More than 600 graduate from Mount Saint Mary College

May 18, 2013

Newburgh, NY -

A bright, sunny day during Mount Saint Mary College’s 50th annual commencement ceremony ushered in a new era for 627 bachelor’s and master’s degree candidates.

The tent on the Dominican Center Field buzzed with anticipation as thousands of parents, relatives and friends of the graduates-to-be gathered to witness the academic achievement.

Inside Aquinas Hall, students could hardly contain their excitement as they waited to walk across the stage and into their future. At last, traditional bagpipe music filled the air, and James Finn Cotter, longtime Mount English professor, once again bore the mace, leading the long procession into the tent.

With faculty and administrators seated on stage, Mount president Fr. Kevin E. Mackin, OFM, continued his tradition of inviting the graduating class to “give yourself a hug” for a job well done.

He encouraged them to continue using their skills of mind and habits of heart.

“When called to choose in our work between excellence and quality, and what is slipshod or just enough, choose excellence and quality,” said Fr. Mackin. “Go the extra mile to make something just right because it is the better and worthy thing to do.”

Fr. Mackin added, “Congratulations, Godspeed and God bless you Class of 2013, the Mount’s newest alumni.”

The college conferred honorary doctorate degrees upon three accomplished speakers: William Kaplan, successful entrepreneur and philanthropist; James Patterson, best-selling author; and Sandra Gerry, chair of the Sullivan Renaissance.

A staunch supporter of the Mount, William Kaplan surveyed the graduates with a smile, before exclaiming, “This is awesome!”

He emphasized that Mount graduates have made a huge difference in Newburgh, the city he loves.

“On behalf of this community, we thank you,” he said. “You’ve been absolutely amazing.”

The entrepreneur has provided employment for thousands: at the Regal Bag Corporation, which he started in Newburgh shortly after World War II, and then at A.C. Moore arts and crafts, which he co-founded and grew from a single store to 130 outlets. He also generously collaborated to build numerous other organizations, serving on the Board of Trustees of St. Luke’s Hospital, Norstar Bank of the Hudson Valley, the Hudson-Delaware Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the Jewish Federation of Orange County, Hospice of Orange and Sullivan Counties, and Mount Saint Mary College.

Long a catalyst for grassroots projects, Kaplan serves as chair of the Board of Directors of the Newburgh Armory Unity Center: a collaboration of people from organizations and businesses – and with many Mount volunteers – with the aims of education and recreation.

Kaplan thanked Mount Hispanic studies teacher Karen Eberle-McCarthy for her and her student volunteers’ English as a second language classes at the Armory. He used the tireless volunteerism of Maria Moorman, Hispanic studies major and member of the graduating class, as an example.

He also recognized education professors Janine Bixler and David Gallagher, as well as all the other Mount faculty and students who have lent their time and skills to the project.

Kaplan has supported the Mount through scholarships and projects including the Hudson Hall renovation; Elaine and William Kaplan Recreation Center and fields; the Mathematics, Science & Technology Center; and the Dominican Center. Kaplan continues to show faith in the City of Newburgh, investing in projects which enrich the lives of residents. He has also championed the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor.

Newburgh native and worldwide literary phenomenon James Patterson returned to his hometown to congratulate the newest Mount graduates.

“You guys made it. All right!” he said enthusiastically, prompting a cheer from the seniors.

The author pointed out that he was born in Newburgh’s St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital, just a few blocks south of the college.

“It’s really, really, really great to be back home,” said Patterson. “I can honestly say that this is where I started out as a writer. The best-selling writer in the world comes from Newburgh.”

Patterson described life as a juggling act, wherein work is a rubber ball that will bounce back if dropped. But family, friendship, spirituality, and health are made of glass – and will scuff and shatter if they hit the ground.

The message was simple: “Strive for more balance in your life,” he advised

Patterson holds The New York Times record and a Guinness World Record for the most hardcover fiction bestselling titles – 89 total. The prolific writer’s latest four books, all being published this year, are “12th of Never,” “Second Honeymoon,” “Mistress,” and “Middle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill.” His critically acclaimed “Maximum Ride” series debuted on The New York Times bestsellers list at #1 and the series has so far spent more than 100 weeks on the list. He also created the top-selling detective series featuring fictional psychologist Alex Cross.

In total, Patterson’s books have sold an estimated 275 million copies worldwide.

In addition to being an author, Patterson is an advocate, with the James Patterson Pageturner Awards, rewarding others for spreading the joy of reading, and also James Patterson’s College Book Bucks.

Sandra Gerry, creator of the Sullivan Renaissance, encouraged graduates to give back to their communities.

Gerry believes that residents can use flowers and gardens to enhance the appearance of Sullivan County, while also cultivating community pride and spirit. Now completing its 13th year, Sullivan Renaissance has grown into a year-round community development program involving thousands of volunteers from all 15 towns in the county.

“Each of you can make a difference,” she said. “No matter how small the contribution, the collective impact for good can be enormous. As you sit here today ready to receive your diplomas, you are in the perfect place to give back, to pay it forward, to volunteer of yourself. I challenge you to make a difference by sharing some of your great talents and resources, and to lead by example.”

In addition to beautification and environmental efforts as a “renaissance woman,” for many years Gerry has been an integral part of the Sullivan County Community College Foundation’s Annual Scholarship Benefit Gala. As an educator and having been involved in the teaching profession, the success of scholarship programs is one of her special concerns, raising more than $1 million in scholarship funds. She is also Director of Allocations for the Beaverkill Foundation, established by the Gerrys to assist charitable causes in Sullivan County.

Gerry serves on the board of the Gerry Foundation, Inc., as well: the family foundation established in part to benefit the economy by developing the world class performing arts center, Bethel Woods, at the site of the original Woodstock Festival in Bethel, NY.

As it came time to receive diplomas, hundreds of hearts beat faster and delight washed over the graduates and their families. With a handshake and a beaming smile from Fr. Mackin, the candidates transitioned from students to alumni.

The grads have a lot to look forward to. A survey revealed that six months after graduating, 84 percent of responding 2012 Mount grads were employed. An impressive 77 percent of 2012 nursing grads responded that they were making $50,000 and up per year.

Three quarters of responding 2012 Mount grads planned to earn a graduate degree. Many of them continue in the Mount’s three master’s degree areas – nursing, business and education.