MORRISVILLE, NY—The tears on Sarah Pylinski’s cheeks were happy ones. Clasping a diploma under one arm and her two children in the other, she had a difficult time containing her emotions.
“A college degree will open so many doors,” said the single mother, from Norwich, who made the decision to go to college at age 32 to make a better life for herself and her children.
Like Pylinski, Amy Yapici, of Oneida, knows the struggles of juggling motherhood and college. Looking for a change from her job of 17 years, the then 36-year-old mother of three decided to go to college.
Today (Saturday) was a monumental day for both women, who graduated during Morrisville State College’s 107th commencement ceremony held in the college’s Recreation Center. This year’s class numbered approximately 750 across nearly 80 degree programs.
Pylinski graduated with an associate degree in business administration. Yapici received an associate degree in medical office administration.
The road to obtaining a college degree was anything but easy for Pylinski and Yapici.
Pylinski, now 34, juggled motherhood, a full course load at the Norwich Campus, and worked part-time as a server at a steakhouse & sports lounge near her hometown.
Yapici, now 38, balanced full-time school, a full-time job and spending time with her husband and children, ages 3, 11, and 15. She adjusted her work schedule so she could take classes and worked through lunch breaks to make up the time. Online courses also offered her flexibility.
“I have never been so determined to achieve an ambitious goal like getting a degree,” said Yapici, who also earned academic honors.
Financial uncertainty burdened both women. So did finding time for family.
Working minimum wage jobs for most of her life, including nights, holidays and weekends, Pylinski struggles to pay her bills. Last year, she used her tax rebate to pay for a full year’s rent to assure they would have a place to live.
“We are limping through,” she said. “I needed to go to college to improve our financial prospects. I know I can’t achieve my dreams without a college education.”
Those dreams include finding a job where she can secure benefits, succeed financially and spend more time with her children, ages 6 and 13, and provide them a stable life.
“I want to plant my roots somewhere. I want to build my son a treehouse,” she said about her wishes to have something permanent.
Yapici plans to continue her education in coding and become Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) certified.
“There were many aspects of my life I had to reprioritize, but it was well worth it,” Yapici said proudly while holding her degree.
Graduates celebrated alongside family and friends amid a stage adorned with a lavish display of flowers grown and arranged by students in the college’s horticulture program.
Morrisville President Dr. David Rogers was joined by Provost Barry Spriggs, school deans and members of the College Council in presiding over the ceremony, which began with the Syracuse Scottish Pipe Band leading graduates into the formal commencement exercises.
During the ceremony, President’s Medal of Distinction Awards were presented to Allen Riley, Chairman of the New York Commission of Correction, and Glenn Gaslin, retiring General Manager of the Morrisville Auxiliary Corporation (MAC). See bios below.
The President’s Medal of Distinction Award is conferred by Morrisville State College President Dr. David Rogers to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the Morrisville campus communities. The award is presented to citizens of the region, state or nation for their significant service, leadership and professional achievements. It is the highest non-degree honor awarded by the college.
Riley urged graduates to believe in themselves and to build solid dreams.
“The world is wide open to you,” Riley said. “It is time to fulfill your dreams. I do caution you that it will take time. It will not happen overnight. Do it in small steps so you don’t get discouraged. Build it your way so you have good, solid ground to stand on.”
In his thank you address, Gaslin motivated students to soar.
“At the United States Air Force Academy, there’s a statue that I always admired,” Gaslin said. “It’s a bronze statue of a falcon and her chicks, and in a determined manner, she’s protecting those chicks. At the base of the statue, there’s an engraving that has these wise words: ‘Man’s flight through life is sustained by the power of his knowledge.’ And right now, you guys are flying pretty high.”
Awards noted during the ceremony:
- Devon Branca, of Hamilton, associate professor, Humanities Department, School of Liberal Arts, received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
- Leigh A. Yardley, of Hubbardsville, adjunct instructor, Humanities Department, School of Liberal Arts, received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Adjunct Teaching.
- Cheryl A. Church, of Bouckville, program aide, Office of Institutional Advancement, received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Classified Service.
- Laurie A. Zbock, of Madison, associate professor and department chair, massage therapy, School of Science, Technology & Health Studies, received the Morrisville State College Distinguished Faculty Award.
- Graduating students Latorsha Washington, a criminal justice Bachelor of Technology student from West Hempstead, and Haley Kilmartin, a human performance and health promotion Bachelor of Science student from Fort Plain, were recognized for receiving the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.
About recipient Allen Riley
Allen Riley serves as Chairman of the New York State Commission of Correction, an agency that evaluates all state correctional facilities, county jails, local police lock-ups and secure centers operated by the state Office of Children and Family Services.
A member of the Morrisville State College Council, he attended Morrisville and was selected as the college’s commencement speaker in 2014.
Riley served as the Madison County Sheriff for more than seven years before his appointment to the Commission by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in June 2017. As sheriff, he headed an agency with more than 160 employees, among five divisions: corrections, criminal, narcotics, civil and pistol permit. He also served on a number of boards promoting education for incarcerated individuals, oversaw the Madison County Child Advocacy Center and served as a member of the Governor’s Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice.
Prior to being elected sheriff, Riley is a 27-year veteran of the New York State Police, serving in Troop D as an investigator handling homicide and other serious cases and as a uniform trooper. He was also a narcotics detection and explosives detection K-9 handler and field training officer. In 2003, he was promoted to the rank of investigator specializing in casino gaming, financial crime and due diligence investigations.
Riley served on the board of directors of the New York State Sheriffs’ Institute, the New York State Association for Incarcerated Education Programs, and the Madison County Office of the Aging Advisory Council. He was twice named the American Legion Law Enforcement Officer of the Year in Madison County.
Born in Oneida, Riley has been a lifelong Madison County resident. He and his wife, Carol, reside on a small beef cattle farm in Madison County. They have two daughters, Rebekah and Alexandra, both graduates of Dartmouth College.
About recipient Glenn Gaslin
Glenn Gaslin, retiring General Manager of the Morrisville Auxiliary Corporation (MAC), has worked at Morrisville for 25 years.
During his tenure, he also served as Vice President for Administration and as Director of Facilities.
His current position includes overseeing campus dining services; two housing facilities; the college’s twin ice-rink IcePlex; Nelson Farms Country Store, which provides entrepreneurial agribusiness opportunities; and the Copper Turret Restaurant & Brewhouse, a MAC-run facility which also serves as a training lab for hospitality students. He also oversees the Equine Rehabilitation Center (ERC), a facility which helps keep healthy horses conditioned and injured equine athletes to recover, post-injury or post-surgery.
Working with the auxiliary team, he has directed and managed many key projects, including construction of the IcePlex, Commons I & II residence halls, Nelson Farms, the Turret, and the ERC.
A retired Air Force officer with three combat tours in Vietnam and Iraq, Gaslin flew more than 2,500 hours in various Air Force aircraft and served eight years at the Air Force Academy. He retired after 22 years and joined the Morrisville staff in 1993.
Gaslin earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Evansville and a master’s degree in business finance from Webster University.
Gaslin and his wife, Marion, a bursar at Morrisville, live in Oneida.