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Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr. told Erie Community College graduates in a commencement address Wednesday evening to be prepared to fulfill their roles in the community, then got to fulfill his role as an emergency responder a few minutes later.

When one of the graduates, who was on crutches due to a leg injury, fell to the floor of the stage in the SUNY Buffalo State Athletic Center after she received her diploma, Whitfield was among those who rushed to her side, helped her back to her feet and made sure she descended the stairs safely.

In his address, Whitfield, who earned a degree in emergency management from ECC in 2012, congratulated the graduates, but reminded them that it was more than their own hard work that helped them succeed.

“You didn’t get here by just the sweat of your brow,” he said. “Others have been willing to support you. You need to understand now how important it is for you to do the same.

“This community is in the midst of a wonderful renaissance,” he continued. “What a wonderful opportunity for you to be in forefront of it as catalysts for change ... You have a role to play. We’re counting on you. I believe in my heart you all will contribute to a brighter future.”

First of the graduates to shake hands with ECC President Jack Quinn and receive his diploma was South Campus general studies major Nicholas S. Jones, a Marine Corps veteran and football team captain who was the 2014 President’s Medal winner.

Jones also was among eight graduates who were honored with the 2014 SUNY Chancellor Award for Student Excellence.

Another was Morgan Mary Miller, also a South Campus general studies major, who has been Student Government Association president and student representative on the college’s Board of Trustees.

Miller gave the student address, quoting Apple founder Steve Jobs as she encouraged her classmates to “find something you’re passionate about, apply your degree and make your dreams come true.”

Quinn read a message of congratulations from Board of Trustees President Stephen Boyd, who apologized to the graduates for missing the commencement exercises because he was attending his son’s high school graduation.

Also offering congratulations was Angelo M. Fatta, a member of the SUNY Board of Trustees.

In his introductory remarks, Quinn informed the crowd that ECC had come in first among the 64 SUNY campuses in a system-wide assessment of how well their student outcomes lived up to their academic promises in terms of getting jobs.

This year’s graduates, he predicted, will “go out and prove that again and again and again.”

email: danderson@buffnews.com