'This time is your time,' SVC grads told

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BENNINGTON — Southern Vermont College recognized the accomplishments of 86 students at its 91st commencement festivities on Saturday.

Held on the Greystone Lawn of the Everett Mansion, the college's 91st commencement ceremony featured speaker Nicholas Pinchuk, chairman and chief executive of the tool and equipment manufacturer Snap-on Incorporated.

"Do you ever think about what makes an American?" he asked the students. "It's not so simple. We're not Americans because we come from a common origin, Americans come from everywhere. We're not Americans because we have a particular religion, all forms of worship are seen here... We're Americans because we share a common belief, that's what marks us.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," he said. "America is about the pursuit of happiness, and you are charged with leading and pursuing. I'm going to advise you to communicate and to be curious. This time is your time. People are looking at you. The world is watching.

"You have an impact on the future, but you have an impact now... All of you are the leaders of the many. You're going to move to a place where the goals are bigger than yourself. The more you focus on something the stronger you will be." He mentioned to the graduates that they will see change and that they should do something about it.

The college recognized 83 bachelor's degree candidates, one associate's degree candidate, and two College Steps certificate recipients. The class valedictorian was Queenie Lyka Garrison of North Bennington and the salutatorian was Torrey Kurtzner of Bennington.

Garrison was also selected by the faculty as one of two student speakers. Born in the Philippines, Garrison was adopted and came to America without knowing how to read or speak English, and credits her father with encouraging her and believing in her.

"I dedicate my academic accomplishment to my father," she said. "Dad, you are an inspiration to me. Your kindness and loving nature showed me what America is really about. While others would turn their back on immigrants and refugees, you did not. Instead, you saw a child who deserves a quality education and a brighter future. Thank you for being a father when you did not have to be. I will always be grateful for the opportunity you have given me to achieve my American dream."

The second student speaker was Sharlyne Mary Marte, a native of Washington Heights, New York, who received the Lynda Curry Memorial Award, given annually to a student who exemplifies the fulfillment of SVC's mission. "Coming to Vermont was a huge change for me. People move at a slower pace, and that gave me anxiety, because I was used to 20 years of a fast-paced life. I went from never being apart from my family to having to make decisions and choices on my own.

"Although being at a small school had its pros and cons," she said, "the pros were that I met caring people who were willing to dedicate their time to have students succeed. I spent most of my time at the Center for Teaching and Learning, and that helped me realize that you can't succeed without asking for help. They supported me and if I ever missed an appointment, they immediately emailed me to check in with them. I was fortunate to meet amazing faculty in this school."

Two other student awards were presented during the ceremony. The William A. Glasser Award, given annually to a student who has achieved outstanding personal and academic growth during their time at SVC, was given to Melissa Noelle Mascari. The Edward H. Everett Award is given to a graduating student who has made numerous contributions to the SVC community and personifies Everett's spirit of giving went to Bridget Cain, who has served as student government president, was a founding member of the Looking Glass, a student-produced digital magazine, and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity during he spring break.

Evans awarded Pinchuk, who has been CEO of Snap-on since 2007 and chairman since 2009, an honorary degree of humane letters on behalf of the college. Prior to joining Snap-on, Pinchuk held various executive and engineering positions at Carrier Corporation, its parent company and Ford Motor Company. A native of South Troy, Pinchuk received a master's in business administration from Harvard Business School and master and bachelor of science degrees in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

"It is a genuine honor to have Nick Pinchuk as our commencement speaker," said Evans. "He is an extremely influential business leader, and heads a company that is one of the most respected brands in the United States, one that has developed multiple strategies to help young entrepreneurs get their start and gain success in business. His sincere interest in higher education and in fostering a strong economy makes him an ideal speaker for our community."

"Over your time at SVC, you have shown resiliency, the ability to face disappointment, frustration, and other obstacles, and to work through or around them," said Evans in his remarks to the graduates. "Certainly many of you have overcome serious challenges to get here today, and equally certainly pretty much all of you will face such challenges in the days and years ahead. But you should feel confident that you have what it takes to work your way through them—you can build on your experiences so far, and take comfort in your successes and lessons from your failures. This confidence will serve you well, particularly when it is coupled with the humility and self-knowledge that will enable you to ask for help when you need it, and to build a team of friends, family and supporters around you that makes the whole greater than the parts individually."

The final speaker was Lynda Sinkiewich, assistant professor of the Hunter Division of Humanities. "The last four years have flown by, and you'll likely find that it just goes faster and faster with each passing year. Don't forget to notice your milestones. Pause a moment when you do, if for nothing else than to reassure you, the traveler, that the proper path is being followed. Take time to see how far you've come."

"On behalf of the faculty," she concluded, "I want to thank you for allowing us to walk with you on this leg of your journey. It's been an honor. We wish you joy as you continue toward that next milestone, and the next, and the next. May you all follow your paths, celebrate your milestones, and enjoy your journey forward. Congratulations, graduates."

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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