Schenectady County Community College’s commencement ceremony Thursday wasn’t your typical graduation.
The college’s largest graduating class in its 45-year history — 632 students — was actually encouraged to whip out their cellphones, take selfies and post photos on social media.
“We got to learn about our graduates through Twitter and Facebook,” said SCCC acting President Martha Asselin on the Mainstage at Proctors. “So take out your cellphones and embrace the moment.”
In their own words
See Schenectady County Community College's 45th commencement ceremony through the eyes of those who participated.
Behind Asselin on stage was a giant screen that showed graduates’ photos in real time as they posted them on social media using the hashtag #SUNYSCCC2015.
Keynote speaker Tony Civitella, CEO of local software company Transfinder, kept the digital momentum going, asking graduates sitting in the front rows to stand up.
“Shake the hand of the person sitting beside you and congratulate them,” he said as hundreds of graduates turned to their left and right. “Maybe you can give then a fist bump … and take a selfie.”
The audience laughed as graduates wearing black caps and gowns held their glowing cellphones in front of them.
The fun got going before commencement even started. As graduates lined up outside behind Proctors before the ceremony, the college’s new mascot made its debut.
“There’s the duck!” one graduate yelled as he pointed in its direction.
“Royal, take a selfie with me,” another graduate exclaimed as she lined up behind her friends to go inside.
Royal the Duck was introduced Thursday as the college’s first mascot. Royal has white feathers, a yellow beak and orange webbed feet. It was wearing a blue jersey with “SCCC” written on the front in yellow letters.
Royal wasn’t the only one dressed up for graduation. Tracey DeAngelo, one of the first students to graduate from the college’s Casino and Gaming Management program, went all out, Build-A-Bear and all.
DeAngelo, 41, made a casino bear at Build-A-Bear Workshop and carried it with her during commencement. The white and purple bear wore a white cap and gown and held a little diploma.
The bear’s cap had a gold dollar sign and several dice glued to the top. DeAngelo’s cap had a royal flush on top, and she also wore blue chips that read “SCCC Casino & Gaming Management” as earrings.
“I hope they let me bring the bear inside,” DeAngelo said as she stood by instructor Kim Otis. “I told everybody that they would be able to spot me today.”
DeAngelo, of Schenectady, is working at Saratoga Casino and Raceway in Saratoga Springs as a floor manager after doing an internship there as part of the college’s gaming program.
“When I was doing a project for my first casino class, I interviewed the general manager, and she asked me if I would be applying,” she said. “Within two weeks I was hired.”
DeAngelo said she has no intentions of moving out of Schenectady after graduation, especially with the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor expected to be built in about two years a mile from the SCCC campus.
“The casino coming to Schenectady is fantastic for the college,” she said. “I’m comfortable where I am, but I am definitely keeping my options open with going to the Schenectady casino.”
Nick Raco, 29, and Kayla Horan, 22, are also already employed before receiving their degrees in hotel and restaurant management. The two graduates have jobs with Mazzone Hospitality, the largest caterer in the Capital Region. Mazzone officials actually encouraged them to attend SCCC and earn their degrees.
“I’m excited and ready for the next step,” Horan said while standing outside with Raco before the ceremony. “I’ll be working at Mazzone’s corporate headquarters in catering.”
As the graduates were being ushered inside to walk down the aisle, Austin Lakata, 27, joked that he was afraid he would trip and fall while on stage receiving his diploma.
“I’m nervous,” he said. “Today is my birthday.”
The birthday boy, who is from Johnstown, is heading to the Florida Institute of Technology to study mechanical engineering.
“I loved every science and math teacher I had here,” he said. “I came from [Fulton-Montgomery Community College], and I had a great teacher there who was from Schenectady, so I came here.”
Among the graduates were some of the first to also complete new programs in the college’s Supply Chain Management program and Liberal Arts: Honors concentration.
The Class of 2015 was 61 percent female with an average GPA of 3.18 and an average age of 29, Asselin said. The graduates clapped and cheered after Asselin read off the statistics, then walked on stage and received their diplomas.
“And now … take a breath,” Civitella said during his keynote speech. “Whew. You did it. You are a college graduate. You knew this was a big day, but did you think it was this big?”