2013 Commencement Student Keynote Remarks

Graduating student Garrett Sisson was the keynote speaker at Onondaga's 50th Annual Commencement Ceremony on May. Sisson is a humanities major, a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society, one of six Onondaga students who earned a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, and a two year member of the men’s basketball team. Sisson was voted team captain the second year.

Sisson will transfer to St. John Fisher College where he will major in communications with a specialization in public relations. Sisson was also the student speaker when he graduated from Mohonasen High School in Schenectady, NY in 2011. Attached is a photo of Sisson receiving his SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. On the left is SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, on the right is Onondaga’s Vice President for Academic and Global Initiatives, Dr. Emmanuel Awuah.

Garrett Sisson Speech

Every day we get the opportunity to wake up and make the coming day a successful one, but today is slightly different. Today, we woke up and get to enjoy the day for the successes we’ve already had over the past days, months, and years here at Onondaga Community College. It is days like these that humble us, motivate us, and inspire us to continue being successful. 

Although today is filled with honor and gratitude, it is only the beginning of our journey ahead and the greatest part of this journey is that we can do or be whatever we want from this day forward. Some of us will be continuing our education, some will head directly into the work force, and others may travel abroad to fight for our country. Regardless of what we choose, it is ours to embrace and make the moments unforgettable. 

Sometimes, the most powerful messages are the ones that have already been experienced. I’d like to share with everyone a bit of my experiences to inspire each of us to never let anything hold us back from our dreams.

When I was four years old, my father walked out on me, my brother, and our amazing mother. My father was an alcoholic with serious mental illnesses. He had no control over himself, yet he was supposed to be trusted with my life. When I was old enough to understand what he had done, and the pain he had inflicted on mine and my family’s lives, I had two options: One) to be ignorant and make the same mistakes or Two) to gain knowledge from him and never make the same mistakes he made. Standing up here, blessed to speak in front of everyone today, I think we all know what path I chose! At a young age, I had to face that adversity, and there was more to come in the future. 

I took an interest in basketball when I was child. All of my friends played so naturally I wanted to play as well. Unfortunately, I was the goofy kid, the klutz, the uncoordinated one, so while my friends were playing on a team, I was sitting at home because I failed to make the cut. This didn’t just happen one year, this happened three years in a row. It was very discouraging, but I refused to give up. In the words of the legendary Vince Lombardi, “The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall,” so every year I still went to those try outs. I found myself working harder than ever before. In seventh grade, I finally made my first basketball team, but even then I was just on the team, that by no means meant I played. I continued to push myself. As an eighth grader, I started on the freshman team. Two years later, I started on varsity. My junior year I was named captain of the team. My senior season I lead my team to a sectional championship as well as earning the MVP award of the tournament. 

In May of 2011, I came to Onondaga to speak with the basketball coach. Even with all of my high school success, he couldn’t promise me anything other than a tryout, but that was all I needed. I had faced this challenge before, and I knew that if I gave it everything I had, I could make this dream a reality. I spent hours on the court, in the weight room, and doing my research so when that coach made the final cut I would be on that roster. And guess what, I made the team! Although the first half of the season was slightly discouraging, my persistence to work hard created my opportunity and by the end of the season I was playing and contributing to the team regularly. The following season, this year, I was the captain of the team, and the only player to start every game. Because of my successes on and off of the court, this upcoming fall, I am attending St. John Fisher University. I will be studying Communications and Public Relations, AND I will be a member of the Men’s Basketball Team.

There are many in this room who have accomplished just as much as I if not more, so I stand before everyone today, not to flaunt my accomplishments, but to encourage you to achieve your dreams. If we believe, and we give it everything we have, we are without a doubt unstoppable. From this point forward, it is up to us to pursue our deepest passions, to create our own opportunity, and to turn our dreams into realities, and as I look out at everyone, I am extremely confident that we will settle for nothing less. 

My fellow classmates of 2013, I am truly blessed to graduate with such an extraordinary group of students. Thank you for allowing me the honor to represent you today. I’ll leave you all with this… Abraham Lincoln once stated, “Let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you, and in the end you are sure to succeed.”