The State University of New York Maritime College graduated 269 students on May 4. It was the largest class in its 144-year history.
Among those receiving degrees during ceremonies in old Fort Schuyler at Throgs Neck, N.Y., were more than 150 who received Coast Guard licenses that qualify them to work on commercial vessels, 19 newly commissioned Navy and Marine Corps officers, and 30 graduate students.
“As graduates, you are embarking on a voyage with absolutely no limits. Maritime has prepared you for life, so don’t be limited by your degree field,” said keynote speaker Capt. Robert Johnson, a 1969 SUNY Maritime graduate who retired in 2014 as president of the Overseas Shipholding Group, Tampa, Fla. Johnston was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters, the highest honor given by the SUNY system.
“I had no degree or experience in international business, but I took the risk. I took the job and I went outside my comfort zone. I knew it was right for me. Don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone,” Johnston told graduates.
Starting after graduation as a crewman on an OSG tanker, Johnson over the next 45 years worked to improve safety, operational performance and environmental protections. He became president of OSG the year after it filed for bankruptcy and was responsible for leading an 18-month restructuring process, ultimately leaving the company with a strong balance sheet, a solid customer base and a focused strategy.
Johnston has served as chairman of the board and a committee member of the Alaska Tanker Company, and as vice chairman of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners. He was a member of the council and classification committee of the American Bureau of Shipping and of the American Maritime Association.
Johnston earned the Admiral of the Ocean Sea Award from the United Seamen’s Service, one of the most prestigious honors of the maritime industry. He has also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Marine Society of the City of New York and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Seaman’s Church Institute.
Johnston maintains close ties to his alma mater and serves as the chairman of the SUNY Maritime Foundation, helping to raise and manage private financial support for the college.