College announces student speakers for Undergraduate Commencement


Salutatorian Jonathan Baez ’17 (Communication Disorders) will address his peers as the Student Speaker at the Saturday Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on May 20. The ceremony recognizes graduating students in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

SUNY Chancellor’s Award recipient Jessica Weeks ’17 (Biology) will be the Student Speaker at the Sunday Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on May 21. The ceremony recognizes graduating students in the Schools of Science & Engineering, Fine & Performing Arts, Business and Education.

Watch Jonathan’s speech and view the speech transcript here

Baez, from Monroe, N.Y., transferred to SUNY New Paltz after one year at a private university in New York City. He said it was a family connection that brought him to New Paltz.

“Several members of my family had previously come here and seemed genuinely pleased with the experience,” Baez said. “When I decided to change schools, I thought New Paltz was a place where I could find a field in which I could establish a career, and find something I would enjoy doing for the rest of my life.”

While Baez was undeclared upon arrival at New Paltz, he quickly found a home in the Communication Disorders Program.

“The program can be challenging at times, but it’s very rewarding,” he said. “The professors have been wonderful throughout my time here, and I feel the program does an excellent job of preparing you for grad school and for your eventual career. Not many undergrad programs offer the opportunity to participate in an audiology clinic, and so I was excited to have that experience here.”

Baez took advantage of the program faculty’s willingness to work closely with students, conducting an independent study with Associate Professor (and Graduate Commencement Ceremony Faculty Grand Marshal) Anne Balant, in his chosen area of specialization: psychoacoustics.

That experience was instrumental in helping him prepare for graduate school. Baez will continue working toward his Au.D. at Montclair State University this fall.

Like so many students who will join Baez in crossing the stage at the May Commencement ceremonies, Baez kept his head clear during the busiest times of his academic career by escaping to the Village of New Paltz and the nearby Shawangunk Mountains.

“I’ll definitely remember this town,” he said. “I really enjoyed spending time on Main Street and going on hikes in the mountains.”

Watch Jessica’s speech and view the speech transcript here

Weeks, who hails from Long Island, first came to New Paltz while she was still in high school, visiting a friend who had already enrolled.

“I just fell in love with the environment, the calmness of the campus,” she said.

Weeks said she saw New Paltz as an ideal place to work toward her goal of becoming a doctor, and she declared as a biology major almost right away.

“I loved the biology program here,” she said. “I had a good relationship with all my professors and worked very closely doing research with [Biology Department Chair] Professor [Aaron] Haselton. He’s been a great mentor and role model for me. When I go on to medical school I plan to focus more on the clinical side, but doing research has helped me develop my critical thinking and laboratory skills.”

Despite taking a full pre-med course load, Weeks made time to do as much extra-curricular activity as she could, whether that meant work with Residence Life or volunteering with local organizations.

“I’ve been an RA at Lenape Hall for three years, and I’ve loved that,” Weeks said. “I’ve also been tutoring at the Highland Residential Center, and I’ve gotten into some other volunteering opportunities with Erica Wagner at the Career Resource Center. I don’t know if I’ll have time for these kinds of things at medical school, so it will be a big transition away from that, but I’m glad I did them while I was here.”

Weeks was approached about giving an address at the Sunday Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony just a few weeks after learning that she had been chosen to receive a SUNY Chancellor’s Award, among the highest honors given to students in the SUNY system. That happy news followed shortly on the heels of Weeks learning that she’d been accepted to attend the medical school program at the University of Connecticut.

She said that in preparing her remarks she’s trying to strike a balance between celebrating what she and her fellow graduates have accomplished, and looking ahead to work yet to be done.

“I want the speech to be happy, but also memorable and meaningful,” Weeks said. “I want to talk about finding your passion, living for something that’s greater than yourself. I’m going into this field because I want to help people, and I can say that New Paltz has helped me become that person.”

More information about SUNY New Paltz’s 2017 Commencement Ceremonies is available online.