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Schwaller bids farewell at SUNY Potsdam commencement

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POTSDAM — As SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller delivered his address to the graduating class of 2013, he was forced to pause, choked up with the emotion of his final commencement ceremony.

The ceremony, held outdoors at 10:30 a.m. Sunday on the campus quad, was Mr. Schwaller’s last. He announced his resignation in November, after seven years as president of SUNY Potsdam.

“I cannot tell you how much I cherish every day being with you,” he said. “We will take a bit of Potsdam with us in our hearts. This is a very special place.”

Sunday’s commencement celebrated the graduation of 753 baccalaureate program students.

“It’s bittersweet. I love my alma mater,” said sociology graduate Tanasia T. Betts of Brooklyn.

Ms. Betts described Potsdam as a stark contrast to her city home, where her grandmother raised her after she lost her parents at a young age.

“I’m a city girl, and I got thrown into the north country, and I love it.” she said.

Ms. Betts got involved in a host of campus organizations and activities. She was honored with the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.

Higher education provided her with the opportunity of a lifetime, she said, and she wants the chance to pass it on. She will be attending SUNY Plattsburgh this fall for a master’s degree in student affairs management.

“People changed my life here at SUNY Potsdam, and I wanted to do the same for others,” she said.

The college awarded an honorary doctorate in music to Col. Thomas H. Palmatier, the leader of the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” Col. Palmatier graduated with a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Potsdam in 1974. He has since been honored with two awards of the Legion of Merit and seven Meritorious Service Medals.

He also earned the right to wear a combat patch for service in El Salvador.

After receiving his honorary doctorate, Col. Palmatier gave the students his advice for their future.

“You have had gifted faculty and staff who challenged you, encouraged you and hopefully pushed to achieve more than you thought you were capable of. Now, on this commencement day, the responsibility to challenge, encourage and push you is formally transferred from them to you.” he said.

He pointed to his own experience, playing for presidents, kings, prime ministers and admirals around the world, a life he said he could not have imagined when he graduated.

“Hopefully you will have a life that far exceeds what you can dream of now,” he said.

Graduating Student Government Association President Ryan Williams told his fellow graduates to remember both their successes and their trials as they continue their lives.

“We learn so much about ourselves in our failures,” he said.

Mr. Williams presented Mr. Schwaller and his wife, Anne C. Schwaller, with a bouquet of flowers and a commemorative SUNY Potsdam chair in thanks for their time at the college.

“They have truly defined and modeled what it is to be a member of our campus community and beyond,” he said.

Mr. Schwaller wished the gathered students well as they began the next step in their lives.

“You must now plot your own course forward,” he said. “You draw upon the traditions and connections that have supported you thus far. You are ready.”


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