George Goldhoff had seven distinct pieces of advice for Schenectady County Community College graduates Thursday evening.
They ranged from being bold and being strong enough to say “I don’t know,” to finding time for family, all advice he’d received over his three decades in the hospitality and gaming industry.
His last piece of advice wasn’t centered on the graduates, it was centered on others: Help somebody along the way.
“Life is not about warming yourself by the fire,” Goldhoff told graduates, “life is about building that fire, and caring is the match. Caring is its own reward.”
Goldhoff, a 1983 SCCC graduate and CEO of a top Canadian gaming company, offered the advice Thursday as the keynote speaker at SCCC’s commencement ceremony.
Goldhoff’s words came as part of an evening filled with celebration, and the graduation of more than 600 students ranging in age from 17 to 68, SCCC president Quintin Bullock told the crowd at Proctors.
It was Bullock’s hand that each graduate shook after they walked across the Proctors stage, their name and accomplishment of their degrees read to all those present. In one case, Bullock even got a big hug.
Speaking to the graduates, college board of trustees Chairwoman Denise Murphy McGraw talked about what each one did to get to that stage.
“There are people that took two years, less than that, to get here,” she told the crowd, “and there are people that took five years and 25 years to get here today.”
“It is amazing that each and every one of you are here,” McGraw continued. “I salute you. I am proud of you and let’s go celebrate.”
Bullock talked about the institution that allowed them to accomplish what they accomplished: the community college.
“No institution better reflects American ingenuity and innovation than community colleges like ours,” he told those gathered.
Bullock also led salutes to the college’s faculty and to the families of the students. Each group got wild cheers.
Speaking on behalf of the students was Jacob D. Davis, who received his degree in accounting.
Davis likened college to training wheels on a bike, and graduation to getting those training wheels off.
“The most important part about college is the journey,” Davis told his fellow graduates. “Once you take off those training wheels, you’ll hit the road of life. And now, without those training wheels, we are free to roam.”
As graduates, Davis said, failure will also happen. The trick, he said, is to get back up and keep going.
If Goldhoff’s background in hospitality wasn’t already evident to those gathered, near the beginning of his speech he gave the crowd-pleasing pronouncement that the 2013 class was the best the college has ever had.
He offered his advice as a native of the area, the son of a General Electric worker. He also spoke as someone who took his SCCC degree and built on it become CEO at Pure Canadian Gaming, which boasts $100 million in revenue.
He became head of the company after working at several other top gaming and hospitality properties.
Among the other pieces of advice was for graduates to find time for their families, to call home, especially to Mom. Texts, he said, don’t count.
“So, let’s take this moment, at this point, to turn to our loved ones and say ‘thank you,’ ” Goldhoff told the graduates, “to the people that made it possible today for you to achieve this education, the people on whose shoulders you stand.”
Afterward, graduates took time to memorialize their accomplishments with those family members, many taking pictures with them.
Candyce Smith took photos with her family, including her husband, two children and father, after receiving her culinary arts degree.
She said the degree means much to her. She went back to school to get it, something she can show her children. She also followed her dream.
“It’s been a long road, but it was amazing,” the Schenectady woman said afterward.
Taking pictures with his own family was another culinary arts graduate, Tyrell Edge of Troy.
Edge was there with his mother, son, aunts and cousins.
He said his degree means a lot to him, from walking in as an entry-level cook to walking out as a chef.
“It’s a huge day for me,” Edge said. “I couldn’t sleep, just real restless. I’m exhausted.”