SUNY Potsdam Awards 658 Bachelor's Degrees at Commencement


From left, Allen Schoer ’71 gives the keynote address while College Council member June O’Neill, Class of 2011 academic honoree Heather Horning and SUNY Potsdam President Dr. John F. Schwaller look on.

The State University of New York at Potsdam celebrated 195 years of educational excellence as it awarded 658 degrees at the 2011 Bachelor’s Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, May 22 in the Academic Quad.

In the shade of the Satterlee Hall clock tower, SUNY Potsdam welcomed the Class of 2011 into the ranks of its 38,000 alumni worldwide as it conferred the graduates with Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees.

The ceremony included a keynote address by Allen Schoer ’71, founder and CEO of The TAI Group. An actor, consultant and entrepreneur, Schoer was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters at the ceremony in recognition of his successful career and his support for liberal arts education.

SUNY Potsdam was honored to welcome Carl Hayden, Chairman of the State University of New York Board of Trustees, to campus to attend Commencement and award Schoer with his degree.

“The creativity within you is vast, greater than you’ll ever experience. The real issue isn’t how much you have, but rather how much you access. I call it ‘lifting the lid.’ And the first step in doing so is embracing the idea that there’s more available within you than you might believe,” Schoer told the graduates. “Your success lies in the choice you make between ‘What if?’ and ‘Yeah, but.’”

Schoer recounted a tale of the time he was asked to speak in an upper-level Shakespeare class at the College when he was a student. The professor, Dr. Schwindt, was intimidating to say the least, but ended up becoming Schoer’s mentor and he went on to become the first full drama major to graduate from Potsdam’s program.

“In the rich history of this institution, there are endless examples of this type of nurturing. It’s an essential part of the brand, one dimension of what makes our alma mater unique,” he said. “The next piece of good news is this. You have an internal vision which is yours and yours alone. … Now, that gift comes with responsibility—reveal that vision within yourself and help reveal it within others, just like Dr. S, as one of several did for me; just as others have done for you during your career here.”

Schoer, along with others, founded what was then known as The Actors’ Institute in 1977 to help mid-career actors rediscover their creative drive and energy. So successful was that venture that its work quickly found an audience in the wider world of business and education, and has now evolved into a successful consulting firm working with multinational clients such as Google, Bertelsmann, Sony and Credit Suisse, along with some of the world’s leading business schools. Schoer is also an accomplished classical pianist.

SUNY Potsdam President Dr. John F. Schwaller reflected on the College’s 195-year history, and the ongoing 125th anniversary celebration of its Crane School of Music.

“Although some of you may feel as if you have been here for over a century, today I want to congratulate all of you: the graduates who took only three years, the normal plan graduates who leave us after four years, the extended plan graduates who took five years, and even those of you who graduated according to your own schedule. Congratulations!” he said. “Armed with your experiences from SUNY Potsdam, with the knowledge you have gained here, the friends you’ve made among your peers and the faculty, and with your own families to support you, everything will be OK. So I charge you to take a long look at yourself. This graduation provides you with a unique opportunity to make a new beginning. Promise yourself that tomorrow and thereafter you will be the person you want to be.”

Student Government Association President Leanne Merrill was awarded two bachelor’s degrees Sunday—one in music and one in math, with a minor in environmental studies—just a day after earning her master’s degree in mathematics on top of that. She spoke to her fellow graduates at both ceremonies during the College’s 177th Commencement celebration weekend.

“I'll begin with a sentiment that I believe many of us share: I learned several important lessons in college as a result of drinking beer. One of my favorites is printed on the inside of this Magic Hat cap. It says ‘the journey is the destination,’” she said. “All of you, my fellow graduates, will be receiving diplomas very soon. But it's not the piece of paper that's going to matter to you: It’s the experience you had while you were here. The moments of inspiration, the hard work and the skills you learned and practiced are what you’ll bring with you as you continue your journey beyond Potsdam’s campus.”

Class of 2011 academic honoree Heather Horning, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in middle/secondary English education with a concentration in literature and a minor in acting, also spoke to her classmates.

“No matter what ‘they’ say about a crappy economy, a failing state or even national system, today is proof otherwise. You, the graduating Class of 2011, showed them all what’s what,” she said. “Dedicated, enthusiastic and bright students are walking in this ceremony, and despite any and all of the obstacles set against you, you did it. You have earned the praise and glory of today. Exalt in it. Enjoy it. And take that feeling out into the world and remind everybody else of the possibilities for our future.”

Jeff Washburn ’79, President of the SUNY Potsdam Alumni Association, welcomed the graduates into the ranks of the College’s 38,000 graduates worldwide.

Dr. Schwaller continued the festivities by honoring Dierdre Scozzafava, NYS Deputy Secretary for Local Government, as the recipient of the 2011 Roger B. Linden Distinguished Service Award, the College’s highest honor. He also recognized Potsdam CPA Ed Mucenski, Chairman of the Canton-Potsdam Hospital Board of Trustees, with the 2011 Leadership Through Service Award.

The ceremony concluded with the conferring of baccalaureate degrees to 658 students, including Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees.

SUNY Potsdam also graduated 187 master’s graduates this weekend, in its sixth annual Master’s Commencement Ceremony, held on Saturday, May 21 in Helen M. Hosmer Concert Hall.

To read the Commencement programs from this year’s celebrations at SUNY Potsdam, visit