Eleven student speakers to make remarks at Binghamton University’s Commencement ceremonies

Talks to focus on persistence, challenges and changing the world

A look at the Events Center filled with Harpur students and their families during a Commencement 2017 ceremony. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.
A look at the Events Center filled with Harpur students and their families during a Commencement 2017 ceremony.
A look at the Events Center filled with Harpur students and their families during a Commencement 2017 ceremony. Photography: Jonathan Cohen.

Binghamton University will begin its Commencement weekend at 9:30 a.m. Friday, May 18, with the first of its nine ceremonies to be held over three days. All but the Graduate School ceremony at 4 p.m. Friday, May 18, will feature at least one student speaker. Here, read a bit about the 11 students selected by their various schools to speak on behalf of their fellow graduates.

Tekes Siyum
9:30 a.m. Friday, May 18
Chamber Hall

​Risa Scharf

Risa Scharf was originally interested in being a nurse and came to Binghamton because of its excellent nursing program, rigorous academics and strong Jewish community. “When I came here, I soon realized I didn’t want to be a nurse so I utilized the resources on campus and found my perfect major in applied behavior analysis with a minor in education. My college experience has been very rewarding and I am grateful for my time here.”

Scharf first realized she fit in at Binghamton during her visit to campus as a prospective student. “When I visited the college with my father it was raining – obviously – and we got coffee. I was impressed by the coffee at Einstein’s!”

Scharf will be busy following graduation. “I have a job working at a pluralistic Jewish community school for language-based learning disabilities, and I’ll be pursuing a dual certification at Hunter College in childhood special education and general education.”

She starts her job and certification at the end of August. Until then, she plans to work at a daycare and substitute in an elementary school, both of which she attended as a child.

Decker School of Nursing
Noon Friday, May 18
Events Center

Billy Manuel, graduate student speaker

Billy Manuel expected he would attend nursing school near his home in Syracuse, N.Y., but it didn’t work out that way. Instead, with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Ohio University, a young family and a desire to work in psychiatric mental health nursing, he became a full-time “commuter” student at the Decker School of Nursing.

“I had already started my application to the Decker School, but stopped it because of the distance,” he said. “But Nicole Rouhana, [director of graduate studies], reached out to me and we talked about some of the obstacles and objections, and she said Decker has a great program and I would get all the support I needed.

“And I do have a great support system and that makes a big difference,” he said, as he talked about coursework, clinicals and the support of his wife and colleagues.

Manuel also really wanted to be on a campus. “I wanted the on-campus experience and wanted a nursing school that had a rich tradition in academics. I wanted to be in class and learn, meet future colleagues and make friends, not just drive in, take notes and drive home,” he said. “Decker is well known for its academics and for being a very tough school, and surely enough it was tough, but I made a lot of friends here.”

Manuel has chosen an emotional and demanding field. He is earning his master’s degree in family psychiatric mental health nursing, and will begin work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner working with the mentally ill. He also plans to return in the fall to the Decker School to begin his doctoral studies.

Daniella Palomba, undergraduate student speaker

From Hopewell Junction, nursing student Daniella Palomba chose Binghamton as the most affordable option of her school choices. Originally on a pre-veterinary track, she discovered a passion for human medicine during her freshman year. Fortunately, Binghamton allowed her the opportunity to easily transfer into the Decker School of Nursing entering her sophomore year and she’s glad she made Decker her home for the past four years. “It’s been great getting to know everyone that I’ve met through my sorority, my classes and my job at the gym,” she said. (She is a building manager at the Campus Rec Center at the East Gym.)

What did coming to Binghamton do for her? “It gave me an opportunity to try a lot of new things and challenge myself,” she said. “I would never have seen myself joining a sorority, joining the equestrian team my freshman year, becoming a Teaching Assistant for General Chemistry my sophomore year or even applying to speak at my graduation. Most importantly, I met a lot of great people along the way who have made these challenges conquerable and my time here unforgettable.”

Though she is still figuring out what her path will be after graduation, she is excited to pursue nursing opportunities back home. Palomba interned at Mt. Sinai in Manhattan the past two summers, where she could accept a job in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit after passing her NCLEX exam. She has also applied to Westchester Medical Center’s Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, which is nearer to home. Her commute to the city is long, so after hearing back from Westchester, she will weigh her options and see which opportunity makes the most sense for her.

Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science
8:30 a.m. Saturday, May 19
Events Center

Atdhetare Ame

Atdhetare Ame is a tough name, so the mechanical engineering department goes by Addy for short. Her father went to college in Albania and Croatia, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering, but earning a degree before her generation was not very common in her family, and both of her sisters studied at Binghamton before her.

“It’s a great school and they loved it so much,” she said. “They studied different things (one studied biology and art, the other English and political science) but I was really interested in the engineering program at the Watson School, particularly the mechanical engineering’s focus in modern design. It felt natural for me to go there.”

Addy still recalls setting up her room in her residence hall and meeting someone who would become a true friend. “We didn’t have a screwdriver and for some reason we needed one,” she said. “My whole family was here and there was a lot of stress so I knocked next door to ask and now she’s my best friend.

“I’m grateful to Binghamton for giving me such great friends.”

After graduation, Addy is off to the West Coast. “I’m going to be working for a federal contractor – Northrup Grumman – in California starting in the fall. It’s located in the capital of the aerospace industry, so there’s a lot of opportunity there.”

Jung Park

Born in Seoul, Korea, Jung Park came to the U.S. in 2003, first to New Jersey, then to New York.

He applied to a lot of colleges, but his biggest concern was financial, so he looked at a top-10 list of schools that would offer generous financial aid packages. The only SUNY school he applied to, Binghamton offered him a place in the Binghamton Scholars Program and a scholarship. “It was a no-brainer to come here,” he said.

Park recalls his first major project as a student in the Watson School. “For the freshman Arduino program on the first day of classes, we chose random classmates to work with on a project and we chose a dartboard project,” he said. “We used touch sensors to try to track scores to create a great dartboard. We didn’t get it to work, but we somehow got a B+. We tried our best, but the sensors weren’t sensitive enough. It was a tough project for a freshman, but I’m grateful for the friends I made.”

Park will receive a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the Watson School, but will also receive one from the School of Management in business administration with a concentration in finance.

He has a full-time job at IBM in Poughkeepsie as a software engineer, starting July 17, and is traveling to five different countries in Eastern Europe before he starts his job.

College of Community and Public Affairs
Noon Saturday, May 19
Events Center

Laila Davis Clark, graduate student speaker

Laila Davis Clark took the long way to earn her master’s degree in public administration (MPA) after earning her bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University in Latin and Caribbean Area Studies (LACAS) in 2013.

She chose LACAS because her father is Puerto Rican and she wanted to embrace her Latino heritage. “Especially since I’m a Muslim, I wanted to connect with other Latino Muslims. There’s a connection from the Latinos who are converting to Islam historically when Spain was ruled by Muslims for 700+ years,” she said. “It was a personal decision, but I also always wanted to be a public servant and help people, so when I read the MPA description, I knew it was for me and a great fit for my career goals.”

A non-traditional student, Davis Clark, started her MPA program in 2013. Due to medical reasons, she had to leave the program. It would be three years before she was allowed to return, but she stayed busy taking some online courses, traveling with her family to the Dominican Republic where she taught English, and finally returning to Binghamton, able to resume her MPA studies. “They let me right back in,” she said, “and by the time all my credits were transferred, my advisor said, ‘Laila, you’re done!’

“My whole goal was to pull myself out of the socioeconomic status I was in, so I kept going and didn’t give up,” Davis Clark said. “Now I have so many options I didn’t have before. I would love to go back to the Dominican Republic and join micro credit organizations there in hopes to assist in the reduction of the poverty there.

“Other than that, I want to work in a nonprofit organization or in women empowerment,” she said. “My main goal is to work in nonprofit administration in anything that uplifts women and youth. My ultimate goal is to one day be a transformational life coach.”

Brittany Hall, undergraduate student speaker

Human Development major Brittany L. Hall graduated from SUNY Broome in 2006 with an associate in liberal arts degree, after which she took some time off while she worked for the Southern Tier Independence Center (STIC). “My supervisor at STIC had graduated from Binghamton University and suggested I apply for the human development program and here I am,” she said. “During the time in my degree program I also worked full time for ACHIEVE and now for the Handicapped Children’s Association. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after I got my associate degree, so didn’t want to just go for anything.”

Hall’s greatest passion in life is to help others and support people. “I want to give people a voice who aren’t always able to do that for themselves,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to be the person on the other side of that. I don’t want or need the recognition, but knowing that I helped is greater than anything else I can get out of it.”

A painter and writer in what spare time she has, Hall plans to start work on a master’s degree in social work in fall 2019. “I need some time,” she said. “This was hard, and it was challenging for me to work full time and complete a full-time program. In addition to work and classes, in my final semester I was also working at my internship placement, The Homesteads in Apalachin, which was gratifying but also proved to be challenging.”

If all that’s not enough to keep her busy, she’s engaged and planning her wedding for Sept. 15 of this year.

School of Management
3:30 p.m. Saturday, May 19
Events Center

Keivyn Reyes

Keivyn Reyes, a motivated business administration major with a concentration in finance and management information systems, transferred to Binghamton University after a semester at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and one at Baruch College, to be closer to family.

Though he had never visited the campus or had any friends who attended Binghamton, “Everything has been great since the day I came,” he said.

He begins a position as a technology risk advisor with Deloitte in New York City in August. “Over the summer, I want to make an immediate impact! Do a community service project or international trip of some kind, maybe to Africa or Spain,” he said. “My parents came here exactly 22 years ago [from Ecuador] and what drove me to success was being a first-generation student and understanding the obstacles and sacrifices that my parents made.

“That explains why I want to give back and empower the community that watched me grow. Everyone can become a better version of themselves. It’s a journey and this is just the beginning.”

Harpur College of Arts and Sciences #1
8:30 a.m. Sunday, May 20
Events Center

Jack Dillman

Binghamton University was the only college Jack Dillman visited. “My older brother went to Albany and transferred here,” he said. “I felt like I belonged here, it felt like home.

“I got in my second semester and ended up living on campus,” he added. “I loved it so much that I’ve spent every year on campus and I’m an RA.”

Because he was a second-semester transfer, Dillman mainly hung out with his roommates until one day he walked through the Dickinson Community. “There were people throwing a football around and they asked me if I wanted to play and that’s why I do co-rec football. It made me feel like part of the community and why I feel I belong here. That’s why I’m an RA because I want to do that for people, too.”

With a few connections through family and friends, Dillman – a cinema and English major – will move to California following graduation to work in the film industry. “I want to write and direct movies.”

Harpur College of Arts and Sciences #2
12:30 p.m. Sunday, May 20
Events Center

Tamar Ashdot

This was the most intense four years of Tamar Ashdot’s life – “but in a good way; I learned about myself and my ability to persevere,” she said.

Expecting to attend a small, private college, she ended up at Binghamton. “I now feel very grateful for my public education,” she said. “I took a gap year before starting college, and Binghamton is very supportive of students who defer, so that was influential in my decision. It’s a great school, it’s not far from home, and I was excited to know my undergrad wouldn’t set me back too much financially.”

What the English and Judaic studies double major will miss most is the thoughtful and vibrant atmosphere she finds in the classroom. “I can always learn on my own and read books and do research, but I’m really going to miss being in a class and listening to what others think,” she said. “That’s why I’m looking forward to going back to school for my graduate degrees.”

Ashdot’s favorite experiences as an undergraduate were when she was a student in Professor Maria Gillan’s Graduate Poetry Seminar and when was selected as a Harpur Fellow, she said. The poetry seminar helped solidify Ashdot’s love for writing poetry and her desire to pursue poetry post-graduation. As a Harpur Fellow, she combined her interest in international affairs and Judaic studies by traveling to Argentina in the summer of 2017. In Argentina, she volunteered at a Jewish day school, primarily in music classes, while also assisting in the English conversation and Hebrew conversation classes.

Ashdot is interested in returning to school to become a professor of poetry. “It’s a dream of mine,” she said, “but I’m passionate about so many different things, like Jewish history and international relations, which are also options for a master’s degree. I love learning and being in an academic setting and I’m sad that it’s ending already.”

Harpur College of Arts and Sciences #3
4:30 p.m. Sunday, May 20
Events Center

Mary Golden

Binghamton University wasn’t originally Mary Golden’s first choice for college.

“I wanted to go to Princeton, but I thought that I had no shot of getting in,” she said, “so I applied to seven or eight schools and Binghamton was the last school I applied to. It ended up becoming my first choice because I loved it and I was kind of floored that I ended up getting in.”

A violinist and double major in music and English, Golden has so many good memories of Binghamton that it’s hard to pin one down. “One of the best memories I have is when I musically directed the Rocky Horror Show for the Dickinson Community Players,” she said. “It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had and I met some of my best friends doing that show.

“Another fond memory was when I was inducted into my fraternity, Mu Phi Epsilon, which is the only professional music fraternity on campus,” she added. “They are my forever family and I was so happy that I joined last semester, even though I’m a senior. Best decision I could’ve made during my final year here!”

Following graduation, she will attend graduate school for musicology at West Virginia University.

Posted in: Campus News, Harpur