Gladys Thomas

Gladys Thomas’ story is as remarkable as any you will ever hear. At the age of 74 she graduated from OCC, earning a degree in Professional Communication May 2015. Her performance as an adult learner was so outstanding she was named the top student in her major during April’s Student Honors Ceremony.

Thomas’ journey to a college degree was lengthy and often difficult. She was diagnosed with cancer at age 22. Her mother died of a stroke. Her son struggled with kidney failure for more than a dozen years. Her daughter battled a drug addiction, leaving Thomas to raise her three grandchildren. “Despite everything I went through I never lost my desire to go to college,” Thomas said.

She made the decision to give college a try and enrolled in OCC in 2012. “When I went to register, I felt inferior to the younger generation because it had been over 50 years since I was in a class room. I told myself that all of us were there for the same reason, to get to the next level.”

Thomas received the curriculum honor award for the Professional Communication major during the Student Honors Ceremony. She is pictured receiving her award from (left) OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill and (right) Professor Karen Harrison.
Thomas received the curriculum honor award for the Professional Communication major during the Student Honors Ceremony. She is pictured receiving her award from (left) OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill and (right) Professor Karen Harrison.

Thomas said she brought a level of life-experience to class other students simply couldn’t. “As a 71 year old African-American female student who had seen history first hand, I brought diversity to the student body at OCC. I added a unique perspective to class discussions. I wanted to be a model of dedication, perseverance, enthusiasm, integrity, and self-respect for the younger students.

Thomas found strength in her faith and decided to share her message with others. “I had been encouraged through the word of God and came to the conclusion other women needed to be encouraged as well.” She started a religious show on radio station WSIV 1540 am. It airs every Saturday from 12:45 to 1:30 p.m. “Having a close relationship with Jesus Christ and applying the word of God to my life every day keeps me strong spiritually, mentally and physically.”

When Thomas walked across the stage at commencement and received her college degree, she became the first of her 13 siblings to do so. Her academic success carries deep meaning. “It was important to show everyone I could do this. If I can do it, they can do it. I leave my family this legacy.”

Commencement 2015

Onondaga Community College held its 52nd Commencement ceremony Saturday, May 16 in the SRC Arena and Events Center. More than 1,500 students were eligible to walk across the stage and receive their degrees.

College President Dr. Casey Crabill addressed graduating students, telling them this accomplishment was just the beginning of their journey. “Earning your certificate or degree is not the end of your learning. You’ve achieved a significant milestone, but the most valuable thing you’ve achieved is you’ve learned how you learn. It’s something you will need to continue to do for the rest of your life in order to remain successful. You’ve learned to set a goal for yourself. You can manage your time and effort. You can bring resources together and you can get the job done.”

Dewayne Garner Jr.
Dewayne Garner Jr.

Graduating student Dewayne Garner Jr spoke to his classmates about his own journey from Cicero-North Syracuse High School to Onondaga. He admitted coming to OCC wasn’t his first choice but it wound up being his best. “I was an average student with an extraordinary dream of becoming a biomedical engineer. As time went by I saw that attending OCC was the best decision I have ever made. It has prepared me to achieve success.” Garner is a Mathematics and Science major who plans to transfer to a four-year institution, major in biomedical engineering, then advance to a Ph.D. program.

Members of OCC's first class of graduating students in the Nuclear Energy Technology major.
Members of OCC’s first class of graduating students in the Nuclear Energy Technology major.

The Class of 2015 included the College’s first-ever group of graduates in the Nuclear Technology major. The program was started in the fall 2013 semester in response to a workforce demand. Of the 13 graduating students, 11 have secured employment at local nuclear plants. The two other students are considering job offers and higher education opportunities. OCC is one of only 36 colleges in the nation to offer this degree program.

Gladys Thomas 014
Gladys Thomas

Other unique stories included Gladys Thomas, a 74-year-old cancer survivor who earned a degree in Professional Communication. “Miss Gladys,” as she is affectionately known, does volunteer work with women in her church and raises three adolescent grandchildren.

Shannon Houghton
Shannon Houghton

One of the youngest graduates was Shannon Houghton. In June 2014 she earned her high school diploma from Cicero-North Syracuse. Less than one year later she graduated from OCC with a degree in Humanities and an Honors Minor. Houghton came to OCC with 36 college credits which were earned through a combination of AP Classes and OCC’s College Credit Now program. During her one year on campus Houghton was inducted into international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. In the fall she will attend Binghamton University and pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Her goal is to earn a master’s and become a psychologist.

Karim Abdel-Razek and his father, Osama Abdel-Razek check out Karim's poster at commencement.
Karim Abdel-Razek and his father, Osama Abdel-Razek check out Karim’s poster at commencement.

A colorful display of large posters which highlighted stories of graduating students greeted commencement attendees. The posters were placed around the second floor of the SRC Arena.

Retiring faculty members Ken Bobis and Sue Lamanna were co-Grand Marshal’s for commencement. Bobis was a professor in Architectural Technology and Interior Design who started at OCC in 1979. Lamanna was a professor in the Nursing major who began teaching at the College in 1998.

Honorary degrees were given to Timothy C. Penix, Vice President of the SUNY Syracuse Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) administered by Morrisville State College, located in Syracuse, and Deborah Stanley, President of SUNY Oswego.