Alfred University News

Alfred University holds commencement ceremonies for Class of 2021

Soledad O'Brien
Soledad O'Brien

Alfred University awarded 350 degrees during commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2021, which were held virtually on Saturday, May 15. Soledad O’Brien, award-winning television journalist, delivered the keynote address.


ALFRED, NY – Alfred University awarded 350 degrees during commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2021, which were held virtually on Saturday, May 15. Soledad O’Brien, award-winning television journalist, delivered the keynote address.

“We are here to celebrate Alfred University’s Class of 2021: your commitment to our intersection, your accomplishments at our intersection, your prospects going forward from our intersection,” Mark Zupan, Alfred University president, commented.

Zupan introduced Alfred University Board of Trustees Chair Greg Connors ’92, and talked of the crucial part the Board played in helping the University through the challenges of the last year. “The Board has played a pivotal role, especially during this challenging COVID time. They have helped us navigate and build a brighter future,” Zupan said.

In offering his congratulations to the Class of 2021, Connors remarked, “This is a celebration of all your hard work, all your perseverance, and everything you’ve had to overcome in these unprecedented times and circumstances. We could not be more proud of you.”

Peter Cuneo ’67, a Life Trustee and Board Chair Emeritus, introduced O’Brien as keynote speaker. O’Brien hosts and produces the Sunday morning political show, Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien and reports for HBO’s Real Sports. She is founder and CEO of Soledad O’Brien Productions, a documentary production company dedicated to producing empowering untold stories that take a challenging look at often divisive issues of race, class, wealth, opportunity, poverty and personal stories.

After urging graduates to acknowledge and thank “the people who made this tremendous achievement possible”—family, friends, mentors—O’Brien told them to congratulate themselves. “You have distinguished yourselves during a very tough time. You reached high and today you walk away with a lifelong prize: a college degree from a top school. You deserve to be very, very proud.”

O’Brien lauded graduates for the perseverance they showed in accomplishing their academic goals during a uniquely difficult period in our nation’s history.

“I don’t think any of us could have foreseen a total shutdown of our country—millions of people seriously ill, hundreds of thousands who  did not survive, an economy damaged, and entire industries brought to heel. Never would you have imagined yourselves sitting in front of a computer to go to school, donning a mask, staying indoors, staying away from your friends,” she said. “And yet, with all that, here you are. You worked together as citizens, as members of your community—students and faculty, administrators and all those who work at Alfred—and hunkered down to make things happen.”

O’Brien was quick to remind graduates that will not be defined by the challenges they faced, but what they will do with the opportunities that will come, and how they will use those opportunities to affect positive change and help others.

“I hoped you learned one thing during this challenging time that will propel you through the next stage of life: that life is not just what this country gives you or offers you, it’s about what you do with that gift and how you use that gift to inspire others around you,” she said. “These times call upon you to be people of action. It means you need to vote, you need to organize. It means you need to speak up when you are presented with injustice. You need to honor what it took to get here by continuing to study and succeed, and continuing to learn about what it means to be a good citizen. Use your talents for good. Share your resources with others. Don’t be a person who defines success solely by how much you earn or by your title. You have been given an opportunity to learn and grow and achieve. So pass it on and make someone else’s life better.”

O’Brien has anchored and reported for NBC (co-anchoring the news program Weekend Today; contributing reports for the Today Show and NBC Nightly News), MSNBC (anchoring the cable network’s weekend morning show and its technology program, The Site), and CNN (co-anchoring American Morning and Starting Point). She has won numerous awards, including three Emmys while working for CNN (for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2012 Presidential election, and a 2013 series titled “Kids and Race”), the George Peabody Award (2005, for coverage of Hurricane Katrina; and 2010, for coverage of BP Gulf Coast oil spill), and an Alfred I DuPont prize (for coverage of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami).

A champion of diversity, O’Brien has given voice to the underserved and disenfranchised through her Emmy-winning reporting and acclaimed documentary series, Black in America and Latino in America. In 2006, Newsweek magazine named her one of the “15 People Who Make America Great.” In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, O’Brien and her husband, Brad Raymond, created the PowHERful Foundation to help young women get to and through college. The foundation hosts the PowHerful conferences that support hundreds of young women with mentoring programs, professional advice and other services.  

The 2021 Marlin Miller Outstanding Senior Award recipients, Holly Passetti and Aanu Adeloye, also spoke at Commencement. Passetti, from Nichols, NY, is a chemistry and biology major (minors in mathematics and biomaterials engineering) who has a cumulative GPA of 4.00. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry, microbiology, and molecular biology from Pennsylvania State University. Aanu, from Ile Ife, Osun, Nigeria, double-majors in mechanical engineering and physics, with a minor in mathematics, and has a 3.99 GPA. This fall, he will enroll at the University of Texas-Austin to pursue a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering.

“It is indeed an honor for me to be here before you today. I recognize that I am here only by the grace of God and by the overwhelming support of my family,” Adeloye said. “I am also indebted to the community I have come to love and cherish here at Alfred.”

Adeloye spoke of the bonds and relationships formed at Alfred and encouraged his classmates to keep them close going forward. “I implore you, Class of 2021, to remember these friendships. Cherish them. They have become the bedrock for the relationships that will be formed between you and others you will meet in the future. Use your memories and build stronger friendships and be ready and willing to have a positive influence on all who will come to surround you,” he said.

Passetti urged classmates not to let their time at Alfred be defined by the difficulties posed by a global pandemic, but instead “by the good times you’ve had an all you have accomplished.” She referred to a quote by poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou to sum up her experience at Alfred University, and the long-lasting impact it will have on her life and the lives of her classmates: ‘People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget the way you made them feel.’

“Years from now, we won’t remember what was said to us—you probably won’t remember what I say in this speech. We won’t remember all the things we did,” Passetti said. “However, we will remember how we felt during these years; how our friends and professors made us feel; how Alfred made us feel. Alfred made me feel at home. Class of 2021, you made me feel at home.”

Winners of the Marlin Miller Outstanding Senior Award are chosen based on scholarship, extracurricular achievement, personal character and conduct, and nominations by faculty, students, staff, or alumni. The award was established to honor Alfred University alumnus Marlin Miller ’54, H ’89, H ’19 one of Alfred University’s most generous supporters. Miller has been a member of Alfred University’s Board of Trustees since 1972 and is a former Board chair.

After the general commencement ceremonies concluded, students took part in virtual ceremonies specific to their respective school and colleges—College of Business, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Inamori School of Engineering, School of Art and Design, and School of Graduate and Continuing Studies. Deans offered congratulatory words and read the names of each graduate.

“I’m so thrilled to be celebrating this momentous occasion with you,” commented Gabrielle Gaustad ’04, dean of the Inamori School of Engineering. “I cannot wait to see what all of you end up doing after graduation.”

Said Susan Morehouse, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: “You have done well and we are proud of you. You have studied broadly across our curriculum and you have dug deep into you majors and minors, and you’re ready to take what you know and share it with the world.”

“It has been quite a journey and you have learned so much along the way,” said Mark Lewis, dean of the College of Business. “But your journey in life is just turning a new chapter. You’ll learn and achieve many new things going forward.”

Lauren Lake, dean of the School of Art and Design, commented, “I congratulate the Class of 2021 for all you have accomplished and will continue to accomplish. We are so proud of you transformations and all that you have become.”

Jay Cerio, dean of the School of Graduate and Continuing Studies, talked about how students earning graduate degrees—in education, school psychology, school counseling, mental health counseling, and professional counseling—will be front and center in the continued response to the COVID pandemic.

“They will be among those on the front line helping children, adults, and families with the after effects of COVID,” he said. “I’m confident that we have produced quality graduates who are up to this task.”

Alfred University awarded 280 baccalaureate degrees, 69 master’s degrees and one doctoral degree to graduates who completed their degree requirements in May 2021. The University had already conferred 96 baccalaureate degrees, 18 master’s degrees, and six doctoral degrees to August 2020, December 2020, and 2021 Allen Term (January) graduates.

Graduates from the University’s AU-NYC program—who have earned master’s degrees in School Counseling and Public Administration, or completed Advanced Certification programs in Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling at satellite campuses in New York City—will be honored in a separate virtual ceremony on June 17 at 5:00 p.m.

Youtube video, Alfred University 2021 Commencement