35th Annual Commencement Celebrates Student Achievements [video, photo galleries]

A beautiful sunny day set the tone for the College of Staten Island’s 35th Commencement, which honored the scholarly accomplishments of the graduating class of 2,534 students. CSI President Dr. Tomás D. Morales underscored the common bond that those student share, “the desire to improve your lives, and in the process change the world through higher education. And you chose to do it here–at this great institution.”

View the Commencement Photo Gallery and
the Dolphin Awards Photo Gallery.

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This year’s valedictorian was Melissa Horne, who graduated summa cum laude from The Verrazano School at CSI with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a concentration in Writing. She is a recipient of the CSI Scholarship, the Belle Zeller Scholarship Trust Fund Award, the Phi Beta Kappa Associates Award, among others. Ms. Horne is also a Dean’s List student who was featured in Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. Her accomplishments at CSI include extensive work with the Bertha Harris Women’s Center and the Campus Activities Board, and she has won several awards for writing, including the English Department Creative Writing Award and the Women’s Center and “My Staten Island” essay contests. Ms. Horne is also the founder of the Heads Up Awareness Program and has volunteered at the New York State Office of Family and Children’s Services.

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Although she began her address with some campus-based humor about being late for class, Ms. Horne focused on the importance of CSI in her life and how it expanded her horizons. “I believe place determines identity and the College of Staten Island has been instrumental in establishing who I am. The relationships I developed here, most notably with the professors who profoundly broadened my vision, as well as the guidance from The Verrazano School, have added great depth to my character. This place has instilled in me the desire to curiously and continually search for knowledge, and to fully understand what it is to identify. The cannots are replaced by confidence through learning to speak eloquently and listen carefully…It was on this beautiful campus that my heart learned to soar. I learned that resilience is a choice, integrity grants respect, and passion lies within even the smallest daydream.” At the end of her address, Ms. Horne fired up the crowd by singing part of the refrain from “Empire State of Mind” from Jay Z, “New York…the concrete jungle where dreams are made of…there’s nothing we can’t do.”

President Morales, in his comments, discussed the transformation that the College is undertaking, including a new Mission Statement; a faculty “who continually redefine the standards of excellence”; an increasingly exemplary student body that contains “record numbers of high school valedictorians and salutatorians [who] have reflected increases in college admissions averages and SAT scores,” and the College’s first Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship recipient; the growth of the College’s selective programs, the Macaulay Honors College, The Verrazano School, and the Teacher Education Honors Academy; and an increase in students studying abroad, including the first class of students, faculty, and staff who have been inducted into the Phi Beta Delta Society for International Scholars. Near the close of his remarks, Dr. Morales noted that a number of graduates at today’s ceremony had already been accepted into prestigious professional and graduate institutions.

Also on hand for the festivities was keynote speaker New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, whose speech was both humorous and inspirational.

In addition to the presentation of the degrees to CSI students, Dr. Morales; Dr. William Fritz, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs; and CUNY Trustee Kay Pesile bestowed the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters on Denis M. Hughes, President of the New York State AFL-CIO. Drs. Morales and Fritz also bestowed honorary degrees of Doctor of Humane Letters on Professor Diane Kelder, a prolific and accomplished author, educator, and curator for the Art Gallery of The Graduate Center, CUNY, and John Noble Wilford, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times science reporter.

The day’s events concluded in the afternoon in the CSI Library with the annual Dolphin Awards ceremony that honored outstanding contributions to the College by faculty, staff, and students. View the CSI Today Dolphin Awards Photo Gallery.  This year’s honorees included:

-Outstanding Scholarly Achievement by a Member of the Full-Time Faculty: Michal Kruk.

-Outstanding Teaching by a Member of the Full-Time Faculty: Tracey Jones.

-Outstanding Teaching by a Member of the Adjunct Faculty: Shah Jayman.

-Outstanding Service and Contribution by a Member of the Full-Time Faculty: Thomas Tellefsen.

-Outstanding Service and Contribution by a Member of the Non-Teaching Instructional Staff in HEO Title: Donna Gerstle and Doriann Pieve-Hyland.

-Outstanding Service and Contribution by a Member of the Non-Teaching Instructional Staff in CLT and OIT Specialist Titles: Joanne Nierkrash-Camhi.

-Outstanding Service and Contribution by a Member of the Non-Instructional Staff in Clerical Function: Jean Coombs.

-Outstanding Service and Contribution by a Member of the Non-Instructional Staff in Maintenance, Operations, Security, Service, and Support Function: Marilyn Ulrich.

-Outstanding Service and Contribution to the College by a Member of the Part-Time, Non-Teaching Staff: Barbara Uszacki.

-Outstanding Service and Contribution by a Currently Enrolled Student: Michael Maslankowski and Jolanta Smulski.

After emcee Terry Mares, College Writer/Editor, introduced the honorees, President Morales recognized Professor Emeritus Stamos Zades, who was in attendance. He also commended the hard work and dedication of everyone who helped to make the 2011 Commencement a success, including a special thank you to his staff for supporting the Office of the President and other College operations.