SCHENECTADY Chris Gaffey said it’s bittersweet graduating from Union College, but he won’t be going far after the ceremony.
The psychology major landed a communications job working for the Chamber of Schenectady County on State Street, just a half-mile from the college campus.
“I’m happy to say I’ll be staying in Schenectady after today,” Gaffey said as he waited on line with his fellow graduates to receive his diploma.
Union College bid farewell to its 220th graduating class Sunday. The ceremony, held on Hull Plaza, pushed more than two hours as all 500 graduates were called by name.
“I can see some of you are yawning and were probably up all night,” said keynote speaker Deborah Birx, who oversees the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. “But that’s OK,” she added. “Just be excited!”
Birx spoke about her experiences helping to combat HIV and AIDS around the world, which fell in line with the college’s theme for this year of global public health.
“PEPFAR is a true reflection of America’s values,” she said. “It is what is good about America — and what makes people around the world feel good about America. I could go on for hours about PEPFAR and the fight against AIDS, but we are here to talk about the Class of 2014.”
She shared her “top ten list of lessons” with the graduating class, one of which drew loud applause from the crowd — “The Internet does not hold the truth, you do.”
Class President David Masterson gave the student address, joking with his fellow graduates about finding a job and having parents pay for tuition.
“As an unemployed theater major with a middling GPA, I am completely unqualified to offer you any kind of advice,” he said. “But if we apply just a few of the lessons we’ve learned here, I think we’ll be just fine.”
Masterson reflected on his time at Union, and pointed to some of the “little things” that students encountered during their four years on campus.
“Whether it’s Dawn’s smile greeting us in Dutch, hanging out in the gardens, or Professor Berk threatening to ‘Condemn us to academic hell,’ we know what we will miss.”
At the end of the ceremony, bagpipe players chimed in as graduates tossed their black caps into the air. Many of the caps were decorated, many with a message containing a large U.
“Best FoUr Years”
“Thank U Mom + Dad”
“Congrats 2014 U Did It”
“If U Can Dream It U Can Do It. Thanks Dad 2014”
“I’ll Miss U 2014”
“All I Need Is U”
Orlando Diaz received his bachelor’s degree in history and is moving back to his hometown, Boston, to start a job in education.
“I’m going to miss this place,” he said. “It’s definitely bittersweet, but I’m coming to terms with it all.”
Anna Gagnon also plans to move back home to Millbrook, Dutchess County, but has big dreams of living in New York City in the future.
“I thought I wasn’t ready to graduate but now that I’m here and it’s actually happening, I know I’m ready,” said Gagnon, who graduated Sunday with a degree in quantitative economics and plans to teach English.
At the end of his speech, Masterson urged his classmates to take their experiences at Union and share them with the world. “We are Union,” he said.
“We’ve been so blessed to call this place our home, to have learned so much from each other,” he said. “We owe it to our families, we owe it to our professors and we owe it to each other to keep this spirit of Union alive in our hearts and in our minds.”