May 25, 2018

Student Speakers Announced for SUNY Empire’s 46th Annual Statewide Commencement

More Than 3,400 Degrees will be Conferred

(SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – May 29, 2018) More than 3,400 associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as undergraduate and graduate certificates, will be conferred on the class of 2018.

In keeping with SUNY Empire State College’s long-standing tradition, graduate and undergraduate students will provide commencement remarks at each of the college’s events across the state.

Again this year, all eight commencement events will be streamed live via the Internet. A link for each webcast, the time, day, date and location for each event are listed with the bio for the student speakers.

They are:

About Gail Stevens, Rochester

The commencement event at Rochester takes place at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 31, at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, 123 East Main Street. 

Gail Stevens lives in North Port, Fla., and is a long-time resident of Batavia, N.Y.

Stevens is an alumna of Genesee Community College, class of 1980. The single mother of Michelle and Eric began work on her bachelor’s in 1991.

She completed her Bachelor of Science in Business, Management and Economics, with a 3.80 GPA, and graduates this spring.

As she studied to complete her degree, Stevens met significant challenges, including the death of both parents, divorce, a career change, a move from Florida to New York and a son who became addicted to heroin, and who now has recovered.

She worked in the Batavia County Sheriff’s Office and then for Troop A of the New York State Police as a clerk for more than 20 years.

Her volunteer leadership experience includes serving as:

  • A member, and then president, of the Board of Education of the Batavia City School District from 2004-13.
  • President of the City of Batavia Youth Board, 2004-12.
  • Treasurer of the Batavia Players, Inc., 2005-13.
  • Treasurer of the Batavia High School Band Boosters, 2005-13.
  • President of the Batavia High School Parent Teacher Group, 2005-12.
  • A member of the City of Batavia Consolidation Team, 2010-11.
  • A member of the Genesee Valley Educational Leadership Board, 2006-13.

Stevens remarried in 1998 and, in 2013, returned to Florida to work for Paychex, Inc., her current employer.

She volunteers at San Pedro Catholic Church as an usher, serves on the City of North Port Parks and Recreation Committee and is helping to launch a Celebrate Recovery Group at the New Hope Community Church of North Port, as she continues her career at Paychex.

Mark Rider ’14, Rochester

The commencement event at Rochester takes place at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 31, at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, 123 East Main Street. 

Rider completed his MBA in Business Management and graduates this spring. He is on track to complete a 15-credit Advanced Graduate Certificate in Marketing Analytics and Brand Management.

His academic accomplishments included:

  • 2018 School for Graduate Studies Dean’s Medal recipient
  • 2014 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, the SUNY system’s most prestigious student honor.
  • Presenting at the college’s 2014 Student Academic Conference.
  • Selection as the Outstanding Adult Student Award by the Rochester Area Colleges Continuing Education Association.

In her nomination of Rider, his mentor, Associate Professor Betul Lus, wrote that he was “… one of the most focused, dedicated and determined students I have had the pleasure to work with.”

He is vice president of commercial operations, surgical workflows, North and Latin America, for Getinge, a global medical device company.

Rider began working for Getinge in 2008 and has been promoted four times. He credits completing his Bachelor of Science in Educational Studies, with a GPA of 3.96, as a significant factor in helping to advance his career.

An accomplished musician and an award-winning show designer, music arranger and visual designer, he has held leadership positions, including assistant director, with the eight-time state champion Victor (High School) Marching Blue Devils (Band).

Rider helped start Winterguard, the school district’s indoor percussion and cadet guard program.

Rider founded and served as the volunteer director of the Victor Summer Music Lesson Program. This program allows students to continue their music lessons during the summer months at low or no cost for families with financial challenges.

As a member of the Victor Outreach in Children Education parent group, Rider supports parents who are new to working with Individualized Education Programs for their special needs children.

As a parent of a special needs child himself, he has extensive experience in advocating for resources in his school district.

The 45-year-old resident of Farmington, N.Y., and his wife, Lesley, have two daughters, Claire, 17, and Lauren, 15.

About Juan Nicholson, Syracuse

The commencement event at Syracuse takes place at 6:30 p.m., Friday, June 1, at The OnCenter, 411 Montgomery Street, Syracuse, N.Y. 

Juan Nicholson, a resident of Syracuse, completed his Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Studies and earned a 4.0 GPA.  His concentration was writing.

His coursework included “Blogging and Digital Presentation,” “Fiction Writing and Drafting the Manuscript.”  His senior thesis was “Digital Portfolio.”

As one product of what he has learned, Nicholson is developing a blog, which will augment his community-outreach activities.  Additionally, he is actively working on a three-part memoir.

“Juan's new learning in this area is a perfect example of how a mature, experienced, adult may enhance his or her career and personal goals and ability to reach out to others in the community,” said Marie Pennucci, a member of the college’s faculty and Nicholson’s primary mentor.

Professor Yvonne Murphy, who worked with Nicholson on his digital coursework, said that Nicholson would be an appropriate student speaker because of his academic excellence in those courses and, just as importantly, his character and drive to succeed as a mature adult who wants to gain currency with regarding to media and writing.

Nicholson’s community activities include:

  • Conflict resolution facilitator with the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP).
  • Mentor to at-risk men and boys with the Ironman program.
  • Parish Council member and volunteer with St. Lucy’s Church, Syracuse, N.Y.

“Juan is a very humble and unassuming person,” said Pennucci, “He seeks to use his abilities to add wisdom and perspective to the many narratives and media noise out there with a goal to connect and help those in his community.”

About Kimberly Amidon ’12, Syracuse

The commencement event at Syracuse takes place at 6:30 p.m., Friday, June 1, at The OnCenter, 411 Montgomery Street, Syracuse, N.Y. 

Kimberly Amidon ’12, a resident of Marcellus, N.Y., earned a Master of Arts in Adult Learning (MAAL) and graduates this spring.

A native deaf speaker, Amidon also completed her Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Studies, with a concentration in Deaf Studies, in 2012.

Fluent in American Sign Language, she has taught this language to others for many years at Onondaga Community College, SUNY Cortland, LeMoyne College and OCM BOCES.

Amidon successfully defended her MAAL final project, “Fingerspelling and Numbers Strategies: Application for American Sign Language An Action Research Project,” in December 2017.

According to Associate Professor Patricia Isaac, Amidon’s mentor, this study further contributes to the body of literature on American Sign Language curriculum.

Isaac also said that Amidon took the initiative to encourage another deaf individual to enroll in the MAAL program and has helped to coach that student.

Amidon’s professional activities and awards include:

  • Member of the National Association for the Deaf, which selected her as the 2013 recipient of its Creating an Instructionally Engaging Classroom Environment Award.
  • Member of the executive board member of WHOLE ME, a nonprofit organization providing educational and social services designed to promote the success of the deaf and hearing-impaired individuals, their families and their communities, from 2003-10.
  • Member of the WHOLE ME golf tournament fundraising committee, 2010 and 2011.
  • American Sign Language community instructor for WHOLE ME from, 2007-09.

About Lauren J. Masset ‘15

The commencement event at Buffalo takes place at 10 a.m., Saturday, June 2, Rockwell Hall, 1300, Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, N.Y. 

Lauren J. Masset ’15, a resident of West Seneca, N.Y., completed her Master of Arts in Social and Public Policy, with an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Child and Family Advocacy and, with Angelica Rivera, is one of two students selected to speak at the college’s Buffalo commencement event.

Masset earned her Bachelor of Science in Community and Human Services from SUNY Empire in 2015 and an Associate of Arts and Sciences in Early Childhood Education and Teaching from Erie Community College in 2011.

She currently works as the recreation supervisor for the Town of West Seneca, N.Y.

Masset’s responsibilities include researching, planning and implementing a broad range of recreational programs that meet the town's goals and objectives of providing meaningful programs for the town’s diverse youth population.

Her awards and recognition include the Buffalo Business First’s 30 Under 30 Award, 2017. Masset also is a two-time recipient of the SUNY Empire State College Student Service Award, 2015, 2017.

Active in her community, Masset’s currently volunteers as:

  • Member of the West Seneca Civic and Patriotic Committee.
  • Member of the West Seneca Environmental Commission.
  • Member of the Buffalo Creek Oxbow Wetland Field Club.
  • Member of the American Legion Post 735’s Women’s Auxiliary.

Masset is active in the life of the college and currently serves on the 2018 Student Activity Fee Committee and as a mentor/coach with the college’s Student Leadership Institute.

Her past involvement in college community includes successful completion of the college’s year-long Student Leadership Institute program and as a member of the Student/Alumni Business Club.

About Angelica Rivera

The commencement event at Buffalo takes place at 10 a.m., Saturday, June 2, Rockwell Hall, 1300, Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, N.Y. 

Angelica Rivera, a resident of the City of Buffalo, completed the requirements for her bachelor’s in Business, Management and Economics and, with Lauren Masset, was selected as one of two speakers for the Buffalo commencement event.

Three months after Rivera began her studies with SUNY Empire, her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Since that time, she says, every semester has been a challenge.

In addition to taking care of her mother, including acting as a translator, she is the single mother of two children.

Rivera manages to find the time to encourage friends and colleagues to follow her path and return to college. One has completed a degree at Erie Community College. Another has enrolled with SUNY Empire and a third will attend a SUNY Empire information session.

She also was an active member of the Buffalo community. Her community participation and recognition include:

  • Women Touching the World Award, from Unlimited Possibilities Overcoming Poverty Ministry, Inc.
  • Friend of the Community Award, from Citizen Action of New York, Western New York Chapter.
  • Membership in PUSH Buffalo.
  • Emcee for the 2016 Justice Works Conference, Albany, N.Y.
  • Speaker at the 2015 Peoples Action Conference.

About Miriam Romais, Albany

The commencement event at Albany takes place at 1 p.m., Sunday, June 3, at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center, South Mall Arterial, Albany, N.Y. 

Miriam Romais is a New York-state based Brazilian-American artist, curator and marketing and strategic development consultant.

Romais completed her MBA in Business Management, with 4.0 GPA and an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Global Brand Marketing.

She also is a 2018 recipient of the college's Dean's Medal, which recognizes the recipient's academic achievement and the integration of their learning into their professions and communities. Students are nominated by a member of the School for Graduate Studies faculty and must have a GPA of at least 3.5 as of their last academic reporting period.

A recipient of a 2016 grant from the Saratoga Arts Council and the New York State Council on the Arts, her photography has been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the U.S. and abroad, including:

  • Lapham Gallery/LARAC, Glens Falls, N.Y.
  • Saratoga Arts, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
  • Brookside Museum, Ballston Spa, N.Y.
  • El Museo del Barrio, The Museum of the City of New York.
  • The Smithsonian Institution, as part of the nationally traveling exhibition and book, "Americanos: Latino Life in the U.S."

Associate Professor Mentor Betul Lus, Romais’s mentor at the college, describes Romais as a very hardworking, strong, and dedicated student, with excellent academic and professional skills.

After graduating from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, with a BFA, in 1991, Romais continued her education throughout a successful professional career and earned several certificates, including:

  • The Nonprofit Technology Professional Certificate from the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), in 2012.
  • A certificate in fundraising from the Support Center for Non-Profit Management in 2008.
  • A certificate in strategy from Stanford University School of Business in 2002.
  • Two certificates in arts management from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1994 and 1995.

Lifelong learning has been a big part of her personal life. Romais is a Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCoach, certified to teach novice and advanced riders, and is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

About Lisa Hebert Ryan, Albany

The commencement event at Albany takes place at 1 p.m., Sunday, June 3, at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center, South Mall Arterial, Albany, N.Y. 

Lisa Hebert Ryan earned a Master of Arts in Learning and Emerging Technologies, an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning with Emerging Technologies, and an Advanced Graduate Certificate in STEM Education in Emerging Technologies, and has been selected as one of two student speakers for the college’s commencement event at Albany, N.Y.

Ryan is a training development specialist, executive vice president and co-owner of Microknowledge Inc., located in Latham, N.Y., a New York state Certified Woman-owned Business Enterprise.

Associate Professor Eileen O’Connor, Ryan’s mentor at the college praised Ryan’s work ethic her excellence and innovation in virtual-reality corporate design, a leading-edge form of corporate development.

“As part of her graduate coursework, Lisa created an educational environment that focuses on technology-based education development and virtual-reality corporate design,” said O’Connor. “Lisa invited her corporate clientele and other students in her graduate program into this virtual-reality environment and gave them the opportunity to participate in this innovative, visionary and leading-edge form of professional development.”

Ryan’s community-based activities include serving as past-president and vice president of finance of the Hudson-Mohawk Association for Talent Development Board of Directors and as a past member of the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and its Leadership Institute Steering Committee.

In addition to earning certification for her expertise with many Microsoft Office products, she is a Microsoft Office Certified Master Specialist and a Microsoft Certified Professional.

Ryan earned her undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Russell Sage College, Troy, N.Y.

About Nechelle Stolzenberg

The commencement event at Manhattan takes place at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, June 7, at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY. 

Nechelle Stolzenberg graduates with a Master of Business Administration in Healthcare Leadership, as well as an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Healthcare Management, and earned a 4.0 GPA. She is a 2018 recipient of the Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence, SUNY's most prestigious student honor.

The holder of a Master of Public Administration from Baruch College’s Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, the City University of New York, with honors, Stolzenberg is the single parent of three children and the grandmother of one baby.

In 2005, she initiated one of the first support groups in her community for single mothers and helped other communities establish similar groups. Stolzenberg oversees the Yeled v’ Yalda Women, Infants and Children program (YVY WIC), a nutritional program for women, infants and children from age 0-5, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the New York State Department of Health.

The Brooklyn resident has more than two decades of health care administrative experience and has excelled academically, earning several degrees and certifications, including her two master’s degrees and a B.S. in Business, Management and Economics from SUNY Empire.

She also holds a teacher’s and graphics arts diploma and is a member of the Metropolitan New York City WIC Association’s board of directors.

Stolzenberg is known throughout the SUNY Empire community for devoting effort to sharing her professional and personal experiences with fellow students. By assuming the team leader position on some group projects and, when appropriate, offering encouragement to her peers, she served as a source of motivation and inspiration.

Other previous passions include hosting single-parent families and individuals in her home on weekends or holidays, which provided them with a much-needed respite.

She previously served as a board member for Sister to Sister, a support network for divorced Jewish women, and has advocated for individuals with emotional disabilities, saying, “I was determined to make a difference for this vulnerable and needy population.”

Stolzenberg wrote extensively during her time at SUNY Empire about the ethical, philosophical, political and cultural roots of the U.S. health care system and the needs of young people with complex behavioral health needs.

About Justice Favor

The labor commencement event takes place at 6:30 p.m., Friday June 8, at Alfred Lerner Hall, Columbia University, 2920 Broadway, New York, N.Y.

Justice Favor, who will graduate in May with an A.S. in Labor Studies and a 3.83 GPA, has received the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.

A full-time union organizer for the Construction & General Building Laborers Local 79 and the married father of four, Favor hails from Far Rockaway, Queens, and is active in that community.

He says that he owes everything to his family and to Local 79 and aspires to be a labor leader because, “Union is life.”

He has been cited for his work with HEART 911, a team of first responders comprising members of the Fire Department of the City of New York, the City of New York Police Department, the Port Authority Police Department and the Building Trades Council of Greater New York City who bonded in the aftermath of 9/11.

He is also an active member of the college’s Student Affairs Committee and Real Affordability for All, a nonprofit community organization, which advocates for low- and moderate-income households that are increasingly priced out of their neighborhoods in New York City.

He aims to be a role model for his children. “Family is paramount,” he says. “I want to shatter the myths of what it’s like to be a young African-American. I am not an anomaly. I want my children to know that if they work hard and dedicate themselves, they will be successful. I am proud of them and they are proud of me.”

Favor calls his wife, Omego Favor, a surgical technician, the “MVP” in the family and dedicated his award to her for her support of his goals and dreams. “She is the backbone,” he says.

Favor has twice been awarded the Empire State College Foundation Louis Levine Scholarship, available to students pursuing either an associate or bachelor’s degree at the college’s Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies.

In order to be considered, applicants must demonstrate academic superiority and financial need and be an active member of a labor union. Favor also is attending The Worker Institute at Cornell, part of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, an intensive one-year program for current and emerging leaders.

As a union organizer, Favor strives every day to improve working conditions for construction workers across New York City and the state. He is at the forefront of the fight for workers’ rights to a living wage and a safe workplace.

From putting up picket lines to fighting against wage theft and coordinating press conferences, Favor has excelled in the fight for safe and career-oriented construction jobs for people in New York. He fights alongside women, undocumented immigrants and formerly incarcerated individuals for their rights in the workplace.

Favor also takes pride in volunteering for the “Stop the Violence” movement based in Rockaway, Queens, where he grew up. Twice each month, he participates in outreach to vulnerable youth at risk of getting involved in criminal mischief or gun violence in their neighborhoods.

About Jillian Lifson

The labor commencement event takes place at 6:30 p.m., Friday June 8, at Alfred Lerner Hall, Columbia University, 2920 Broadway, New York, N.Y.

Jillian Lifson, a fourth-year apprentice with IBEW, is an active member of the Amber Lights Society of Local Union #3, where she gives monthly reports on labor legislation. Lifson was awarded the Association of Electrical Contractor's Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement during the apprenticeship, and was selected to participate in the Electrical Worker's Minority Caucus yearly conference in Detroit, Mich. She strives to learn something new each day that helps her become a stronger force in the labor movement.

About Eric McPherran

The labor commencement event takes place at 6:30 p.m., Friday June 8, at Alfred Lerner Hall, Columbia University, 2920 Broadway, New York, N.Y.

Eric McPherran, an electrician born and raised in Elmhurst, NY, says a Construction Skills course he took during his senior year at Queens Vocational and Technical High School introduced him to IBEW Local 3. “The rest,” the SUNY Empire State College grad says, “is history.”

About Raymond Mincher III

The labor commencement event takes place at 6:30 p.m., Friday June 8, at Alfred Lerner Hall, Columbia University, 2920 Broadway, New York, N.Y.

At 27 years old, Raymond Mincher is a first-generation Local 1 plumber who has been working as a UA member for more than four years. Mincher cannot say enough about the Local 1 apprenticeship program and all that he has learned while honing his skills through the SUNY Empire State College program. He says he most looks forward to becoming a Plumbers Local 1 journeyman as he continues to master his craft.

About Michelle Senior

The labor commencement event takes place at 6:30 p.m., Friday June 8, at Alfred Lerner Hall, Columbia University, 2920 Broadway, New York, N.Y.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies, Michelle Senior began her studies at SUNY Empire State College in the spring of 2016, with a significant head start on her degree through prior learning assessment (PLA).

She has been a full-time volunteer minister for Jehovah’s Witnesses for approximately three decades, is a former coordinating manager for NYU Hospital and became a NYSUT paraprofessional in 2014. Her goal in life, she says, is “to continue in my ministry, enjoy learning and relish all the things I have accomplished. I desire to pass on my love of God, love of life and love of people to my child and others.”

About Susan Ferraiole

The commencement event at Purchase takes place at 6:30 p.m., Friday, June 15, at the PepsiCo Theater, 735 Anderson Hill Road, Purchase, N.Y., on the Purchase College campus.

Susan Ferraiole graduates with a bachelor’s in Business, Management and Economics, with a concentration in management.

Ferraiole is a 2014 alumna of SUNY Ulster, where she earned an associate in Individualized Studies, with honors. That same year, she was named to the President’s List, which requires part-time students to achieve a GPA of 3.75, or greater.

She is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for two-year colleges.

At SUNY Empire, Ferraiole was selected to speak at the 2015 Student Academic Conference during the “Deep Listening” concurrent session.

She also was chosen to be a student representative for the collegewide open house event held at the Newburgh location.

Ferraiole followed a nontraditional path to higher education. A native of Torrance, Calif., her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Germany, shortly after WWII.

At 17, she enrolled in a community college, but lacked direction and guidance and, although she was interested in studying law, the prospect of eight more years of school was daunting.

She took a job as a cashier at J.C. Penney and, from the ages of 18-21, Ferraiole worked part time and traveled through Europe.

"My parents, fed-up with my vagabond lifestyle, began a course of loving intimidation which brought me into a solid job with health benefits and a pension in public service," Ferraiole says.

Beginning as a typist, Ferraiole has enjoyed a 31-year career with the U.S. Department of Education where, today, she is the director of the Financial Institution Oversight Service/Eastern Division, at U.S. Department of Education in New York, N.Y.

“For me,” Ferraiole says, “I needed to ‘do’ to learn about myself, to test myself in different ways, so I began my federal career ‘doing.’” Part of the reason she took the job in public service was that it was relocating to a different part of California and provided her with an opportunity to "stand on my own two feet."

Through work, she learned a good deal about herself and, with some introspection and thinking, set out career goals. More recently, she found herself confronted with the fact that further promotion in the federal government often requires a college degree.

Robin Shinn, Ferraiole’s supervisor at the time, encouraged her to the point of insistence that she complete a college degree. “He made me see the possibilities not as problems, but as opportunities, and helped me to find the road I needed to take,” she says. Ferraiole credits him and the strong work ethic and love of learning instilled in her by her parents as primary motivators for her enrolling at SUNY Ulster.

“I started small and found an online program with Ulster Community College, set up a plan and just began ‘ticking off the boxes,’” she says.

At SUNY Ulster, she discovered her passion for leadership, women’s studies, management, productivity, communication and other subjects.

Ferraiole says, “Before I knew it, I was graduating with an associate degree. Employing this logical approach, I transferred to Empire State College and, again, began ‘ticking off the boxes.’”

Her interests include advancing technology that supports both communication and entertainment. She writes a blog,, and teaches herself the nuances of blog management. An avid video gamer and yoga enthusiast, Ferraiole is also a student of metaphysics and the power of human potential.

The 54-year-old Wallkill resident credits her husband, Michael Ferraiole, as her greatest supporter and cheerleader, along with her late father and mother, Karl and Christel, and her sister, Michelle, who served as an inspiration by also completing her educational journey and becoming an elementary school teacher, as sources of strength and support.

Strength and support, without which, she says, she may not have achieved all that she has.

About Achieng Owako

The commencement event at Purchase takes place at 6:30 p.m., Friday, June 15, at the PepsiCo Theater, 735 Anderson Hill Road, Purchase, N.Y., on the Purchase College campus.

Achieng Owako graduates today with a Master of Arts in Community and Economic Development.

Despite being a single parent in her 40s, and working full time, Owako returned to college to complete a master’s. At times, Owako did her schoolwork from intensive care units, when her child was hospitalized.

Throughout her studies she has been able to maintain a GPA greater than 3.0.

Active in her community, Owako participates in the Woman2woman prison ministry and makes personal visits to incarcerated women in her community.

She mobilizes women to get together to tackle issues facing their children in the community, and encourages them to act as mentors to young women.

Owako is part of her church’s mission team and travels overseas to talk to and empower women to have hope and excel despite their circumstances.

“Other women and men who think it’s too late to go back to school, or they can’t manage with their schedules, will appreciate hearing from someone who has made it despite the odds against her,” Owako said.

About Kim Bennett

The commencement event at Brookville takes place at noon, Saturday, June 16, at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, 720 Northern Blvd., Brookville, N.Y., on the LIU Post campus. 

Kim Bennett, a 52-year-old, long-time resident of Massapequa Park, N.Y., completed her Bachelor of Science in Community and Human Services, with a concentration in addiction and mental health, earned a GPA of 3.88, and graduates this spring.

Bennett is a recipient of the Jane Shipton Endowed Memorial Scholarship, which was established in memory of late Professor Jane Shipton.

Selection is based on academic promise and demonstrated success, community and school involvement and financial need.

Bennett was select to be the featured speaker for the 2018 “Addiction and Recovery Workshop,” which was held at the college’s Old Westbury location.

In April 2015, Bennett completed the requirements and became a New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Office (OASAS) Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC).

For more than 10 years, she has worked for SCO Family of Services, which has provided vital human services throughout New York City and Long Island for more than 100 years.

Bennett works with women housed in SCO’s Morning Star I and II, OASAS licensed community residences, which provide a structured, sober environment and 24–hour care and transitional services, to women in recovery from substance abuse.

In 2008, her husband died and she became a single parent of four children.

Bennett says she also supported her brother, a police officer with 22 years of service with NYPD, who retired in 2016 shortly after his sergeant died in the line of duty, and went through a difficult divorce.

Her father had been sick for many year and his condition became severe in 2015. As a result, she spent a great deal of time with him and his wife, until he passed away in March of 2017.

Dealing with one of her son’s illness, Bennett says, may be her greatest challenge.

At the age of 16, her son was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissue, for which there is no cure. Bennett then began the process of getting her son proper treatment and counseling.

Bennett says that Marfan led to her son’s pectus carinatum (a rare chest wall deformity, which causes protrusion of the chest), a heart condition and severe depression. She says her son then started using drugs, overdosed and, after that, had a major stroke that left him temporarily paralyzed.

Bennett has worked closely with the Marfan Foundation to help her son manage his genetic disorder. The foundation’s services include access to the latest research and examinations by specialist physicians at no cost.

Bennett, a Christian evangelist and faith healer, says she believes in the power of intercessory prayer, as well as the laying on of hands.

In 2013, Pastor Brian Simmons came to her church to speak. She brought her son to church to be prayed over by Pastor Simmons and he laid hands on him and prophesied that he would be healed.

Bennett reports that in response to the prayer in faith her son was healed of a drug addiction, heart condition and stroke.

She says she wants to further her education in social work and spiritual counseling, so that she may touch the lives of all faiths and bring healing to them.

Bennett’s interests include painting and her interest in art has motivated her to continue learning different techniques to create works of beauty. A long-term goal, she says, is to write a book.

About Jawana Richardson ‘16

The commencement event at Brookville takes place at noon, Saturday, June 16, at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, 720 Northern Blvd., Brookville, N.Y., on the LIU Post campus.

Jawana Richardson completed an associate degree in Business Management and Economics in 2016, with a 3.89 GPA, and graduates with her bachelor’s in Business Management and Economics this spring.

A 2017 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, SUNY’s most prestigious student honor, Richardson also was twice selected – in 2014 and 2015 – for the college’s student service award.

“Jawana has been one of the college’s most active and engaged students and her academic work is consistently of the highest quality,” said Associate Professor AmyRuth Tobol, Richardson’s faculty mentor. “In addition to her statewide service to the college, Jawana has attended Long Island information sessions, open houses and other events as a representative to prospective students. She also reaches out to other students and provides good counsel and support. Most remarkably, Jawana maintained her academic excellence and engagement in the life of the college, even in the aftermath of the tragic death of her husband. I am humbled by Jawana’s resilience, intelligence and good cheer. I suspect she has taught me way more than I could have ever taught her.”

Her leadership activities and positions in the college community include serving as:

Richardson is the first female member of BMI’s executive board.

Some of her other academic activities and awards include presentation of “Accelerate your Degree Program through your 'Prior Learning' Experiences!” at the 2014 Student Academic Conference, and selection as a participant of the inaugural cohort of the college’s Student Leadership Institute, a one-year commitment.

She continues to participate in the college’s leadership institute as a leadership coach/mentor, as well as a student peer advisor to the 2018 cohort of students.

Richardson also was selected for, and successfully completed, the University at Albany’s Center for Women in Government and Civil Society Leadership Program at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, an intensive, seven-day, on-campus program.

She was one of only 20 students selected from an applicant pool of several hundred SUNY students.

Richardson has overcome significant challenges in her personal life.

She lost her only child, Larry, who died days after participating in 9/11 rescue efforts.

In December 2014, her husband, Sherman Richardson, was killed by a drunk driver in a hit-and-run crash on the Southern State Parkway.

Since that time, Richardson has been an advocate for victims and families killed or injured by drunk drivers.

She volunteers as a victim impact panelist with MADD (Mothers against Drunk Driving) and advocates with Families for Safe Streets.

On Dec. 27, 2017, she stood with MADD and rang the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange.

Richardson supports the Nassau and Suffolk County District Attorneys' efforts in lobbying New York state elected officials in Albany for tougher laws for DWI and traffic violence offenders who have killed or injured innocent victims.

Together with her leadership institute team, she led a successful statewide social action project, which produced more than 57,000 supporters for a petition.

Richardson continues to advocate at the state level for greater protections for pedestrians and motorists on the streets and roadways of New York state. She continues to meet with legislators and states she will keep fighting until the laws change. She is often called upon by law enforcement professionals, media and politicians to share her story.

She says that she enjoys giving back and inspiring others in their endeavors to rise up in life.

Currently, Richardson is working with a producer on a soon-to-be-released documentary film, “Killed by Auto,” in order to educate and raise awareness about the impact of vehicular crimes.

The 57-year-old resident of Hempstead, N.Y., works in administrative operations for the global commercial real estate firm of Cushman & Wakefield in its strategic advisory group.

Richardson also holds a real estate license, is a notary public and has more than 35 years of experience working in management and administration positions with American Fortune 500 companies.