SUNY New Paltz grads celebrate Commencement

SUNY New Paltz hosted 14 smaller, shorter in-person Commencement ceremonies on May 14, 15 and 16, to recognize and salute undergraduate and graduate students who graduated in December 2020 and January 2021, and candidates who will complete their degrees in May and August 2021.

“We recognize the achievement of students who have completed the hard academic work of earning a degree, especially during these last 14 months of remote learning and a very different kind of academic experience,” said President Donald P. Christian. “You will always be known as one of the classes that graduated in the midst of the coronavirus. I would encourage you to see this as a struggle that you have overcome, and therefore, a life experience that will strengthen you for the struggles and opportunities that lie ahead.”

SUNY New Paltz’s 2021 Commencement celebration will continue next weekend, May 22 and 23, with special in-person ceremonies for December 2019, January 2020, May 2020 and August 2020 graduates who were unable to participate in an in-person ceremony last year due to the pandemic.

Use this link for full coverage of SUNY New Paltz’s 2021 Commencement celebration

Use this link for hi-res photos from the May 14, 15 & 16 ceremonies

Nearly 1,100 students and graduates participated in these ceremonies on the Old Main Quadrangle over the course of the three-day weekend. All ceremonies included masking and social distancing. Guests were not invited to attend due to in-person event capacity limits, but all ceremonies were live-streamed and will remain available for on-demand viewing at this link.

The Friday, May 14, and Saturday, May 15, Commencement ceremonies recognized undergraduate students from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the Schools of Business, Education, Fine & Performing Arts and Science & Engineering, and the Sunday, May 16, ceremonies recognized graduate students from the 50+ graduate-level programs available at New Paltz.

In total, approximately 2400 degrees and advanced certificates were conferred across the December 2020 and January, May and August 2021 terms.

Although the shorter ceremonies did not include in-person addresses, many students, administrators and friends of the College took time to contribute pre-recorded video messages in tribute to the graduates (all of which can be viewed at this link).

Alumnus Everton H. Henriques ’78 ’83g (Chemistry) of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation Development Committee applauded the College’s newest alumni for overcoming the adversity that coronavirus caused in their educational and personal lives. He encouraged them to take the time to recognize their hard-earned achievements, especially in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.

“The transformation you made at New Paltz is not a fleeting change, but deep-rooted, because it was forged by the fires of consequence,” Henriques said. “You succeeded academically, developed inner strength and new coping mechanisms that will make you better human beings. Today you are better prepared for life than I was at my Commencement in 1978. So, congratulations again on your accomplishments, and I wish you continued success on your journey.”

Valedictorian Rachel Brainerd ’20 (Visual Arts) of Poughkeepsie, New York, and salutatorian Sery Pak ’21 (Biology) of Orangeburg, New York, also shared a few words of wisdom in pre-recorded remarks.

“My journey through college looked very different from what I expected,” said Brainerd. “But I’ve found that the variety of relationships I built over the years, with my family and coworkers, as well as faculty and peers at SUNY New Paltz, taught me the skills, autonomy, and confidence needed to transition into post-college life.”

“My advice for my fellow graduates is to take a moment to reflect on their years at SUNY New Paltz – to remember how they felt that first day they came on campus, and how they feel now as graduates,” said Pak. “We’ve worked so hard through these years, that sometimes we just get lost in the moment and forget that we’ve gone through so much and overcame so many struggles. We are drastically different from who we are today, and that personal growth will help us as we enter the real world. And as we venture out into our live post-grad, let’s live our lives as fully as we can. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t take our time and our lives for granted.”

As they concluded their time at New Paltz and celebrated their undeniable resilience, new graduates reflected on their experiences at the College, and what comes next.

“I want to challenge you all to own the fact that you finished college and earned that degree during a global pandemic,” said Haley Hershenson ’20 (Early Childhood & Childhood Education), Student Association President. “Nothing about it was ideal, but everything about it was courageous and resilient. Be proud of that resilience. Remember to take with you all that you have learned at New Paltz, and to honor the knowledge and experience you gained outside of the classroom as being just as valuable.”

“Each of our experiences have been unique as we have learned many lessons, achieved many goals and set the bar high for not only ourselves but for the class that comes after us,” said Dershanel Brumant Jno Lewis ’21 (Psychology) First World Graduation President.

Complete coverage of SUNY New Paltz Commencement activities is available at