SUNY Potsdam Celebrates Class of 2018 at Commencement

The State University of New York at Potsdam Awards Degrees to Nearly 900 Graduates

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POTSDAM, NY (05/19/2018) Nearly 900 students were recognized for earning their baccalaureate and graduate degrees at The State University of New York at Potsdam on Saturday, May 19.

President Dr. Kristin G. Esterberg noted that since this is her fourth Commencement ceremony at the College, she felt almost as if she was "graduating" along with the Class of 2018, many of whom she has gotten to know from their freshman year onward.

"It's humbling to think about how your paths will diverge after today… We hope that one day -- hopefully more than one day -- your paths will lead back to Potsdam again," Esterberg said. "But for today, for this one moment, your paths have all crossed simultaneously for one last time… here in the Academic Quad, in the shade of the clocktower, where it all began. What a proud moment. I hope it's a moment you remember forever. I know I will."

To open the ceremony, Chelsea Sunday '16 recited the Ohen:ton Karikwatekhwen ("The words before all else") in the Mohawk language and in English translation.

Tristan Lesso '18 and Samantha Martin '18 led the crowd in the national anthems of Canada and the United States, respectively. Lesso was earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in both music and theatre, while Martin was graduating with her Bachelor of Music degree in music performance and music business.

"Please know on this great day of celebration, while many of you will leave the North Country and Potsdam, you are not ending your relationship with the SUNY Potsdam community. Actually, your journey in many ways is just beginning," said Alumni Association President Michael Paestella '95, as he welcomed the Class of 2018 to the ranks of 40,000 SUNY Potsdam graduates around the world.

Student Government Association President Sandra Cruz '18 presented a spoken word piece, urging her classmates to use the gifts they had been given for good.

"Show off our crowns, because it's our kingdom that we have found. Continuously reach for the stars. Don't ever regret it if you land on the moon," Cruz said. "Love and pain will pump into your veins to establish a revolution to find a solution that can modify change. Expand in range, but do not forget to sprinkle down love around the world. We are far too young to let bitterness strike us down."

The innovative educator Stephen Ritz, founder of the Green Bronx Machine, delivered the keynote address to the graduating class, after being awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

"Today, I am humbled to receive a Ph.D., but for me, the significance of a Ph.D. if that I am a People/Plant Hugging Dude," Ritz said. "I grow plants, but my plants grow children, schools, communities and opportunities. What are you growing? What seeds are you sowing?"

He has gained international acclaim for integrating education and urban farming at Community School 55 in the South Bronx, and is the bestselling author of "The Power of a Plant: A Teacher's Odyssey to Grow Healthy Minds and Schools." Ritz founded his non-profit organization, the Green Bronx Machine, to bring his educational philosophy to the world -- including working with students and faculty at SUNY Potsdam's Wagner Institute for Sustainability and Ecological Research.

"Twenty years from now, your major will not matter -- maybe not even in 10 years, and possibly not even in 10 months. It is your moral character, your values, your fiber and your integrity that matter in an ever-changing world. That is your true compass. It's your impact that matters," Ritz said. "So do something that matters and do it with integrity -- that will define you and be your ultimate 'major.'"

SUNY Potsdam also recognized the recipients of two major awards during the ceremony, which were presented by College Council Chair June O'Neill, Hon. '99.

Lynne Boles '74, the president of the Potsdam College Foundation Board of Trustees and a former vice president for global advertising at Procter & Gamble, was honored with the 2018 Roger B. Linden Distinguished Service Award. Preston C. Carlisle, a philanthropist and the founder of the Carlisle Law Firm, Ogdensburg, N.Y., received the 2018 Leadership Through Service Award.

The ceremony concluded with the conferring of 894 master's and bachelor's degrees, followed by the traditional singing of the "Alma Mater," led by graduating music performance and music business major Ivan Jukic '18, accompanied by the Crane Commencement Band.

During Commencement, SUNY Potsdam recognizes all students who have either earned their degree or are eligible to graduate between December 2017 and December 2018. Of those graduates, more than 750 crossed the stage at SUNY Potsdam on Saturday.

For the list of 2018 graduates, please click here.

To find out more about Commencement at SUNY Potsdam, visit

About SUNY Potsdam:

Founded in 1816, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America's first 50 colleges -- and the oldest institution within SUNY. Now in its third century, SUNY Potsdam is distinguished by a legacy of pioneering programs and educational excellence. The College currently enrolls approximately 3,600 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its challenging liberal arts and sciences core, distinction in teacher training and culture of creativity. To learn more, visit