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MVCC graduates largest class to date

Mohawk Valley Community College will graduate the largest class in its 66-year history at the annual Spring Commencement on Friday, May 18, starting at 4 p.m. in the Utica Memorial Auditorium. Some 1,110 MVCC students have been invited to walk across the stage for conferral of associate degrees or certificates awarded in December 2011, May 2012 or August 2012. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

The Commencement keynote address will be delivered by civil rights activist Morris Dees, co-founder and chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama. Also appearing will be MVCC’s 2012 Alumnus of Merit Award winner, John Buffa ’85, senior vice president and regional commercial banking manager at NBT Bank.

MVCC President Randall J. VanWagoner, Ph.D., will preside. Offering remarks and congratulations will be Elaine M. Falvo, Chair of the MVCC Board of Trustees; Eugene Militello ’84, President of the Alumni Association; and other dignitaries and invited guests.

About the graduating class

Since MVCC’s enrollment has grown over the past few years, this graduating class is a relatively large one, especially for students who completed their studies this May. To date, 661 May graduates have applied to graduate with a two-year Associate in Applied Science, Associate in Occupational Studies, Associate in Arts, or Associate in Science degree. Another 81 students have applied to graduate with a one-year certificate. An additional 368 students have applied to graduate with December or August graduation dates. By graduating, students join MVCC’s family of more than 40,000 living alumni on record.

As with the general student body, approximately 65 percent of this year’s graduating class is from Oneida County. More than 65 percent of MVCC’s graduating students have finished certificate and degree programs designed to lead to direct entry into the workforce. More than 30 percent of graduating students have completed degree programs designed to lead to transfer to another college or university.

About the keynote speaker

Known for innovative lawsuits that crippled some of America’s most notorious hate groups, Morris Dees has received many accolades and awards, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award from the National Education Association, the Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice, and Trial Lawyer of the Year from Trial Lawyers for Public Justice. The University of Alabama Law School and the New York law firm Skadden, Arps jointly created an annual award in Dees’ name to honor a lawyer devoted to public service work.

Dees co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971 after a successful business and law career. While still a student at the University of Alabama, Dees started a direct mail sales company specializing in book publishing. He launched his law practice in 1960, winning a series of groundbreaking civil rights cases. Dees’ cases have involved landmark damage awards that have driven several prominent neo-Nazi groups into bankruptcy. In 1981, he successfully sued the Ku Klux Klan and won a $7 million judgment for the mother of Michael Donald, a black lynching victim in Alabama. In 1991, he won a judgment of $12 million against Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance, and in 2001 he helped secure a $6.5 million judgment against Aryan Nations.

Dees also is the author of three books: “A Season For Justice,” his autobiography; “Hate on Trial: The Case Against America’s Most Dangerous Neo-Nazi”; and “Gathering Storm: America’s Militia Threat.” In 1991, NBC aired a made-for-TV movie called “Line of Fire” about Dees and his landmark legal victories against the Ku Klux Klan.

About the Alumni of Merit Award

The MVCC Alumni of Merit Award is presented annually by the MVCC Alumni Association to a nominee who has contributed to the improvement of the community; helped the college; and otherwise demonstrated professional leadership that symbolizes MVCC’s mission of student success and community involvement.

The 2012 honoree, John Buffa ’85, is senior vice president and regional commercial banking manager at NBT Bank. Since graduating from MVCC in 1985 with a degree in banking and insurance, Buffa has remained engaged with the college, and he regularly takes part in the annual MVCC Foundation Golf Tournament and helping the College advance its educational mission.

Buffa was born and raised in Yorkville, graduating from Whitesboro High School in 1980. He has spent 25 years in the commercial banking industry with a focus on commercial lending, business development, and credit risk and analysis. He has been with NBT Bank for 18 years. Buffa is also active in the community, serving as immediate past chair on the Mohawk Valley EDGE Board of Directors, first vice president of the Upstate Cerebral Palsy Board of Directors, and treasurer of the Utica Industrial Development Agency. Buffa also has been involved with the Rotary Club of Utica, Kiwanis Club of Utica, Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce, and the Central New York Community Arts Council.