Sylvia Rivera and Shawntel River, F-MCC students wait in line Friday before they graduate. 

By MORGAN FRISCH

Recorder New Staff

JOHNSTOWN — Charlene Beatrice Moreira stood before 507 of her Fulton-Montgomery Community College peers Friday night and explained how F-MCC teaches survival in the toughest moments.

She said by knowing and searching for what is meaningful, decisions and actions make a difference and those differences can lead to a path toward greatness.

Moreira, an international student from Dakar, Senegal, spoke on behalf of her class during F-MCC’s 52nd annual commencement ceremony.

The 508 soon-to-be graduates entered the Physical Education Building. The sounds of the traditional Schenectady Pipe Band and excited families shouting the name of their graduate filled the room. Guests without seats stood in any empty space near the back.

Moreira told the class of 2017 about her experience at the college.

“Speaking of being there for me, I spent a lot time in the math lab, and it was not because I love math; it was because those classes were very challenging for me and I needed the extra help,” she said. “But FM teaches so much more than math, English or psychology. FM teaches life.”

When arriving at F-MCC, Moreira experienced the cold and snow, a language barrier and a different culture, which she worried she would never adjust to.

“College introduced me to a whole new world, a world full of challenges, but challenges that helped me prepare to face anything in life,” she said. “I came here with a dream, and doubts that I would ever be able to fulfill this dream. But I discovered that this dream was possible and, moreover, everything I needed to reach my goals, I could learn here.”

Moreira received a general studies degree Friday and plans to pursue her education at PACE University with plans of earning a journalism degree.

Amy Wojcik of Esperance, did the individual studies program, learning to be a phlebotomist. She’s hopeful to work in a doctor’s office or hospital after graduation.

“I liked meeting so many new people here and the chance to get an education,” she said.

F-MCC President Dustin Swanger addressed the crowd with thanks before beginning his speech. He spoke about the significant questions faced by the country today. Several mentioned were safety, war, immigration, taxes, and international interference with elections. He was not advocating for them to take a specific position on these issues, just to be aware of them, research the facts and exercise the right to vote.

“You are our future. You can decide the kind of society in which we live,” Swanger said. “Do we create one of mutual respect and inclusion? Or, do we create one of conflict and division? Shall we treat others with disdain or shall we demonstrate kindness to people that we meet? You have the education, the skills and the leadership abilities needed to forge the society you want.”

Jeanne Winton, a graduate who did general studies, said she liked how FM is a small college and the admission process was very easy. The biggest thing she learned was “how to function with no sleep.”

Jason Packer, chief operating officer of Hill & Markes, Inc., was the keynote speaker.

“My mission tonight is to have you think about where you will live, work, play, and for many of you continue to study after graduation today,” he said.

Packer told students 17 years ago he would have never expected to support that the students find a home in this community. He lived in Taipei Taiwan, almost 8,000 miles away after graduation and then moved to Washington, D.C. He described the joys of being a 20-something living in Washington as a “professional political hack,” the late nights, bars and women.

“I have lived halfway across the world and in our nation’s capital, and there really is no place like home, there is no place like upstate New York, there is no place like the capital region, and today I want to tell you there is no place like Fulton and Montgomery counties,” Packer said.

Julia Tonks, a health studies student, wore a cap decorated with daisies that said, “Does this count as extra credit?” Tonks said during her experience at FM, which she described as “an amazing” college, she was always searching to finding extra credit.

Shawntel Rivera, from Amsterdam, said the TRiO Student Support Services program was very helpful during her time at FM.

“I made a lot of friends and the people here are ambitious and kind,” she said.