Sisters Shabana and Shafeena Mohamed work together, study together and on Thursday walked across a stage in the SUNY Schenectady parking lot and graduated with associate degrees together.
They also mourned the death of their father to cancer in November together and persevered through all virtual classes to earn their diplomas. In the fall, they plan on pursuing business degrees at UAlbany, together.
“We kept going,” Shabana said of the past school year working remotely and balancing work, life and school. “It was really hard… you have to keep pushing and make a positive out of it. ”
The sisters beamed with excitement and accomplishment
“It doesn’t matter what happens, it doesn’t matter what life does to you, just keep pushing to finish your goal,” she said.
“He wouldn’t want us to drop out,” Shafeena said.
The sisters joined nearly 500 other SUNY Schenectady graduates this spring. Facing the challenges of a pandemic and virtual school, the graduates continued through to finish their diplomas. Faculty and staff members clustered in cheer sections at the “drive-thru” ceremony, applauding the graduates as one-by-one they drove up to the stage, jumped out of their car and walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. Faculty members cheering on their charges said this year’s graduates faced enormous challenges but showed the strength to push through those difficulties.
“Their grit and resilience was absolutely unbelievable,” said Audrey Seppa-Hodgkins, director of TRIO, a support program that helps first-generation-college and other students. “And they did it with dignity.”
She said this year’s graduates learned much more than just their academic work, they learned persistence, resilience and an ability to quickly adapt to unforeseen circumstances. They learned how to learn in a pandemic.
“They aren’t just sitting in a classroom learning content, they are learning how to survive through something none of us have ever seen,” Seppa-Hodgkins said. “Every single student here has earned this – plus. They should get a second degree.”
LeeAna Doolin, a TRIO student who earned a culinary arts diploma Thursday, said she felt amazing and newly-accomplished after she walked off the stage and huddled for a quick round of congratulations with the TRIO staff. (“That’s one of our babies,” one of the TRIO staff said of Doolin.)
“I’ve learned to believe in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to,” said Doolin, who plans to work in catering.
Faculty members were effusive about the accomplishments of the students this year.
“This year has obviously been challenging,” said Jeff Aranda, director of the school’s Educational Opportunity Program, another specialized student support program. “They showed dedication, they persevered.”
Aranda agreed that the lessons gained by students this year go beyond those taught in online classrooms and will serve them for years to come.
“It will teach them that things can change at the drop of a hat, and they have to be able to adapt,” Aranda said.
The graduates said they just did the work they needed to do to earn what they set out to earn – their diploma.
“You just got to get it done,” Aysha Mehmood said as she walked off the graduation stage. “You don’t have a choice.”