Alfred University News

Alfred University convocation opens 188th academic year

Alfred University hosted its Opening Convocation Friday afternoon, welcoming more than 540 new students to campus and marking the beginning of the University’s 188th academic year. Classes for the 2023-24 year begin on Monday, Aug. 28.

Cathy Bissoon, a 1990 Alfred University graduate and a groundbreaking federal judge, provided the keynote address to 453 first-year and 90 transfer students, as well as the faculty and staff in attendance.

Judge Bissoon, a Brooklyn NY, native, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Alfred University in 1990, graduating summa cum laude and went on to earn her law degree from Harvard in 1993. In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed her to be U.S. District Judge for the District of Western Pennsylvania. Following her confirmation, Judge Bissoon — who is both Indian and Latina — became the first Latina Article III judge in Pennsylvania and the first Asian American Article III judge in Pennsylvania.

She told students her decision to come to Alfred followed her very first visit to campus.

“How did a girl from New York City end up here in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains? I chose this school. When I came here, I fell in love with it immediately,” she recalled.

“I thought about what it would be like to live and study in a place so serene. Alfred seemed like a place where I wouldn’t be just a number, where professors wouldn’t let me struggle alone. I made some of my best friends here, who shared in my struggles and challenges. I knew when I left Alfred on graduation day that I had made the right choice”

students walking down Academic Alley to Convocation

New students enrolled at Alfred University for the 2023-24 year proceed to Opening Convocation in the McLane Center’s Galanis Family Arena

Judge Bissoon said during her time at Alfred, she made friendships that have lasted a lifetime, found meaningful mentors in her professors, and grew to realize her potential.

“I had professors who knew me by name and became my mentors. They taught me how to think independently and become a leader,” she said. “Alfred took an introvert like me outside my comfort zone.”

After graduation from law school, Judge Bissoon worked for 15 years in private practice, but for a year-long sabbatical in 1994 to work as a law clerk on the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.  Judge Bissoon started her legal career at Reed Smith, where she would go on to become a partner and the firm-wide head of the Employment Group.  She also served as Reed Smith’s Director of Diversity for six years, earning various accolades for her efforts to increase diversity within the legal profession. In 2007, she joined the Pittsburgh law firm of Cohen & Grigsby (now Dentons Cohen & Grigsby), where she was a director and served as head of the Labor & Employment Group.

In 2008, Judge Bissoon was chosen as a United States Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.  Three years later, President Obama appointed Judge Bissoon as a United States District Judge for that same court.

During her time in private practice, Judge Bissoon was named a Fellow of the Litigation Council of America; listed multiple years in the Best Lawyers in America; named a “Pennsylvania Super Lawyer” by Philadelphia Magazine; listed in Chambers USA America’s Leading Lawyers; and was recognized as one of the top 50 lawyers in Pennsylvania under the age of 40 by Pennsylvania Law Weekly.  Additionally, she was honored for her many efforts in the area of diversity with the Honorable Thurgood Marshall Award from Minorities in Business Magazine

Judge Bissoon also was appointed by the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as an original member of Pennsylvania’s Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness. The Commission is charged with promoting the equal application of the law for all citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and increasing public confidence in the fairness of all three branches of state government.

Judge Bissoon encouraged students to “seize every opportunity you have. Breathe in the magic that is this place and know you have chosen right. Your journey starts today.”

Amy DeKay, vice president for Student Experience, noted that this year’s incoming class of new students is one of the largest in recent years. “The number of students is striking, but the diversity of this class is profound,” DeKay said.

She, too, encouraged students to develop relationships that will help them on their Alfred University journey. “It is our mission to help you realize your purpose. No one is too big or too small to be your web of support here at Alfred.”

Natalie Reynolds, Student Senate president, offered students two tips to make their time at Alfred a success. “Find a support system. Be bold in making connections during your time here,” she said. “Get involved. Spend time with professors, and in the studios and labs. Find out what’s happening on campus.”

In closing, Mark Zupan, Alfred University president, reminded students of the University’s mission to help them realize their purpose through the institution’s three core strengths: inclusivity, intersections, and mentorship.

“Our bedrock is inclusivity,” Zupan said, noting that the University was the first in the nation to not only admit women but allow them access to the same curricular offerings as men. “The diversity of you, our students, reflects our commitment to inclusivity.”

Mark Zupan at podium, Convocation
Mark Zupan, University president, offers his remarks during Friday’s Opening Convocation.

“The intersections to which you can avail yourself are plentiful. We encourage you to take different pathways and explore all our curricular and co-curricular offerings.”

With regard to mentorship, Zupan urged students to “take an active role in developing relationships. Take time to meet with (mentors). Use them as sounding boards when you seek to resolve challenges.”