The Class of 2017!

Onondaga Community College held its 54th commencement Saturday, May 13 in the SRC Arena and Events Center. College President Dr. Casey Crabill presided over the ceremony at which 1,300 students were eligible to receive their degrees.

Henry Humiston

The student speaker was Henry Humiston. The 46-year-old Humiston earned degrees in both Nuclear Technology and Electrical Engineering Technology. He told attendees how he was diagnosed with ADHD at age 12, quit school, earned his GED and became a professional drywall finisher. A back injury led him to rethink his career options. At his mother’s urging he enrolled in OCC and started taking classes in the summer of 2012. During the 2016-17 academic year Humiston served as an officer in the Student Association. In April he was named the top student in the College’s Nuclear Technology major. He has accepted a job offer from Exelon and will begin working at Nine Mile Point in June. Upon conclusion of his speech Humiston received a standing ovation. You can read the speech in its entirety at the bottom of this story.

Commencement Grand Marshal was Pamela Martin-Louer, retiring Professor of Psychology and Chair of General Studies.

Honorary degrees were awarded to:

  • Daniel J. Cummings, co-anchor of “The Morning News” on WSYR TV, Newschannel 9.
  • Peter G. King, Partner-in-Charge at King & King Architects.
  • Sharon F. Owens, CEO of Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility, Inc.
  • Kathleen A. Rapp, public servant for 25 years with both the Town of Salina and Onondaga County.

Below is student speaker Henry Humiston’s commencement address.

“Good morning, Dr. Crabill, Dr. Willis, Faculty, Members of the Board of Trustees, Honored Guests, Elected Officials, and my fellow graduates for allowing me to represent the student body as their speaker at the 54th Commencement. If you had told me ten years ago that I would be standing up here delivering the commencement address along with receiving two associates degrees, I’m sure we would have shared a great laugh together. But here I am with the support of family, faculty, and friends.

Our journeys began before we came to OCC. For me, I grew up in Liverpool, and I was diagnosed at the age of 12 with ADHD. Problems in school grew out of my disability, and I ended up not completing high school; however, when I heard about a new program at BOCES, I jumped at the chance to get my GED in three months. I was 18 years old.

I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps, so for the next 20 years, I worked as a professional drywall finisher. Then, in 2011, a back injury left me unemployed, partially bedridden, and living with my parents — at the age of 41.

My mother started talking to me about going back to school and my first reaction was to reject that notion because it would mean two years without a paycheck, but when I returned to work I reinjured my back. I had to stop.  It turned out that my mother was right, just like mom usually is.

I decided to pursue a two-year math/science degree, and in the summer of 2012 I went to the Public Library to learn the fundamentals of using a computer. Then, I went to OCC and took some placement tests, only to find that I had 7th grade math skills. As many of you will understand from similar experience, I worked my way all the way up from Math Diagnostics through Calculus 1.

I worked hard to get to this point. I spent quite a few hours in both the math lab and the Content Tutoring Center. I had to learn everything that I missed in high school. I owe many thanks to the people in the math department, particularly Professor Stratton (now Dean) and Professor Tyszka.  It was Professor Tyszka who approached me about a relatively new program that the college was offering known as the Nuclear Technology Program. Then, on the advice of Professor Everett, I decided to pursue a dual major of electrical engineering and nuclear engineering technology, which has taken me an extra year to graduate.

In my last three years at OCC, I have enjoyed a lot of success, but I have had to overcome quite a few obstacles in trying to balance personal and academic responsibilities. As everyone graduating today probably knows, we would not be here without having made sacrifices, and without the support and sacrifice of our families and friends who gave us time, and sometimes more resources, to help us succeed. Today, our sacrifices are being rewarded. The OCC faculty and community have opened many doors for us.

Graduation is not the end of the journey. We’re not “done.” Considering our diverse, ever-changing world, we face circumstances that pose significant challenges. What do we want our legacy to be? At OCC we now say, “No Space for Hate,” meaning we must respect everyone’s journey. All of us have different journeys and different stories to tell that we can be proud of, but we need to move forward and build the future on the foundation of our experience. My future is beginning next month when I will start working as an Instrumentation & Control Technician at Nine Mile Point Nuclear Power Station.

I am so proud to be with you in this place, at this moment. This is the first time I’ve ever walked a stage for graduation in my life and for that I would like to thank God. I would also like to thank my parents and my children. I thank you very much for letting me share my story. Let’s embrace our own stories on this day of success! Let us go from here to share with the world what we’ve learned and gained. Congratulations, best wishes, and happy journeys to all of you.”

Phi Theta Kappa honor society members pose for a photo prior to commencement.

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