SUNY New Paltz confers arts, business, education, science & engineering degrees at Sunday Commencement Ceremony

The newest SUNY New Paltz graduates of the Schools of Business, Fine & Performing Arts, Education and Science & Engineering celebrated with family, friends, faculty and staff at the Sunday Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on May 19.

“In a few moments, today’s graduates will no longer be our students, but will embark on the next stage of their life’s journey,” said President Donald P. Christian. “As you go forth to take up the responsibilities of graduate or professional school, employment, family and community, your college takes great pride in what you have accomplished so far and looks forward to what you will achieve in your future.”

[Click here to view full photo gallery from the Sunday Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony]

Hundreds of new alumni and thousands more loved ones and well-wishers descended on the Old Main Quadrangle for the final campus-wide celebration of the 2019 Commencement weekend.

The day’s honorees earned their degrees through years of preparation for careers or further study as teachers, engineers, computer scientists, visual and performing artists, researchers, entrepreneurs, accountants and a host of other rewarding occupations.

Among them was Class of 2019 Valedictorian Nicholas Piaquadio ’19 (Electrical Engineering; Physics), who addressed his fellow students about the spirit of inquiry he developed during his time at New Paltz.

“When we leave the College today, it will mark the beginning of a new chapter in our lives,” Piaquadio said. “I hope for us to make the very most of ourselves and our freedom, and to express all our thoughts, ideas, and feelings without fear of what others will say in return. At the same time, I hope we view the world with scientific minds, and always seek new ideas, especially the ones that make our stomachs lurch. We should do this so that we might build a better understanding of the world and the people in it.”

Nina Smiley, who holds a doctorate in psychology from Princeton University, provided the Commencement Address for the Sunday Ceremony, offering words of wisdom that reflect her current work as director of mindfulness programming at Mohonk Mountain House, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

“Life is rarely a straight path – as much as we’d like it to be a process of connecting the dots in a line, it’s too rich and full and messy and unpredictable to fall into place so easily,” Smiley said. “It’s the times when things shift away from our plans that may be the most valuable experiences of all.

“Today at Commencement, my wish for each of you is the gift of resilience. May you live with compassion, with grace, with insight, with integrity and with love, whatever it is you choose to do.”

The College presented Nina Smiley and, posthumously, her husband, Albert K. “Bert” Smiley, with the President’s Medal, the highest recognition that can be bestowed by the campus president. The Smiley couple managed the historic resort for 30 years.

These medals were custom designed by New Paltz alumnus Cameron S. Andersen ’13g (Metal) and Professor Myra Mimlitsch-Gray (Metal). Aaron Nelson, assistant professor of digital design & fabrication, produced the medals and created stands for displaying the medals using 3D printers in the College’s Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center.

“I am touched and delighted by this recognition,” Nina Smiley said. “The connections that Mohonk Mountain House and the Smiley family have with SUNY New Paltz are precious to us, and our relationship with the College has enriched our lives in many ways, both personally and professionally. On behalf of myself, and my beloved Bert, and the entire Smiley family, I am honored to accept the President’s Medal.”

As they prepared to walk the stage and receive their degrees, a few students took a moment to look back on how far they’ve come and look forward to what they hope to do next.

“It’s a lot of hard work that went into this,” said Rory Schiafo ’19 (Biology) of Kingston, New York. “When I was deep in some of my organic chemistry and calculus classes, I thought I would never make it to this day. But then this morning I put on the gown and I thought, ‘This is good, this is where I’m supposed to be.’ I feel great – I have an internship lined up in a lab this summer, and then I’m taking a year off before starting grad school. I’m ready to start the next chapter.”

“I had friends who came here before I did, and they told me all about the theatre program: how inclusive the department was, and the amazing shows they were putting on,” said Adam Abdelaziz ’18 (Theatre Arts) of Brooklyn, New York. “I came to check it out for myself, and the first time I set foot on campus I was in love. The sense of community is just so strong, people banding together and making beautiful art together. Today I’m feeling a little wistful, a little nostalgic, but I’ve had a really good run.”

The 2019 Sunday Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony was presided over by a stage party including academic deans, faculty members, the Student Association president, administrators, and College Council members.

The processional was led by Faculty Grand Marshal Joan Hollister, associate professor of accounting. Hollister, a SUNY New Paltz alumna, is retiring this year after 25 years of dedicated service to her alma mater as a valued mentor and advisor to accounting students, and a leader in the School of Business faculty.

This ceremony was part of a weekend-long celebration of New Paltz students’ academic achievement, as more than 2,600 graduate and undergraduate degree recipients representing the graduating classes of August 2018, December 2018 and January 2019, and candidates for May 2019 and August 2019, were honored at ceremonies held on May 17, 18 and 19.

Complete coverage of SUNY New Paltz Commencement activities is available at