Largest class ever graduates from SUNY Maritime


The following is text of a news release from the State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College:

(THROGGS NECK, N.Y.) — In its biggest graduating class in its 144-year history, 269 students earned their degrees from SUNY Maritime College on Friday.

The graduates included more than 150 who received a U.S. Coast Guard license, qualifying them to work onboard commercial vessels; more than 30 graduate students; 19 newly commissioned officers into the Navy and Marine Corps and dozens of student-athletes.

Graduates represent 14 academic degrees in engineering, business, shipping and humanities degrees.

The commencement keynote speech was delivered by Capt. Robert Johnston ’69. During the ceremony, Johnston was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters, the highest honor given by the State University of New York system.

“As graduates, you are embarking on a voyage with absolutely no limits. Maritime has prepared you for life, so don’t be limited by your degree field,” said Johnston. “I had no degree or experience in international business, but I took the risk. I took the job and I went outside my comfort zone. I knew it was right for me. Don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone.”

After he graduated from Maritime, Johnston joined the crew of a tanker operated by Overseas Shipping Group, the company he worked for 45 years. In the course of his career, Johnston was dedicated to improving safety, operational performance and environmental protections. He became president of OSG the year after it filed for bankruptcy and was responsible for leading an 18-month restructuring process. At the end of the bankruptcy proceedings, OSG had a strong balance sheet, a solid customer base and a focused strategy. He retired from the company in 2014 but has continued to play an active and vital role in the maritime industry.

Johnston has served as chairman of the board and a committee member of the Alaska Tanker Co., and as vice chairman of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners. He was a member of the Council and Classification Committee of the American Bureau of Shipping and of the American Maritime Association.

Johnston earned the Admiral of the Ocean Sea Award from the United Seamen’s Service, one of the most prestigious honors of the maritime industry. He has also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Marine Society of the City of New York and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Seaman’s Church Institute.

Throughout his career, Johnston has maintained close ties to his alma mater and has been a staunch advocate for the college and its students. He has been honored by the college at its annual Admiral’s Scholarship Dinner and by the Maritime College Alumni Association, earning the recognition of Distinguished Alumnus of the Year. He serves as the chairman of the SUNY Maritime Foundation, helping to raise and manage private financial support for the college.

Also for the first time in the college’s history, there was a tie for valedictorian of the graduating class. Two students – Chi To Chan and Nicole Meghan Megale – earned perfect grade-point averages and the right to address their fellow graduates.

Both graduates took a few moments to address their classmates, friends and family.

Chan, who also earned a commission as a civil engineering corps officer in the U.S. Navy on May 3, received a degree in mechanical engineering. He also graduated with 13 credits toward a master of science in international transportation management through the college’s fast-track program.

“I attended my first college in New York back in 1997. However, I didn’t treasure the opportunity I was given at that time,” Chan said during his address. “After all these years working in the real world, I came up with my own theory that opportunity is actually everywhere, however, it doesn’t wait for anyone who did not prepare themselves well before. It is never too late and you are never too old to do or learn something. Preparing well with continuous improvement is the key that opens the door to success – no matter at what stage or level you are.”

Upon graduating, he will be stationed at Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Five in California. Born in Hong Kong, he immigrated to the United States in 1997 and immediately began taking classes at CUNY Hunter College. He enlisted in the Navy in 2009 and was selected for the competitive Seaman-to-Admiral 21 program, which allows active-duty sailors to earn a college degree and a commission as a naval officer.

Megale is an attorney who came back to college for a degree in electrical engineering. She has a bachelor’s in political science from Boston College and a juris doctorate from St. John’s University School of Law. Her cousin, Guiseppe Palma, received his degree at the ceremony.

“As you all know, this is not my first college degree but I am proof that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams,” Megale said. “I got to see regimental life daily, so Giuseppe and all of the cadets, I congratulate you on your dedication. This is not the kind of life most 18 year-olds would choose. To all my fellow civilian students, we worked just as hard and our degrees mean just as much.”

Students who choose to pursue a U.S. Coast Guard license in addition to an academic degree at Maritime are commonly called cadets because they must belong to the college’s regimental program. Students who pursue academic degrees are commonly called civilians, though neither program has a military service requirement.

“College is not just about what classes you took,” Megale said. “It’s also about how you grew as a person. You’re not going to remember the tests that you took but the memories you made and the friends sitting next to you.”

Throughout her studies at Maritime, Megale has been an associate attorney at Dell & Dean PLLC, where her practice areas focus on products liability, labor law and medical malpractice. With her Maritime degree, she plans to sit for the patent bar exam and begin working as a patent attorney.

The class of 2018 also marked the fourth year of commencement ceremonies for Rear Adm. Michael Alfultis, president of SUNY Maritime College. In their four years together, Alfultis and his wife, first lady Kim Alfultis, have spent a great deal of time with the students, going to games, club meetings and other events, as well as hosting groups of students at their home for meals and gatherings.

“Graduations are always hard for me, but I admit that I’ve spent the last four years dreading this day,” Alfultis said. “Together, we adjusted to life on the peninsula and there has never been a time on this campus where I have not seen your faces.

“Kim and I have gotten to know you better than any of the classes who have come before you. As you begin your journey, hold your heads high and be proud of what you have achieved here. I am confident that each of you has what it takes to succeed, but you must continue to learn and grow. Thank you for four great years, and congratulations, class of 2018.”

By Professional Mariner Staff