SCHENECTADY – Resiliency.
That’s the word used Friday morning to describe the more than 400 students who graduated from SUNY Schenectady County Community College.
“Not even COVID, with all of its variants, could stop you,” Dr. Anna Katema-Banda, the commencement speaker, told the audience. “Come on class of 2022, you made it.”
One of the students to receive their associates degree was Dravid Daniel Seecharran, who was the voice of the student population as the student representative to the college’s Board of Trustees. Seecharran, a U.S. Marine Corps reservist with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 49 in Newburgh, earned his degree in Business Administration.
As the student representative to the Board of Trustees the job is to listen to student concerns and then share those concerns with the board and college administration, Seecharran said.
That job never meant more than during the pandemic, said Seecharran, who found ways to make sure students’ concerns were heard, while still providing them some semblance of fun.
“During the pandemic, most of the classes were online and there weren’t a lot of activities happening on campus,” he said.
But, Seecharran said he found ways to provide students with fun virtually such as online bingo nights or chess tournaments by working with the Student Government Association’s student activities board.
When COVID regulations let up and the college reopened, Seecharran held steadfast in his role representing students, including voicing student frustration over the college’s original decision to host a drive by graduation ceremony.
“It’s incredible,” said Seecharran about the ceremony.
Seecharran’s efforts earned him the distinction of being named the college’s student of the year. He said he’ll celebrate with his fellow reservists.
“I have drills this weekend,” said Seecharran, a Guyana native, moved to the U.S. four years ago and joined the military shortly thereafter.
In the fall he plans to attend UAlbany. He is debating whether or not to study aviation, business or something in finance. After graduating again in two years with a bachelor’s degree he plans to re-enlist in the military to become an officer.
But Seecharran, who calls Schenectady and SUNY Schenectady home, said he will find a way in the future to give back to the college – perhaps by setting up a scholarship, he said.
“Dravid did a great job as the student trustee,” said Ray Gillen, who is a trustee and chairman of the Metroplex Development Authority. “He was a strong voice for the student body and he has a great career ahead of him. We thank him for his service.”
While students like Seecharran found ways to aid students through the pandemic, the college also got innovative, President Steady Moono wrote after the ceremony.
“For example, Culinary Arts students who would ordinarily learn in a face-to-face kitchen lab space, shifted to a faculty developed hands-on experience whereby they provided students with parcels of ingredients and cooking tools so that students could complete labs at home, following faculty created videos and live class walk through demonstrations,” Moono said in an emailed statement. “Outside of the classroom, advisors, success coaches, and tutors continued to support students remotely and on campus and throughout the period students were able to access critical support such as the Food Pantry, laptop loans, and mentoring.”
Moono joined the graduates in the excitement when he asked them to shift their tassels from right to left, the final moment of the ceremony signaling they had graduated.
“May this moment be a moment you always cherish,” Moono said.
This year’s graduating class also included a mother and son, Davetta Simmons and Jason Gibbs. who graduated together. The youngest graduate was Rowan Breen, 16, who received a certificate in music, according to the college. The oldest graduate was David MacLeod, 68, who received an associates degree in Applied Science for music audio technology, according to the college. There were graduates from Guyana and China, as well as 22 surrounding counties. There were also eight military veterans graduating, Moono said. The total average grade point average of the graduating class was 3.06.
Katema-Banda told the graduating class that they must be intentional in everything they do and want in life.
“Intentional with your associations,” she said. “Intentional with the places that you patronize .Accidental success does not exist. The key to your success is in your hands so use that wisely.
Here are what some other graduates had to say about crossing the stage:
Tiffany Baker, 38, of Schenectady received an associates degree in Applied Science for criminal justice. She currently works as an assistant manager at Living Resources. She was excited to become the first in her family to get a college degree, she said, especially after having put it on hold over the years to care for her children.
“This is a big moment for us,” she said, noting she didn’t even walk the stage to get her high school diploma.
Patrick Burns, of Staten Island received an associates degree in Applied Science for biological technician. Burns said he’s figuring out the next step but may look for a job at a biotech company to gain on the job skills before deciding whether to continue furthering his education.
“I want to use the work environment to figure out what I’m good at,” he said.
A veteran, having served in the U.S. Navy from 2003 to 2007, Burns said getting his degree was “a long time coming.”
Shalini Misra, 47, lives in Glenville but is from India. She received her associates degree in Applied Science for computer information systems. She is a programmer at the Department of Motor Vehicles currently. She said going online during the pandemic for classes was a little hard, but she pushed through. Misra earned her degree as a part-time student over the course of 3.5 years.
“I’m excited,” she said about finally receiving her degree.
Jahzara Fossett, 17, of Schenectady earned an associates degree in Arts for liberal arts and sciences: humanities and social sciences. She will be heading to Temple University in August to study for a degree in computer science and information technology. Fossett said she aspires to work for the company that produces the videogame Sims one day.
“It was stressful, but it feels good now,” said Fossett, who was part of the Smart Transfer program at the college.
Smart Transfer is a partnership between SUNY Schenectady, the University at Albany, SUNY Delhi and Schenectady High School, where students apply in eighth grade to take courses to earn an associates degree from the college while still in high school.
Fossett said she couldn’t have graduated without her family by her side.
“I appreciate you guys,” she said.
Christopher Stawarz, 19, of Clifton Park received an associates degree in Science for criminal justice. Stawarz said he will be continuing his education at SUNY Delhi where he will study to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in criminal justice. He aspires to become a New York State trooper one day, he said.
“I’m not the person to have a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job,” he said.
Rossana Russell, 24, lives in Schenectady after moving here from Jamaica three years ago. She earned an associates degree in Science for liberal arts and sciences: mathematics and science. Russell said she is still figuring out what she wants to do next. During her time at SUNY Schenectady she juggled a full-time job and going to school full-time until her last semester when she cut back on hours.
“It was hard, but I managed,” she said.
Getting her degree, she said, was a “great accomplishment.”
Deanna Amore-Mies, 48, of Glenville received an associates degree in Occupational Science for culinary arts.
“I have a job lined up at a local bakery in Saratoga Springs,” she said.
She couldn’t say where, but she does start June 1. She said it was tough learning during the pandemic and then for a semester with a broken foot.
“We really pushed through,” she said.
Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @SB_DailyGazette.