Graduating from college is a landmark in anyone’s life.
But for Matthew Faulkner, graduating Saturday from Canisius College took on a more special meaning.
That’s because he was not expected to survive following a car crash in 2009 that left him with a traumatic brain injury and in a coma for nearly two months.
But Faulkner was among 725 students receiving undergraduate degrees Saturday in Canisius’ commencement ceremony in Alumni Arena on the University at Buffalo’s North Campus.
“It feels like quite an accomplishment,” Faulkner said, after getting his diploma.
The crash occurred at an East Aurora intersection about three months before he was slated to graduate from West Seneca West High School. Faulkner was a passenger in a car driven by a friend who pulled into oncoming traffic. He was flown by Mercy Flight to Erie County Medical Center, where doctors were uncertain he would survive.
“But I proved them wrong,” said Faulkner, who penned a book, “Most Likely to Survive,” about his harrowing experience.
Twelve days after emerging from the coma, Faulkner walked out of the hospital and was able to attend his high school graduation. He then took a year off to recover more, and during that time studied at Erie Community College, where he earned nine college credits to add to the 18 he had earned while a high school student.
He enrolled at Canisius in the fall of 2010, graduating on time with a major in economics and finance.
“I love that stuff,” he said.
These days, Faulkner – who is totally independent – has been working part-time as a market analyst for BidURenergy for about a year while completing his studies.
Now, he is looking forward to working full-time.
Bishop Richard J. Malone, who delivered the keynote address, shared a lesson about a research experiment that showed people who practice gratitude are happier than those who do not.
The experiment involved three groups of people: The first group was tasked to list things for which each member was grateful; a second group was asked to write down daily hassles from the previous week; and members of the other group listed five events occurring during the same time period but were told not to focus on positive or negative aspects.
The study showed that members of the first group were 25 percent happier, more optimistic about the future, had higher alertness and enthusiasm, were more empathetic, less depressed and stressed, less envious and less materialistic, Malone said.
“Without gratitude,” he said, “it is difficult to appreciate the awesomeness of God’s grace. ... It’s good for the soul, good for society, and commencement is a prime time to say thank you.”
Malone also received an honorary degree, along with Donald L. Trump, president and chief executive officer at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and Walter Sharrow, Ph.D, emeritus professor of history at Canisius.
Commencement ceremonies also were held for four other colleges.
SUNY Buffalo State
More than 2,030 students received undergraduate degrees during Sports Arena ceremonies at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The keynote speaker for each was Carl Wilkens, an activist and humanitarian who founded World Outside My Shoes, a nonprofit educational and professional development agency tasked with inspiring and equipping people to stand up against genocide, racism and intolerance.
“We are not defined by what we don’t have, what we lost. We are defined by what we do with what we have. And just don’t quit,” he said.
Donna M. Fernandes, president and chief executive officer of the Buffalo Zoo, delivered remarks during the 6 p.m. ceremony for about 600 Buffalo State students receiving master’s degrees.
She offered advice for successful careers and what lies ahead.
“You will have to remain lifelong learners,” she said.
“The journey isn’t over. It has just begun, and you will discover that it is a very long road. And remember, it is not about the destination. It’s about the journey.”
D’Youville College graduated about 700 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students during a ceremony at 9 a.m. in Kleinhans Music Hall.
The keynote address was delivered by Dr. M. Eileen Schmitt, a member of D’Youville’s Class of 1968, who drew on the life of Marguerite d’Youville – founder of the Grey Nuns and for whom the college is named – for inspiration. She challenged graduates to live their lives according to three rules of St. Marguerite.
“Mercy, frugality and humility: They will enable you to live a fully integrated life,” she said. “Compassion is what life is all about.”
Kleinhans Music Hall also was the setting as Daemen College awarded more than 800 undergraduate and graduate degrees during ceremonies that got under way at 2:30 p.m.
Delivering the keynote address was Daemen President Gary A. Olson, who emphasized the importance of critical thinking.
“You have acquired a habit of mind – the ability and the responsibility to think critically and analytically about the world,” said Olson, who holds a Ph.D in criticism and rhetoric. “This is an ability that will help you make wise choices the rest of your life.”
Fredonia State College
Fredonia State College celebrated its largest graduating class – numbering about 1,500 undergraduate and graduate students – during two ceremonies, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., in Steele Hall Arena.
The keynote speaker was Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, whose son, John, was one of the graduates.
Higgins urged the graduates never to lose sight of love, hope and faith.
“In you, the Class of 2013, we have hope,” Higgins said. “You see, God created the world, but he didn’t finish it. That’s up to you.”
Other featured speakers included Fredonia President Virginia S. Horvath, Ph.D., and Frank A. Pagano, former mayor of Fredonia and chairman of the Fredonia College Council.