By Carina Livoti
“I’ve made many mistakes in my career; you may have read about some of them,” Michael DeLuise said to the Five Towns College Class of 2015 with a laugh.
Five Towns College celebrated on Saturday as 159 students received degrees. The graduation was not short of humor or heartfelt remarks, as speeches from students, staff and honorees folded in jokes, mitigating the bittersweet nature of the afternoon.
In a day that featured hours’ worth of speeches from honorees and award winners, there were a few common threads among the words of those who stepped up to the podium.
“The most important secret career tool pulled from my treasure chest of knowledge has been my learned appreciation for the tremendous positive value of failure. If we can learn from failure, then success is just about guaranteed,” said DeLuise.
DeLuise, who was the founding president of the Melville Chamber of Commerce, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree at the ceremony and spoke of his many career successes and failures, from the laughter he initially received when he and his colleagues proposed the first automated theatrical box office system—which turned out to be a success—to his failure to seize an opportunity to become involved in the creation of Pandora Radio.
“One thing I have learned is that most success involves taking a leap of faith… Take those leaps of faith, and when you are faced with failure, take a deep breath, refocus on the important things in your life, and head straight back on the course toward success,” he said.
Celebrated sports talk show host Michael Francesca also spoke about failure, rejection and tenacity.
“You guys are about to embark into the best game there is—life. But here’s why it’s not only the best game: it’s the fairest game, because it doesn’t matter how many times you fail, you can keep coming back. You only have to win once. If you find people who are incredibly successful, you’ll find that they’ve failed 20, 25 times, but have the perseverance to come back… You can be one for 30 and be incredibly successful,” he said.
Degree honoree, director, actress, conductor, and all-around theater buff and educator Ellen Michelmore echoed Francesca’s sentiments on rejection.
“Today you are leaving a safe environment… Rejection happens more often than not, self-doubt gets its ugly little earworm into your brain and keeps telling you that you aren’t good enough—you need to focus on always learning and bettering yourself at your craft,” she said.
Earning some cool points for the group, “the songwriter’s drummer” Liberty DeVitto was honored with a Doctor of Music Degree. DeVitto played in Billy Joel’s first band and has played with other musicians such as Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks, Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, Elton John, Meatloaf—the list goes on.
“When the darkness has you, and you don’t know how to get to the light, trust your instincts, trust your education…get out there in the world and create wonderful things, be passionate in everything that you do, and remember, life, like music, if lived or played without passion, is just noise,” he said.
The afternoon was not without its difficult moments, as the college presented the family of former student Tejan Edwards, 22, with a posthumous Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education. Edwards, of Elmsford, was killed in a car accident in January. His family presented the college with a check to start a scholarship fund in his name.
“We’re going to continue this as long as we can, because we want to keep his name and his legacy alive,” his mother said.
Amid the ups and downs, Valedictorian Sonia Goldberg seemed to summarize the feelings of the day and the challenges the graduates were yet to face when she talked about why they all pursued careers in the arts.
“We keep on going, because at the end of the day, there is magic in what we do,” she said.