FM grads ready to continue life stories

JOHNSTOWN – As the sun set Friday, a column of black-robed students and faculty made their way into the gymnasium at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.

A collective sigh of relief was followed by cheers as the commencement came to a close, with more than 450 students leaving the packed gymnasium as graduates of the college.

Many of the students are looking forward to entering the job market.

Aaron Soudelier, a graduate with a degree in computer technology, said he was excited to see what his degree can do for him.

“I’m ecstatic,” Soudelier said. “I’m about as confident as someone can be in this day and age.”

James Chester, a graduate of FM’s automotive tech program, plans on looking for a job.

“It’s great, man,” Chester said, utterly relieved.

Brittany Ostrander of Ephratah earned a degree in nursing Friday, but she plans to continue her education.

“Within the next couple of weeks, I’ll know if I have a job at Cooperstown’s Basset [Medical Center],” Ostrander said.

After three long years earning her degree, she plans on working toward a bachelor’s degree at Hartwick College in Oneonta.

FM President Dustin Swanger said the students are moving on with their lives, laying out the theme of the graduates continuing to compose their life stories.

“Tonight represents the end of a journey. The end of your education,” Swanger said. “It also is a beginning. The start of you shaping the future.”

Sarah Puffer, the student speaker for the commencement, said the word “graduation” sounded too good to be true.

“Most days, we think, ‘Is this ever going to end?’ as we hit snooze on yet another alarm, muster the energy to plow through our morning routines and bustle into a class that will bring us one step closer to the end,” Puffer said. “The funny thing about the end, however, is that it is really just a beginning.”

Comparing life to a book is a cliche, Puffer said, but the metaphor is accurate.

“We took the first step. We opened the cover. We made a choice to start an adventure,” she said.

Puffer said the conclusions to the graduates’ stories are nowhere near.

“What lies ahead for us is a chance to double the success and pen the sequel to this particular story, making it even more of a success than the first,” Puffer said.

Tina Good, president of the Faculty Council of Community Colleges and a trustee of the State University of New York, was the keynote speaker. She stressed the importance of the degrees presented Friday.

“Those of you graduating today have embraced the adventure of discovering a new world,” Good said. “Each diploma awarded today is a symbol of hope and success. But hope comes with uncertainty. Success comes with risk and knowledge comes with responsibility.”

Good said in many cases, people are at their best when they are challenged.

“You have faced many challenges to be here today. You have spent hundreds of hours writing papers, researching topics, conducting experiments, creating works of art, engaging in classroom discussions, participating in student activities, talking to counselors and collaborating with your peers,” Good said.

The class of 2013 demonstrated “that learning is not a luxury to be experienced in an ivory tower,” she said. “It is hard work; it is multi-faceted and it takes place in brick buildings, homes, cars, malls and on the Internet.”

Reporter Arthur Cleveland can be reached by email at