Friends and colleagues gather to celebrate Ray Schwarz’s 32 years at SUNY New Paltz

Dozens of New Paltz faculty and staff gathered on April 25 at the College Terrace for a retirement reception in honor of Raymond Schwarz, who over the course of a 32-year career established himself as a beloved coworker, impassioned motivator and a major contributor across multiple areas of institutional importance.

Schwarz, who will step down from his current role as assistant to President Donald P. Christian at the close of the 2016-17 academic year, first came to SUNY New Paltz in 1985 as a member of the Psychological Counseling Center, and moved through positions in Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, and, most recently, the teams and committees dedicated to strategic planning and assessment.

At Schwarz’s farewell reception, colleagues from each stop of his lengthy career came out to share fond memories, offer earnest toasts, and test out some good-hearted stand-up comedy material at the guest of honor’s expense.

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President Christian set the tone with his opening line – “Every employee brings joy to the College – some when they join us, and others when they leave” – before offering a sincere tribute to Schwarz’s years of service.

“My close work with Ray these last few years has been a growth experience for me, and I’ll miss his wise counsel and guidance very much. His many contributions to the College give us plenty to celebrate today.”

President Christian listed a number of these contributions, including:

  • Schwarz’s pioneering, nationally-recognized work, in partnership with current Dean of Students Robin Cohen-La Valle, to develop and fund alcohol abuse prevention plans at the College;
  • His work as Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, where he supervised the Dean of Students, Residence Life, the Career Resource Center, the Center for Student Development, the Disability Resource Center and served as Advisor to the Student Association. Among other accomplishments in this role, Schwarz co-chaired a committee on retention with current Vice President for Enrollment Management L. David Eaton, helping to produce a dramatic increase in first-year student retention from 67 percent in 1995 to 84 percent in 2002;
  • His tenure as interim chair of the Psychology Department;
  • His 10 years working directly to support students in the Psychological Counseling Center;
  • A stint as co-chair, alongside current School of Business Dean Kristin Backhaus, of the Campus-wide Assessment Advisory Council, which carried out the hard work of implementing assessment plans, unit by unit;
  • And his leadership of the Strategic Planning Council, which has been of vital importance to SUNY New Paltz’s efforts to earn reaccreditation, establish a sustainable culture of self-assessment and implement meaningful improvements to student services.

President Christian presented Schwarz with an award commemorating all of these efforts: a custom bobble-head doll in Schwarz’s likeness, printed in-house at the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center.

“As you move on to new endeavors, know that you’ve made New Paltz a better institution than it was when you joined in 1985,” Christian said. “I will miss you, and I know many others will as well.”

The retirement ceremony included trips to the podium by Backhaus, Eaton and Cohen-La Valle, who each offered their own words of tribute to (and told embarrassing stories about) their friend.

Assistant Vice President for Institutional Research Lucy Walker and Assistant Provost Deborah Gould took a turn too, treating the crowd to a David Letterman-like countdown of Ray Schwarz’s personal eight strategic initiatives (a poke at the College-wide essential strategic initiatives Schwarz helped implement).

In the end, it was left to Schwarz himself to summarize his time at SUNY New Paltz, the relationships he forged and the lessons he’ll take with him to the next phases of life.

“A successful career must involve becoming passionate, over and over again, about new opportunities, challenges, creative endeavors and chances to work with new and inspiring colleagues,” Schwarz said. “I can’t think of a better description of my experience here at New Paltz.

“I’ve read that a career isn’t about money, or even about advancement. Rather, it’s about doing something that becomes a significant part of a life worth living. All of us here commit our time and energy to enabling, supporting and guiding young people as they begin to carve out their destinies, and take the first steps toward happy, healthy, productive, engaging and educated lives. How lucky are we?

“I want to thank my loving wife for her support and patience, and to thank all of you for supporting me, challenging me, rewarding me and, sometimes, forgiving me, during this journey. Most of all, I want to thank you for making my time at New Paltz such an important part of a life worth living.”