The floor of the Times Union Center was a sea of smiling students dressed in black caps and gowns on Sunday morning.
More than 900 men and women were honored for their educational achievements at Siena College’s graduation ceremony while family and friends proudly looked on.
Presumably the most well-known 2012 graduate was baseball great Derek Jeter, who received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. The New York Yankees shortstop, who has participated in five World Series Championships, was unable to attend the ceremony because he was playing in a game against the Seattle Mariners. So his sister, Sharlee Jeter accepted the degree for him. She said that the degree was “a huge deal” for her brother and that he was very honored. She congratulated the class of 2012 and offered a challenge to the new graduates: “Work hard to fulfill your dreams and most importantly I challenge you to give back to your communities and to always act as role models because someone will always be watching you out there in the world.”
She said her brother has two major passions in life: baseball and the Turn 2 Foundation, which he started in 1996 to promote healthy lifestyles among young people and to encourage them to turn away from drugs and alcohol. Since its founding, the organization has awarded more than $16M in grants to youth programs.
A video detailing highlights of Jeter’s career and humanitarian work was broadcast on large screens in the arena. At the end of it, Jeter addressed the crowd personally in a videotaped message.
“I’m proud to be recognized as a son of Siena, which is such an amazing institution that promotes the values that are most important to me. Academic success and the importance of giving back to the community are fundamentals that were instilled in my home growing up and also that my Turn 2 Foundation is built upon,” he said.
Jeter has not yet completed all of the coursework needed to receive a degree like the ones handed out to the students at Sunday’s ceremony. According to Sharlee Jeter, he attended the University of Michigan for one semester and plans to go back to school to earn a college degree eventually.
Also awarded an honorary degree Sunday was journalist, author and sportswoman Virginia Kraft Payson, who wrote for Sports Illustrated magazine for 26 years beginning with its first issue in 1954 and is a thoroughbred horse owner and breeder.
Her entire life has been guided by one moment that occurred when she was 5 or 6 years old when her father lifted her up so that she could see out the top pane of her bedroom window, which wasn’t frosted like the lower pane was, she told the crowd.
“The moon was full. It was in a brilliantly clear sky and it looked close enough to touch. ‘You can go there someday,’ my father told me. ‘You can do anything you want as long as you want it and you work for it. The whole universe is out there waiting for you.’ That was a long time before anyone or anything went to the moon,” she recalled. “But that event and that memory has guided my entire life.”
Her career has not been all glamour, she admitted. Behind the scenes there has been a lot of hard work, long hours and “the determination to try to do everything just a little bit better and sometimes a little bit different than it had been done before.”
A third honorary degree was awarded to educational leader Joseph Pastore Jr., a 20-year member of the Siena College Board of Trustees who is a professor emeritus in residence at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University and has held tenured faculty appointments at St. Bonaventure University, Pace University and Boston College for more than four decades.
He said being part of a tribute that involved Jeter and Payson was humbling.
“This honor represents a grateful tribute to all who have served Siena as trustees and all who have taught generations of Siena students and all who have served Siena in quiet ways we may never know. I accept this honor for them,” he said.
Faced with the end of their education at Siena, students at the ceremony expressed a mix of emotions.
“I’m really going to miss the community here and all of the passion that the professors have for education and teaching students,” said Jessica Greth of Colonie, a psychology major who plans to attend graduate school at Marymount University in Virginia and eventually get a job in the field of forensic psychology.
History major Dave Grimes of Clifton Park said the time at Siena flew by.
“Just yesterday it feels like just getting here,” he said.
He plans to go on to graduate school at the College of Saint Rose for a master’s degree in secondary education.
The transition from student to graduate hasn’t yet sunk in for Travis SantaBarbara of Clifton Park, who plans to go to grad school.
“It’s overwhelming right now,” the history major admitted. “It hasn’t really hit me yet, but I’m excited. It’s a new chapter in my life. I’m ready for it.”
Rob Feldman of East Greenbush, a marketing major who already has a full-time job lined up, looked back fondly on his time at college.
“Probably the best four years of my life,” he reminisced. “It doesn’t get any better. I love Siena.”