Stony Brook University honored the largest graduating class in its history on May 24, celebrating its 59th Commencement at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium. The Class of 2019 joins the ranks of nearly 200,000 Seawolves worldwide, united by a vision of a bold new future.
“Distinguished members of the Class of 2019, you are among the more than 7,500 students that will receive a total of 7,625 degrees from Stony Brook University this year,” said President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., in his milestone 10th commencement address.
“That is an all-time record on both counts. Our graduates span 69 countries, 39 states, and range in age from 18 to 72, and we are proud of each and every one of you.”
Alan Alda, award-winning actor, polymath, and the inspiration behind the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, spoke to the Class of 2019 after receiving a Doctor of Fine Arts honorary degree, conferred on behalf of the State University of New York by Trustee Cary Staller, and President Stanley.
“If you bring to the surface your own dream, the work you do to accomplish that dream won’t seem like work, it’ll seem like fun,” Alda told the assembled students.
“Fortified by this knowledge that’s been passed on to you by Stony Brook University, keep searching, keep looking, keep going deeper, and never stop,” Alda said.
Alda also praised the work of the Alda Center, saying that his collaboration with Stony Brook has taught him the importance of empathy.
“You have to connect with the other person to communicate with them,” Alda said. “If the Alda Center continues to do its work over the next few decades the world will be changed.”
Also receiving an honorary degree this year is “Crittercam” inventor and Stony Brook University Marine Sciences masters program alumnus, Greg Marshall, ‘88. Crittercam is the game-changing video/audio system that allows humans to experience the world through an animal’s perspective on land or in the sea, to study behavior in the wild.
“It is such a privilege to be part of this great community,” said Marshall, who described an “academic family, where I was given the freedom to explore new and untested research opportunities, encouraged to innovate and develop new technologies and inspired to share discovery as broadly as possible.”
“MeToo” Activist Tarana Burke, recipient of the Doctor of Humane Letters degree, was unable to attend due to a death in the family.
President Stanley spoke of the value of a Stony Brook education, highlighting four students among many who excelled in the class of 2019:
- Hispanic Languages and Literature major Belinda Castiblanco moved to the United States from El Salvador when she was 18 years old, a mother of two who spoke no English. Belinda excelled at Stony Brook, becoming a scholar of English and Spanish literature and winning the Alpha Sigma Lambda award recognizing outstanding non-traditional students and the Sanchez Scholarship.
- Psychology and applied mathematics double major Yilin Liu, an international student with an impressive record of academic achievements, will be pursuing her interest in neuroscience in aging and neuroimaging research in the prestigious PhD program in Cognitive Neuroscience Systems at the University of Arizona.
- Yark Beyan, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and a minor in International Studies, took a leadership role on the President’s Council of Student Advisors, as a student ambassador and an undergraduate college fellow responsible for mentoring students during their transition from high school to college, and as a Stony University tour guide. Yark also helped found Stony Brook University’s Center for Civic Justice and has helped register more than 17,500 students to vote during her time at SBU.
- Ju Hyeon Han, graduating as a Doctor of Musical Arts in Voice Performance, achieved her goal of becoming an opera singer while blind. She became one of the few individuals who is blind to perform a major role at the collegiate level when she performed in Benjamin Britten’s opera The Rape of Lucretia at SBU.
Remarks were also delivered by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), who congratulated the Class of 2019, described his own path to success and hailed Stony Brook as “one of the best universities, not only in New York, not only in our country, but in the whole world.”
Student speaker T’Kheya-D’Vrehy Yisrael, a Brooklyn native graduating with a double major in biochemistry and sociology, congratulated the Class of 2019. Yisrael is the president of the Black Student Union and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., as well as committee member for numerous diversity and advocacy councils. She served as a Resident Assistant for three years, mentoring students as they navigated their own collegiate journeys. Most recently, she received two competitive scholarships in commemoration of her leadership and social justice involvement on campus and worked for two years as a Marketing and Communications intern with the Faculty Student Association.
“College is hard, but Stony Brook is harder — and we made it,” Yisrael said. “We are the leaders and the innovators, the thinkers and the doers, experts at turning our failures into the catalysts of our success. How else do you think we got here? Stony Brook gives us the tools and foundation to keep on going.”
As part of the ceremony, Senior Class Senator Jim Lo presented President Stanley with the Senior Class Legacy gift, generated from 642 student donations in the amount of $21,614.55. The funds will be used to support the Stony Brook Fund for Excellence, General Scholarships, the Renaissance School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, the Marching Band, Student Life, the Staller Center and many other areas of the University.
“As contributors, we are not only helping to leave our mark here at Stony Brook, but are also demonstrating our citizenship to the world and taking the first step in becoming active, loyal alumni,” said Lo. “We hope that our contribution will allow us to leave a living legacy to the university and community.”
President Stanley accepted the gift, and announced that its total impact will amount to $43,229.10 as a result of a matching gift from Stanley and his wife, Dr. Ellen Li.
“I am so proud of the senior class and thank them for this gift,” President Stanley said.