Each year Onondaga Community College recognizes distinguished graduates who have made a difference in their community and professional life, naming them "Alumni Faces" honorees. Tonight at 5:30 p.m. in the Frederick Marvin and Ernst Schuh Recital Hall in the Academic II building, we will pay tribute to the Alumni Faces Class of 2023. Today we introduce you to Diana Robertson '77.
Diana Robertson remembers how uncertain she felt in 1975 when she graduated from Westhill High School and came came to the Onondaga Community College campus to register for classes. She was the first person in her family to go to college and didn’t have anyone at home to lean on for guidance. “I had to choose a major, I had to choose my classes, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. And so, I became a Drama major.”
As she was piecing together her schedule, Diana Smith (now Robertson) decided to take a Creative Writing class taught by Professor Candace Rhea. She's confident her experiences in that course impacted the rest of her life. "I never really had been focused on writing before. She made me feel like it was something I could do. I guess she saw something in me that made her feel that I could write. I felt I got more out of Professor Rhea's Creative Writing class than any other course I’ve taken in my life."
Robertson would earn her associate degree from OCC in 1977, then pursue her bachelor's degree at Syracuse University. She worked full time at Syracuse Stage while taking classes at night. It took five years but she finally earned her BFA degree in 1982.
As her career advanced, the lessons learned in that Creative Writing class at OCC stuck with her. Robertson currently serves as Director of Development and Alumni Affairs for the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “We were the first tuition-free medical school in the country. Writing is a very important component of the work I do. You have to communicate with people, know your audience, and write in a personal and professional manner.”
The fundamentals of proper writing became even more important with the growing influence of newer forms of electronic communication. "The way people write when they are texting or emailing... many don't realize how important knowing how to write is. You have to know the difference between to, too, and two. Or for, fore, and four. Or they're, there, and their. If you have the thought you should be able to write it."
Seeing the gradual erosion of the basics coupled with her continued appreciation of that Creative Writing class led Diana Robertson and her husband Drew make a gift to the OCC Foundation for the creation of the Endowment for Student Success in Writing. Its purpose is to develop and prepare students with strong foundational writing and communications skills for lifelong use across a variety of mediums.
The Robertson's support funds scholarships for first-year students, awards for faculty whose work leads to increased student success in writing, and writing workshops for students. "We want to emphasize to students that writing is an important skill set for them regardless of their profession. We want them to be able to communicate and we're hoping these scholarships and workshops will help them realize that," said Diana Robertson. "If this program helps students associate success in their careers with learning how to write, the program will be a success for us,” added Drew Robertson.
Tonight Diana Robertson will be recognized as a member of OCC's Alumni Faces class of 2023. "When I graduated from college my mother was so proud because I was the first person in my family to do so. Having had a chance to see past Alumni Faces, I know I am in a special group. I'm honored and proud to be one of the newest members of the family."