The Division of Human Resources and the Employee Assembly hosted the 26th annual Staff Graduate Reception on June 14 in Stocking Hall, honoring staff who earned collegiate degrees this year, either at Cornell or another institution.
Christine D. Lovely, vice president and chief human resources officer, gave opening remarks to kick off the evening’s events. She praised the employees’ capacity to achieve their educational goals while maintaining job responsibilities.
“It’s truly my honor and privilege to recognize you all for reaching this milestone in your personal and professional lives,” Lovely said. “You managed to be a student and an employee. Your degree stands for more than the mastery of a field of study. It’s a sign of your dedication, strength and sacrifice.”
Cornell offers two educational benefit programs for its employees: the Employee Degree Program and Tuition Aid. The Employee Degree Program helps staff complete a degree at Cornell; the Tuition Aid Program supports staff who complete degrees through other higher education institutions. Both provide employees who are eligible for these benefits with tuition funding.
Lovely spoke on behalf of President Martha E. Pollack, who was unable to attend the event but wrote a message about the impact of these programs at Cornell. “We believe deeply in the power of higher education to change lives and societies for the better,” the message read. “Each of you has chosen to take advantage of these programs because you are a part of Cornell, part of our mission and you believe in that power. In doing so, you’ve enriched our entire community.”
Faculty, staff and their guests, many of whom provided motivation along the way, gathered to celebrate the staff graduates.
“What inspired me to keep going was the dream of having stability for myself, my children and my family,” said Claire Guevarra Concepcion, a program assistant in the ILR School who earned a master’s degree in public health from the College of Veterinary Medicine. “I come from a working-class, immigrant family, so it’s important for me to give back to them for their hard work and sacrifices.”
For some graduates, a degree offers the chance to explore new careers and job opportunities. Jeremy Cusker, a technician in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, completed a certificate program in biotechnology from Tompkins Cortland Community College, which enabled him to shift from working in libraries to working in labs. “Once I had this certificate, I knew it would open up a world of opportunities for me as a laboratory technician. I suddenly understood what I was working towards,” Cusker said.
Karen Siewert, director of the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies in the ILR School, said her master’s degree in human resource management from the ILR School means she has joined a broader Cornell community, “one that is strong, vibrant and full of pride. Cornell is both my employer and now my alma mater. The connections I have made here will be for life.”
Staff graduates offer a unique perspective, experiencing Cornell through the lens of both an employee and a student, Lovely said.
“I hope that you find ways to weave this new experience and empathy into your work as we continue to support our educational mission,” she told the graduates.
Grace DePaull is a writer for the Division of Human Resources.