The State University of New York Maritime College in the Bronx, N.Y., held the largest winter commencement ceremony in its history on Jan. 26, when 151 students earned degrees, including 85 graduates who also earned Coast Guard licenses to work on commercial vessels.

“We’ve all heard about automated ships and all of the problems facing the world today. Not for Maritime graduates,” said commencement speaker Capt. James McNamara, a 1964 SUNY Maritime graduate and former president of the National Cargo Bureau. “The education and discipline, not to mention the practical experience you have received here, have prepared you to take on the challenges facing you.”

McNamara was awarded an honorary SUNY Maritime doctorate degree in recognition of his industry service, including 40 years at the bureau when the use of containers to transport goods increased exponentially. McNamara’s role was to ensure the safe operation of those vessels, to protect the cargo, the ships and crews.

McNamara has held positions with the International Maritime Organization’s Cargo Committee and its Subcommittee on Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes & Containers. He is a recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the Seamen’s Church Institute and of two Distinguished Public Service Awards from the Coast Guard.

At SUNY Maritime, McNamara serves as chair of the Maritime Industry Museum at Fort Schuyler, and has served several times on the Admiral’s Scholarship Dinner committee. The dinner, which also honored McNamara, is the primary event to raise scholarship funds for Maritime students and to honor distinguished Maritime College alumni and others who hold prominent positions in the maritime industry.

The commencement also marked the beginning of a new tradition — Capt. Dick Bracken class of ‘56, a board member and representative of the Maritime College Alumni Association, addressed the graduates.

In late 2017 the college and the alumni association signed an agreement announcing a new partnership between the two organizations, designed to connect alumni with each other, to help current students find professional opportunities and build their networks, and to keep alumni more closely connected to SUNY Maritime.

Bracken welcomed the graduates to the ranks of college alumni and encouraged them to stay connected to their alma mater through participation in the association.

“Maritime graduates are strong and not easily discouraged. I’ve watched them for over 60 years and they are always impressive. We are overwhelmingly resilient — what an admirable quality,” Bracken said. “Promise yourselves right now that whatever the obstacles you face, you are a Maritime graduate. No matter what, you will demonstrate resilience. Go out there and do what Maritime graduates do — succeed.”

Two of the newest graduates also received their commissions into the Navy. Sean McCarthy received his degree in marine transportation, his Coast Guard license, and a commission into the U.S. Naval Reserve as a strategic sealift officer. Conor Nimmo also commissioned into the Naval Reserve as a strategic sealift officer. He also earned a Coast Guard license and a degree in marine transportation.

“As you begin your next journey, hold your heads high and be proud of what you have achieved here. Remember: a ship is safest in the harbor, but that is not what a ship is for. Your personal and professional journeys will take you to different places, with different challenges and opportunities,” said Rear Adm. Michael Alfultis, president of SUNY Maritime. “You are entering the workforce during a time of tremendous change. Today, nearly every industry is experiencing rapid and dramatic changes, and as you navigate this sea of change, you will need to leverage the knowledge, skills and abilities you gained at Maritime College."