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Commencement Address: Myra Kressner ’76 (May 19, 2024)


Thank you, Provost McClure, President Wheeler and SUNY New Paltz.

Hello graduates!!! Let’s take a moment to celebrate your achievements and success that led to today!!! (pause for hoots and applause)

I never thought so many years ago, sitting where you are, that I would be your Commencement speaker. This occasion is meant to be a glorious, celebratory event for graduates and their families. Although we cannot ignore what has transpired on college campuses across the nation over the last few weeks, including our beloved New Paltz, my goal for the next few minutes is to talk about what it means to be a successful New Paltz graduate.

First, huge congratulations to Salutatorian Sen Oglesby with us today and also Valedictorian Julia Lombard who was recognized at yesterday’s ceremony.

I want to recognize and thank my fellow Foundation Board members, and Erica Marks and Jonathan Vaughn who have been wonderful supporters, as well as Ashley Guerro and Emi DiSciullo with the Disability Resource Center. ….And of course, recognize the students with whom I have had the privilege of spending time, along with alumni at various events around the country.

I also want to thank my family and dear friends who are here today to celebrate with you—my daughter, Alexandra, and her good friend, Frankie; my sister, Carol, and brother-in law Richard; my niece, Sandi; and longtime friends Audrey, Susie and Michael.

I’ve had to make several big decisions that powerfully affected my life and career, after graduating New Paltz with a BS degree in secondary education– Shout out to those who pursue the incredibly important role of educator in shaping our future society.

My story is becoming an entrepreneur involved in launching three successful companies in retail media, management consulting and leadership think tanks, and also being able to “do good” by helping students at New Paltz on the Autism Spectrum.

There are many ways to define, or measure success. My daughter is on the Autism Spectrum and to her, success is often celebrated with incremental achievements. Growing up, Alexandra wanted to be a veterinarian. However, her experience in college was extremely stressful and she never completed her studies. Today, many years later, she works in a pet store and for her, that is success! Because of Allie, I was motivated to start the Kressner Autism Spectrum Program to provide neuro-diverse students additional resources to help enable their success at New Paltz, and also in their career of choice after graduation. The results have been incredibly rewarding, and there are plans to expand in the SUNY ecosystem and with other Autism Centers around the country.

My success did not come overnight. Early in my career, I was the only woman (only 5 ft tall) in most meetings and often ignored. But I didn’t let it overwhelm me, and over time my perseverance, skill, experience and yes, my personal charm, broke through. You may face hurdles in your journey, too.

Today I’m an Influencer in my business and the work we do for the Kressner Autism Spectrum Program because of the hard work, experience, trust and respect that I earned over many years.

So, what connective tissue will exist between your experiences at New Paltz and your goals moving forward ….integrity, authenticity, trust and resilience when dealing with challenges. You will have disappointments and you may not succeed at everything you do. Some things will not be in your control, but your integrity, your authenticity and understanding the true value of your reputation are within your control.

I started at New Paltz as a theatre major, and although I was cast in several shows, I decided I was not talented enough to “be successful”—whatever that meant to me at 19 years old….So I became an English/education major and as a senior I student taught 8th grade English in Wappingers Falls. I loved it and the students loved me. (Almost 50 years later, I still have the lovely jewelry box that the students gave me when term ended)

Upon graduation, I applied to a number of schools in the mid-Hudson Valley and discovered that they would not be hiring new teachers until the new school year. So, I went back to live with my parents in Yonkers, and one of the most consequential opportunities, and subsequent decisions, came my way. I was offered a job in Manhattan to work in production at a magazine publishing company.  So when I was offered a teaching job in September, I turned it down…

This was Big Decision #1, made when I was about 21 years old, like many of you, that had an incredible influence on my life. Something I never planned for or expected while studying at New Paltz came my way and I took it. Yet, I must emphasize that I have used many of the skills learned while studying to be an English teacher and continue to use every day in my media and consulting business.

After two years of coming in early and staying late, taking on extra projects and learning new skills at that first job, I turned down a job offer at TIME Magazine to work instead at a leading business-to-business publishing company in midtown Manhattan. After a couple of promotions, during 4 more years taking on extra projects and learning new skills, I was faced with Big Decision #2—I took the opportunity to leave this corporate job (where I was very happy) to join a startup media company. Retail Insights was the very first business to business VIDEO publishing company. Forty years ago, this was truly innovative, and the earliest transition into digital media like YouTube and many others. It was here that I learned teamwork, creativity, being open to new ideas, big ideas and taking chances.

Coming in early and staying late, by the way, applies to virtual and work from home. And whenever possible, show up in person! That’s the best way to network and build trust.

Big Decision #3 came with the opportunity to help launch another startup media company, CSP Business Media, which became so much of my world for over 20 years. We initiated many publishing and media innovations in the convenience retail industry, which are established business process today. It was a very bumpy start, but through hard work, creativity and leadership from the company’s CEO and my mentor Paul Reuter, whether during tough times or riding high, we became the #1 media company in the convenience retail industry.

After selling that company, several clients with whom I had spent years establishing trust and respect, asked me to advise their company. I started Kressner Strategy Group, becoming a strategic advisor to convenience retailers and food and technology solutions companies.

About six months into the Covid pandemic, I started Vision Group Network with partners Eva and Roy Strasburger to uncover and plan for future social, economic and technological disruption that every business faces.

I will leave you with this–When I sat in your seat almost 50 years ago, I thought I would be teaching English locally to eighth-grade students. Instead, I became a respected business owner, traveling around the world. You may not know today what your career or future will be. It may be in your degree field, or it may be completely different. Don’t be afraid of the change that is coming exponentially faster than we can incorporate.

Some things will not be in your control…expect to make mistakes. I certainly did. But your integrity, your authenticity, earning respect and understanding the true value of your reputation are within your control and will help determine your success.

I had to learn all this….and so will you! Thank you and congratulations.