Whether they are just starting out or making a career change, Fulton-Montgomery Community College graduates got advice Friday on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
FMCC President Dustin Swanger told the 566 graduates that people get an education for three reasons: To be prepared to work, participate in society and be leaders. He encouraged the students never to stop acquiring knowledge. “Continue learning, approach life with an open mind and treat people with civility,” he said during the 47th annual commencement ceremony, held inside the college’s physical education building.
Student speaker Madina L. Alam compared the graduates’ educational path from elementary school through college to building the foundation of a house. There are going to be cracks along the way.
“The cracks showed us that sometimes things fall apart — whether it was a failing grade, a family crisis or a broken heart,” she said. Still, the students had to overcome that adversity and keep building their foundation. She also encouraged the graduates to live in the present.
The keynote speaker, Assemblyman Marc Butler, said the American educational system gives people an opportunity to advance — unlike some cultures where a person’s status is in life was determined by family status.
Butler, R-Newport, said the Declaration of Independence does automatically not give people life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness but the right to seek out those things. He urged the graduates to choose a career that makes them happy. Being wealthy doesn’t equate to being successful. He recalled working at a bakery in college. He was offered full-time, management-track position making very good money. However, he turned it down to get a job as a weekend obituary clerk for a newspaper, earning $48 a week. That got his foot in the door of newspapers and eventually his career took him to public relations and now politics.
In an apparent criticism of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Butler said even during the social protests of the 1960s, it would never have occurred to him to take to the streets and say the wealthy should be punished.
“There was not this entitlement mentality that brings with it even more government intrusion in our lives,” he said to applause.
The graduates have to take the initiative to determine their future, according to Butler. “Don’t just sit there. Get busy, do good and go out and find your happiness,” he said.
Shaniese Young, 19, of Schenectady, received a degree in general studies and is transferring to the University at Albany in the fall to study psychology.
“I like helping people but I like getting into everybody’s mind. I’m pretty nosy,” she said.
She is very excited about this next stage of her life. It took a lot of hard work, but she said she was determined to stay focused. The effort paid off as she earned all As and Bs.
Christina Steenburg, 37, of Ephratah, was graduating with degree in radiology technology. She already has been hired to work at Cooperstown Hospital. She said the hardest part was trying to balance her school work and family responsibilities with her two children.
It was a long road for 55-year-old Ken D. Johnson of Fort Plain to become a nurse. He had been an emergency medical technician for 36 years. He had originally planned to go to nursing school decades earlier but he got married, bought a house and then had a child. He promised his son that he would go back to school when he graduated high school, which was two years ago.
What’s next for him?
“A job search.”