NCCC students urged to ‘Do what you’re good at’

North Country Community College Class of 2018 students stand during the Saturday commencement ceremony in Saranac Lake. (Photo provided — Bill Chaisson)

SARANAC LAKE — Because — even in the month of May — no one can guarantee that winter is quite over in the North Country, our regional colleges hold their commencements indoors.

On Saturday, North Country Community College graduated 320 students.

The hour-long NCCC ceremony took place in the gymnasium of the Sparks Athletic Complex on the Saranac Lake campus. The graduates and their families were able to take advantage of the beautiful spring weather during a reception held at the top of the hill after the distribution of diplomas.

The students were led into the hall by the Highland bagpipe duo Spirit of Scotland and an honor guard from the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department. NCCC president Steven Tyrell opened the event by telling the packed bleachers that 64 percent of NCCC graduates moved directly into the North Country work force and joined “just about every employment enterprise in the region.” The most popular degree at NCCC is nursing, with 65 people receiving an associate’s degree that qualifies them to become a registered nurse. In addition, 22 received degrees in practical nursing from the Malone program, 24 from the Ticonderoga program, and 35 from Saranac Lake.

The commencement address was delivered by Paul Colligan, a senior director at Oppenheimer & Co., Inc., a New York City investment bank. Colligan deadpanned that he could tell them that the development of their soul was the most important thing in their lives, “but you wouldn’t believe me, and you’d forget what I said by five o’clock this afternoon.” Instead, Colligan chose to share his five guiding principles for living a good life.

North Country Community College President Steve Tyrell shakes the hands of a Class of 2018 graduate at the college’s commencement ceremony Saturday in Saranac Lake. (Photo provided — Bill Chaisson)

First, he said, don’t come home without having learned something new during each day. Second, be positive. Don’t go around telling other people your problems, Colligan said, because 90 percent of them–unless they are your family–don’t care, and the other 10 percent are glad you have them.

Colligan reminded the graduating class of entrepreneur Mark Cuban’s opinion that the biggest lie out there was that you should follow your passions in life. He wasn’t sure he entirely agreed with Cuban, but he did recommend “you should do what you are good at. That tends to be where you put the most time and effort. Nobody quits doing what they love.” Which led him to his third principle: always put in your best effort.

In his introduction, Tyrell included a list of Colligan’s volunteer work, which the speaker referred to before he recommended that each student “stay or get connected to your community.” His final principle went directly to morality: always do the right thing.

Before announcing a series of awards, the NCCC president asked the audience to remember Lynn Malerba, a professor at the college who passed away on May 7. The gathering observed a moment of silence in her honor.

Science professor Peter Sayles was recognized for his years of service at the college; he is retiring at the end of the academic year. Tyrell commended him for “teaching students to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.”

The procession, led by Highland bagpipe duo Spirit of Scotland and an honor guard from the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department, makes its way into the North Country Community College graduation ceremony Saturday. (Photo provided — Bill Chaisson)

The Chancellor’s Award for Academic Excellence went to students accounting major Chloe Nott of New South Wales, Australia and nursing major Victoria Smith of Massena. Professor and coach Larry McFadden received the Chancellor’s Award for Faculty Service. Mary Smutz, who works as a microcomputer operator at the Malone campus, was recognized with the Chancellor’s Award for Classroom Service for her innovations and for anticipating technical problems before they happened. Finally, Steven Brewer received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Adjunct Teaching. Brewer was praised for getting his students to think outside the box and to be able to see from the perspective of a position that was opposite to their own.

With the preliminaries completed, the students were awarded their degrees. They went up on stage one at a time to receive their diplomas from a college trustee and shake the hand of the college president, a benefit of graduating from a small school.

The bagpipers and honor guard then led the administrators, faculty, and the new graduates out of the Sparks Athletic Complex into the brilliant spring sunshine and the rest of their lives.

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