Out of the approximate 80,000 students in the SUNY system at 64 campuses throughout the state, approximately 300 of them, some from each campus, are awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence every year.
Awarded this year from Plattsburgh State were seniors Franco Bastida, Yessenia Funes and Abigayle Ploetz and December 2014 graduate Natalie Spiess.
“It’s not enough to have a perfect GPA,” Bastida said. “The point of the award is to have comprehensive student excellence, so someone who is a good student, but also an involved member of the campus community.”
According to the SUNY website, suny.edu, the honor is presented to students who have been recognized for their integration on academic excellence with other aspects of life, including leadership, campus involvement, athletics, career achievement, community service or creative and performing arts.
“I opened the mail and saw an envelope, and it wasn’t from SUNY Plattsburgh. It was from SUNY,” Bastida said. “I put it on the table and just sat there. I didn’t want to open it. I didn’t want to know what was in there. Part of me was scared.”
He finally opened it, skimmed through it and saw that he was awarded this “fancy award.” He immediately told his mother and girlfriend, who have been his main support during his college career.
“My girlfriend was telling me I should shout, and she was making a big deal about it,” Bastida said. “So I made a deal with her, and I started shouting ‘I won. I won.’”
Ploetz, a music and theater double major, is actively involved in many different groups on campus. She has a part in four different musical groups, including Cardinal Singers, takes time to be involved in the College Theatre Association, SUNY Plattsburgh Improv Troupe and Equipe Capoeira Brasileira, which is a club on campus that teaches African and Brazilian martial arts. This semester she has been preparing for her senior seminar public performance, where she will be presenting her thesis and performing opera and musical theater.
“I applied, then Albany sent something home and my mom read it to me,” Ploetz said. “As she was reading out the letter, you could hear her choking up, and she said, ‘I’m proud of you.’”
Ploetz traveled to Albany to receive the award April 2 along with Funes, Bastida and Vice President of Student Affairs Bryan Hartman.
Magazine journalism and environmental studies dual major Funes invited her mother and brother to the ceremony, along with two of her professors in the journalism department, Luke Cyphers and Shawn Murphy.
“They all really enjoyed themselves, and that was important to me,” Funes said. “At the ceremony, the chancellor said less than 1 percent of SUNY students earned the award. That made me feel like a VIP, like all of my hard work over the last four years had paid off.”
While Funes walked across the stage, her mother began to cry, and Funes admitted to crying as her mother did and was embarrassed to do so in front of the others.
Recent graduate Natalie Spiess, who studied political science and gender and women’s studies, received her letter in the mail after being heavily valued in and president of the PSUC Center for Womyn’s Concerns, head organizer of Take Back the Night and a student employee during her time on campus. She also was a teaching assistant in both of her majors.
She was not able to make the trip to Albany because she is currently employed in Washington D.C. as a program assistant.
“I really think that being awarded is validation of work,” Spiess said. “It is nice to be able to say my work was good enough to be awarded by the chancellor of the SUNY system.”
Ploetz and Bastida said they both appreciate the recognition, but that isn’t what it’s all about.
“It represents what I’ve gotten involved in, all the things that I am passionate about,” Ploetz said.
Her advice was to not go into it just for the award, but to instead invest one’s time in something that makes him or her happy, and to try something new, work on it and be rewarded for it, just not always with an award.
“Getting involved in the stuff is probably the biggest reward of all,” she said.
Email Lisa Scivolette at firstname.lastname@example.org