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University holds 121st commencement exercises

Posted 05/20/17

Fitchburg State held the spring ceremonies of its 121st commencement exercises in May, welcoming 900 new alumni to its international network of Falcons.

At the undergraduate ceremony Saturday, May 20, Mary Pat Couig ’79—program manager on the Office of Nursing Services at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and formerly an assistant surgeon general in the U.S. Public Health Service—reflected on her storied career and offered life lessons for the graduates.

Mary Pat Couig '79 delivers the commencement address“Everyone makes mistakes and fails at some point in their lifetime. What matters is that you learn from your mistakes and failures, and vow to do better in the future,” said Couig, who also advised the graduates to know their strengths and weaknesses, and look for opportunities to solve problems and serve their country.

“To quote a phrase from the Fitchburg State website, there is a world of opportunity waiting for you,” Couig said. “Opportunities to lead and make a difference. Opportunities every day to make a difference at home, at work, in your community and around the world. Opportunities to lead, to be kind and respectful, to listen, to be authentic and honest, and to advocate for your beliefs. What will you do with the time that is given to you?”

Couig was presented an honorary doctorate in science at the ceremony.

Martin F Connors Jr receives his honorary degree from President LapidusAlso presented with an honorary degree Saturday was Rollstone Bank & Trust President and CEO Martin F. Connors Jr., who is finishing his 10th year on the university’s Board of Trustees. His tenure included three years as chairman.

“Under his chairmanship, the university has expanded and implemented new academic programs, and made a transformative investment in its host community through the purchase of the downtown theater block,” President Lapidus said. “These advancements will have an enduring impact on the university and its students.”

In his remarks to the graduates, President. Lapidus discussed the importance of vision, passion and integrity. “I ask you to think about, what it is that you want to be, what you would like to accomplish and what you would like to stand for,” he said. “In sum, how in the end would you like to be remembered?”

Passion represents the commitment it will take students to reach their goals, he continued. “Make sure that you stay the course with your vision no matter what critics might say. Don’t confuse what is, with what can be, as we live in a world with limitless possibilities that often reveals that today’s dreamers are the realists of tomorrow.”

Those dreamers must also be guided by integrity and a strong moral compass, he added. “There’s an old proverb that says, ‘There is a choice you have to make in everything you do. However, you must always keep in mind that the choices you make, ultimately make you.’  I know that each of you will take that to heart and make good choices.”

Other awards presented at the spring ceremonies included:

Stephen F. LaVie '16 received the Distinguished Alumnus AwardThe Distinguished Alumnus Award was given to Stephen F. LaVie, a senior emergency preparedness specialist in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response. In that role, he develops emergency preparedness policies, regulations, and guidance for nuclear reactors; reviews licensing actions; and supports regional emergency preparedness inspection activities. Prior to joining Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response, he worked in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation developing methods and guidance for, and performing, radiological consequence evaluations of postulated reactor accidents. 

Before joining the NRC in 1997, he served 15 years at the Beaver Valley Power Station working on radiological consequence analyses. He served as the system manager of the site’s meteorological measurements and accident dose assessment capability and supported the site’s emergency preparedness program. His work also included developing standards on field monitoring and radiological assessment.

LaVie left his studies at Fitchburg State in 1969 to serve in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam era. He was presented his diploma at a surprise ceremony in April at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, from which he is retiring in June. He lives in Maryland.

Joana Dos Santos received the Graduate Student Leadership AwardThe Graduate Student Leadership Award was presented to Joana Dos Santos at the graduate commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 18. Dos Santos has lived and explored the immigrant experience since arriving in the U.S. as a teenager from her native Uruguay 15 years ago. She graduated from Fitchburg High School and received an associate’s degree in business administration at Mount Wachusett Community College before completing a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies at Fitchburg State. She has been an advocate for immigration reform for years, organizing immigrants and supporters in the region. As the executive director of the United Neighbors of Fitchburg, she worked with youth and families affected by social injustices and developed leaders to create opportunities for disenfranchised communities. This work was central to her graduate studies at Fitchburg State. Her thesis is an exploration of narratives about the immigrant experience, focusing on the impact immigration had on her research subjects’ personal identities. The work draws upon bodies of scholarship in intercultural communication, Latin American and Latino studies, and will contribute to the field of applied communications.

On Saturday, Laura M. DeMartino delivered the valedictory address. A highly motivated scholar throughout her academic career at Fitchburg State University, DeMartino majored in English Studies with a concentration in literature.

Laura M DeMartino delivers the valedictory addressBuilding on a lifelong love of reading, she dived into the analysis of literature early in her studies at the university. She found a kinship with British Romanticism, with a strong interest in the works of Shelley and Byron. For her accomplishments, DeMartino was inducted into Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society, and served as the chapter secretary in her senior year at Fitchburg State. DeMartino’s comprehensive course of study included strong academic performance in computer information systems, art appreciation, history and psychology. A native of Ashby, DeMartino plans to continue her education this fall when she matriculates into an archive management program at Simmons College.

Jairo Hernandez received the Antonucci Leadership AwardThe Robert V. and Jeanne S. Antonucci Student Leadership Award was given to Jairo M. Hernandez. Hernandez transferred to Fitchburg State as a sophomore and immediately pursued a rigorous academic curriculum and a robust extracurricular calendar. He founded the university’s American Sign Language Club, served as vice president of Campus Ambassadors Christian Fellowship, was the public relations officer of the university’s Technology Engineering and Education Collegiate Association chapter, and served as a member of the Communications Media Department Undergraduate Curriculum Committee. In addition, he also held several jobs on campus, including lead tour guide for the Admissions Office, lab monitor for the Industrial Technology Department, and helped incoming students navigate the transition to university life as an orientation leader with the Office of Student Development.

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