Hudson Link’s annual graduation ceremonies are the culmination of the hard work of our students, professors and staff. The moving ceremonies are a testament to the transformative power of education, as our graduates receive more than their diplomas – they experience unparalleled feelings of self-worth and connection to their fellow students and teachers. Many Hudson Link graduates are the first in their families to earn their college degrees and break the cycle of crime and poverty.
On June 1, 2016, 29 men who had worked hard for years as students of Mercy College through the Hudson Link educational program received their associate and bachelor degrees in Behavioral Science.
“I was still in prison, but the day I started school here, my mind was free,” said keynote speaker and Hudson Link co-founder John Valverde, executive vice president of program operations at The Osborne Association.
2016 class Valedictorian William Walsh agreed saying “college inside the prison walls had given him the freedom to learn and become the person his family always knew he could be.”
Hudson Link executive director Sean Pica told the graduates and their families that education had saved his life. “By all the odds, I shouldn’t be standing before you right now,” he said. “School is the thing that got me here but this is about more than just college degrees. This is about hope for a better life and a better future, for you and your families.”
Excitement and joy are not words generally associated with being inside a maximum security prison, but both emotions permeated its walls on this day. Families stood cheering for their graduates just the same as those on the outside. Perhaps these families were just a little prouder, knowing the obstacles their loved ones had to overcome both inside and outside themselves to receive their college degrees.
For graduate Herbert Morales, who received both his bachelor degree from Mercy that morning, the day was a dual celebration. “Education has opened my eyes to so many things,” he said during a television interview with News 12 Hudson Valley. “It broadened my horizons. It’s a dream come true, and a race that I’ve won.”
On June 22, 2016, 16 men received their Associate Degrees in Liberal Arts and Humanities from SUNY Sullivan at Sullivan Correctional Facility located in Fallsburg, NY.
Ga-Mel Cherry, the class valedictorian, couldn’t stop beaming while discussing how much education has changed his life. “This is my life now. Education is what I love doing,” Cherry said. “I love reading and I’m so pleased to be a part of this program.”
Hudson Link’s program director, Dr. Samuel Arroyo, made a very poignant speech reflecting on his life and the choices that he had made that led to his conviction. He also spoke about how education gave him a whole new perspective on life. “Education became my motivator,” said Samuel Arroyo, a 2005 graduate of the program. Following his release, he went on to earn a doctorate from Saint John Fisher College. Today, he’s the program director for Hudson Link.
Hudson Link Executive Director, Sean Pica stated, “There is a ripple effect from the work we do inside these walls that’s reaching back to the community these men left from,” Hudson Link executive director Sean Pica said. “This program is changing lives and changing the cycle of recidivism.”
It was a day full of emotion and smiles.
In this season of giving, we were incredibly grateful to witness sixteen Hudson Link students receive their Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Management from Nyack College.
On November 17th these men walked the halls of Fishkill’s auditorium to the sounds of pomp and circumstance to receive their degrees in front of family, friends, and supporters.
Their academic journey started 16 months prior, as 22 men sat in their first Bachelor’s degree class as a cohort of peers and students. Six of the men were released from prison just prior to graduation and will have the opportunity to walk with the Class of 2017 at Westchester County Center in June.
Following the ceremony, the graduates participated in a celebration with family, Hudson Link supporters, college representatives, and DOCCS administration.
Nyack College President Michael G. Scales said of the event, “We call graduation ceremonies ‘commencement exercises.’ Nowhere does a graduation feel more like a true ‘commencement’ – a new beginning – than when we hold commencement for one of our prison cohorts. At Nyack College, we are committed to being personally transforming and socially relevant. We are privileged to partner with Hudson Link to provide new beginnings through college education at places like Fishkill Correctional Facility.”