Graduating StudentsExcitement and joy filled the air at Daemen College’s 65th annual commencement to celebrate the Class of 2016 at undergraduate and graduate ceremonies held May 21 in Kleinhans Music Hall. More than 1,025 degrees were conferred this year, including Daemen’s first graduates in the master of public health, master of social work, and master’s degree in cytotechnology.

“Graduates, I congratulate you and wish you well as you go forth to experience greater challenges than you have yet faced,” said President Gary A. Olson. “Do not forget the skills you developed here, as you become the successful individuals I am certain you will become.”

This year’s recipients of Daemen’s Charles L. Lumsden Award, the most prestigious academic award, were Ashley Cheff, who received a bachelor’s degree in political science, and Daniel Gertis, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English (communications/public relations). The award is presented to the student(s) with the highest GPA throughout their undergraduate years.

Other top 2016 undergraduate awards presented at the Excellence Awards ceremony held during commencement weekend were:

  • Ramel Haines — Mary Angela Canavan Award, which recognizes an undergraduate student who has made significant contributions to the betterment of student life at the college. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
  • Christopher Ponichtera — Alumni Senior Award, which recognizes an undergraduate student who has demonstrated exceptional dedication to the larger community. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy.
  • Justin Richmond — President’s Award, which recognizes an undergraduate student who has exhibited dedication, care and concern for their fellow students. He earned a bachelor’s degree in childhood and special education.

Undergraduate commencement speaker Yvonne S. Boice, a prominent businesswoman and philanthropist in Boca Raton, Fla., who owns and operates The Shoppes at Village Pointe, and Fugazy International Travel, urged the graduating class to be strong and resilient when they face challenges in life.

“Each one of you is on a journey, and you must learn to embrace all of the things that are going to happen to you,” said Boice, who was presented an honorary doctorate of humane letters at commencement. “The key is believing in yourself, and finding the courage to get back up when you have been knocked down. And understanding that this is all p art of the journey that will make you the person you will become.”

Citing “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann, Boice pointed to the inspirational poem’s simple wisdom and lessons that have positively impacted generations. In reference to the last line, “strive to be happy,” she said, “Notice he (Ehrmann) does not tell you be happy; he uses the word “strive” because it takes some effort. The effort comes in noticing. We all are impacted by the big wins and major successes that make us feel over the moon, but he asks us to look deeper and notice all the little things that add up to a happy life.”

Graduate commencement speaker John R. Yurtchuk, chairman/owner of Calspan Corp., offered the Class of 2016 his personal insight on success.

Graduating Students

“I learned early on that it is truly a team effort,” said Yurtchuk, also founder of Matrix Development Corp. and a real estate developer. “I have chosen to align myself with talented individuals and firms who are great at what they do. If you want those around you to also succeed and benefit from your activities — a win-win outcome — then that leads to even more success as unsolicited opportunities come your way.”

In describing his own experiences and journey in life, Yurtchuk, who received an honorary doctorate of humane letters during the graduate ceremony, reflected on the positive impact his father has had on his achievements.

“Although my father is not with us anymore (he passed away suddenly in 1984),” said Yurtchuk, “his strong influence and guidance has always remained at the forefront of what I’ve accomplished throughout my life and in my career. Foremost, he stressed the importance of a higher education and to gain as much knowledge as possible before embarking on your career. I wish you all the success you desire as you enter a new phase of life.”

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