Nearly 1,500 to graduate in May 19 commencement at New Paltz

NEW PALTZ — One thousand, four hundred and seventy-seven State University of New York at New Paltz students will become alumni of the university during its spring commencement May 19. The ceremony will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Old Main Quadrangle on the New Paltz campus.

In addition to a speech by the class valedictorian, Robert Harold Storch, State University of New York Chancellor Robert King and New Paltz Interim President Steven Poskanzer will offer brief remarks.

Storch, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, grew up in Saugerties and now resides in Kingston. His speech will focus on the “craziness in the world today.”

“The class of 2002 is in the position to make a profound impact on the world today,” said Storch. “We are not only the future, we are today.”

“Robert is an exemplary young man who came to the School of Business from Columbia-Greene Community College with a 4.0 GPA and maintained his high standard of excellence,” said Hadi Salavitabar, dean of the School of Business. “We are all proud of his achievements and proud to have him represent the Class of 2002.”

Storch says his education at New Paltz has enabled him to rise through the ranks to his current position as Purchasing Manager at Malpac Industries in Kingston. After a semester break, he plans to pursue a master’s degree in New Paltz’ School of Business.

The graduating class’ salutatorian, Peggy M. Webb, will be receiving her bachelor of arts degree in English. Webb is a long-time resident of Hurely and she, too, plans to continue her education at New Paltz, attending graduate school for a master’s degree in English Literature. “It took 30 years, but I finally did it,” said Webb. “It was a wonderful experience.”

Each of the 1,477 hardworking scholars celebrating their achievements on Sunday has a story to tell. Here are a few:

The oldest

Like many of the students who attend SUNY New Paltz, Clara Pankow Miller of Wappingers Falls was one of the top 10 students in her high school graduating class. What is unique about her is that she graduated from high school 77 years ago. This member of the Class of 2002 is 94 years old. Her bachelor’s degree in music comes after accumulating 77 years of music experience.

“I got this far without it, I probably won’t use it, but I just wanted it,” she says of her music degree.

Miller has been a musician all her life and, although she took some college courses for her own enjoyment as well as many private music lessons over the years, this is her first experience pursuing a college degree.

“Since my brother was enrolled in a theological seminary [when I graduated from high school], my father could not afford a second college tuition with the paltry salary ministers received in those days,” she said.

In the fall of 1998, Miller completed the Center for Continuing and Professional Education’s “Assessment of Non-Traditional Learning” course – a special educational vehicle instituted by SUNY New Paltz in 1979 to help adult learners gain college-level credit for life and work experience. She received credits for her experiences in the areas of music, theatre, foreign languages and English.

“I’d have been foolish to quit there,” said Miller. “It’s been really hard work, but I’m happy to have been able to do it.”

Miller’s instruments include the piano, organ, harpsichord and recorder. She first began performing in public as an organist in the Emmaus Lutheran Church in Buffalo, N.Y., where her father, also a musician, was pastor.

For many years, Miller gave private music lessons. While many of her students went on to professional careers, one in particular stands out in her memories. For 11 years, beginning when he was seven years old, Buffalo Bob of “Howdy Doody” fame took private lessons with Miller. Growing up, he sang in her church choir and sometimes substituted for her at the church organ. He later named his clown, “Clarabelle,” after her.

Miller says her message is this: “Older people shouldn’t give up what they are doing. They’ve still got a mind and a brain working. They should keep up with the rest of the world.”

The youngest

The youngest student to graduate from SUNY New Paltz is 18-year-old Minette Alaimo of Liberty. She is a psychology major who says: “People tell me their life stories, I might as well get paid for it.”

Alaimo attended Tri-Valley Middle School until she was 15 years old. She was then home schooled by her mother, Susan. Through a program at Clonlara High School in Ann Arbor, Mich., Alaimo completed grades 8 through 12 in only a year and a half. After that, she took college courses at Sullivan County Community College, earning 70 credits before transferring to SUNY New Paltz.

“I like the fact that there are a lot of different cultures here at New Paltz,” said Alaimo. “You learn new things every day.”

After graduation, Alaimo will open a halfway house for women who have drug and alcohol dependency problems and have been abused, and provide assisted housing for their children. She also plans to continue her education, eventually completing a doctoral degree.

Crossing home plate for a degree

Mike Juhl, 32, grew up in Lake Katrine and graduated from Kingston High School in 1987. He began his college career at Lamar University in Texas, transferred to Florida Community College at Jacksonville, but signed a professional baseball contract with the Philadelphia Phillies after only one year there. He was a pro ball player for the Phillies from 1990-1996.

In 1997, Juhl began his next career as the baseball coach at SUNY New Paltz, where he also serves as the equipment manager for all 20 sports and the varsity outdoor athletic fields manager. The New Paltz baseball program is enjoying its best success in history under Coach Juhl – including three consecutive SUNY Athletic Conference championship appearances. His coaching record the past five years has been 80-97-3.

On Sunday, Juhl will receive a bachelor of arts in sociology. “I am honored to be a part of the Class of 2002 at New Paltz,” he said. “And I am looking forward to the upcoming challenges in the Graduate School.”

A family tradition

Alumna Lori Tunkel, a payroll manager at SUNY New Paltz, is one of many in her family to receive a New Paltz degree. She majored in math education and received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from SUNY New Paltz in the 1970’s. Both her brother and sister attended the university, but it doesn’t stop there. On May 19, her husband and two sons will graduate with the Class of 2002.

Lori’s husband, Barry, already holds a bachelor’s degree from SUNY New Paltz, and will receive his second bachelor’s in accounting. He will also receive an award at graduation from the Institute of Management Accountants, Mid-Hudson Chapter. He retired from the Social Security Administration in Poughkeepsie after 25 years of service.

Their son Jeremy is a finance major and plans to advance in his position at M&T Bank in Fishkill. Scott is a theatre arts major and will pursue prospects in that field.

“New Paltz has become a family tradition, where not only have we gotten an excellent education, but where some of us have met our spouses,” said Lori.

Note to media: The commencement ceremony begins at 11 a.m. Media planning to cover the ceremony should arrive by 10:30 and proceed to the media registration table at the left of the stage. Registered media will be provided a “press pass” that will provide access to the candidate and stage areas.