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SUNY Potsdam graduation sees special guests take the stage

Published: May. 21, 2022 at 7:05 PM EDT
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POTSDAM, New York (WWNY) - Pomp and Circumstance was playing as SUNY Potsdam inducted another class into the ranks of its alumni, the school remembered one of its own who did not get the chance to flip her tassel.

“Beth achieved so much at her time at SUNY Potsdam, and the Crane School of Music,” said William Gibbons, Dean of The Crane School of Music.

Beth Howell was tragically shot and killed just steps off campus on February 18th. She would have been graduating with honors on Saturday, earning her bachelors in Music Education. Her father Joe, stood on stage in her place.

“Our first recipient today is Elizabeth Howell, cum laude.”

As Mr. Howell received his daughter’s diploma, he gave a gift back in return to the campus. His personal copy of “A History of Western Music”. The same copy he had given to Elizabeth on her first day at the school of music.

All of the tears shed Saturday morning, however, were not those of sorrow. Tears of joy along with a buzz of excitement spread through the campus. For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, celebrations had a feel of normalcy again.

“The atmosphere has been crazy. Seems like everyone is full of excitement to graduate. It’s just exhilarating,” said Aliaksandra Reutovich, graduate and Chancellor’s Award Winner, “It doesn’t feel real. I didn’t think that it would happen for me.”

A feeling of disbelief that was shared by the ceremony’s keynote speaker: former New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams.

“I am so happy, I’m overwhelmed. I am relieved, that it has been the culmination of two plus, three years waiting for this moment to happen,” said Dr. Bernie Williams.

The four-time World Series champion, whose #51 was retired by the Bronx Bombers in 2015, joined the SUNY students, receiving an honorary doctorate degree.

“I have a great connection with this community, and with this school, being an advocate for music and arts education. In spite of my career in sports, I consider it a very very important part of my life. Just the fact that they have bestowed this honor on me is just almost like a dream come true,” said Williams..

Along with a 16 year career in Major League Baseball, William recorded two solo jazz albums as a guitarist. Receiving a nomination for a Latin Grammy in 2009, earning him his honorary doctorate degree.

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