. The college awarded 247 master’s degrees, 26 certificates of advanced study and 997 bachelor’s degrees — 1,270 dreams of using an education to land that dream job.

Bitterbaum said he believes the education SUNY Cortland provides helps to change lives.

“I had a lot of awesome professors that taught me a lot,” said communications studies graduate Nicole McReynolds. “They taught me to never give up.”

She said one main piece of advice she took away from her professors is no matter how many jobs she applies for and doesn’t get, eventually one will work out.

Gloria Hulede, a 2018 SUNY Cortland graduate and executive vice president of the Student Government Association, speaks during the afternoon ceremony Saturday. SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum, left, and Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line coach Paul Alexander, center, listen.

Paul Alexander, a 1982 graduate from SUNY Cortland and offensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys, received an honorary degree from the college and was this year’s commencement speaker.

He spoke about how he wanted to work for Penn State University football with Coach Joe Paterno. Call after call he said the answer was “no, no and no.” He had Paterno’s number and decided to call him one more time. His answer, “no,” from an annoyed Paterno.

The next day, Alexander said he got a call from the football team saying Paterno wants him to interview for a position. The morning after his interview, he was hired.

“Don’t fear failure,” Alexander told the graduates. “Embrace the impossible. The most important thing to do is prepare.”

Business economics graduate Brittany Fialkowski said her dream job is to work for an emerging technology company in a product development role. She does not have a job lined up at the moment, but said she is going to take a vacation to California, where many tech companies are based, see if she likes the area and can find a job there.

Connor Chatterton, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical education, said he has a few interviews lined up to be a physical education teacher.

“I feel confident I have the skills and knowledge to further my career,” Chatterton said. He attributed that to his professors who stood by his side for four years.

Gloria Hulede, executive vice president of the college’s Student Government Association and 2018 community health graduate, spoke during the afternoon ceremony about her experience and what her fellow graduates should remember.

During her four years at SUNY Cortland, she said she learned to make mistakes, and how to learn from those mistakes.

“I urge you to be patient, confident and know your worth,” Hulede said. “You’re going to accomplish a lot in the world.”

Political science graduate Adam Palmer said he plans on getting a master’s degree in international relations.

He wants to work for the United States government in diplomacy.

His professors had the experiences he wants, having traveled internationally and worked for the government, he said. Their experiences helped him prepare.

However, Alexander told the students they should not try to be the person they admire.

“The world does not need you to be someone else,” he said. Graduates should be themselves. And when they finally enter their field they should be humble, quiet, they should listen and learn.

“Exceed one step at a time,” Alexander said.