For this year’s spring conference the Student Assembly partnered with Dear World —an interactive, award-winning portrait project that unites people through pictures in their distinct message-on-skin style— to serve as our conference group activity. Brought on by Joshua Altemoos, our chair of the State Operated Campuses Committee— Dear World’s work has been published in over 30 countries and has been featured on the Today Show, CNN, ESPN, the New York Times, the Washington Post and even Oprah.com.

With over 40,000 portraits of individuals from across the globe, the Dear World collection reveals the stories that make us human – stories of love, loss, and hope. Dear World uses a portion of its revenues to underwrite and produce field projects around the world, which document people with incredible stories to share. Past projects have highlighted the world’s second largest refugee camp that houses over 150,000 Syrians and Breezy Point, New York, where a 6-alarm fire destroyed 111 homes during Hurricane Sandy. Their most recent field project was a partnership with Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Kailash Satyarthi, in New Dehli, India.

Throughout the course of the weekend, conference attendees had the opportunity to stop by and have their stories captured. During the opening dinner, the project was introduced by Josh Altemoos through sharing his message to SUNY and to the world and through the introduction of Dear World’s Executive Director, Jonah Evans. Josh Altemoos is a candidate for a Masters of Education in Student Affairs Administration from the University at Buffalo. He received his Bachelors of Technology in Network Administration and Associates of Applied Sciences in Computer Information Systems from Alfred State College.

Josh’s message was “carve your successes in stone, write your failures in stand”. The story behind this message is the point of view of, carving your successes in stone, so they stayed with you for life and writing your failures in stand, so the wind can blow them away. This reflects Josh’s past and how he has persevered over adversities to get to where he is now.  Josh shared that he is a high school dropout and regardless of the challenges in his life, he has not let his failures define him and he has built the foundation of his life through the successes that he and the people in his life have helped him achieve. Josh has a month until graduation and will be dedicating his life to working with students and helping them ensure their successes. He concluded with “We all have stories – what’s yours” as the project was kicked off by Jonah.

On our final night, the Executive Director, Jonah Evans, shared the stories of their past work in addition to revealing portraits taken by members of the Assembly. While doing so, he chose the following three individuals and highlighted their stories;

Marie Jackson, from Monore Community College “MCC”, wrote the message “Our future rests in the minds of our children”. This spoke to Marie’s past as a college drop-out who, after working many dead end jobs, turned her life around and went back to school. Marie stands as a strong inspiration for her two children, who are strong motivators for her success. Today, Marie studies Education at MCC, and will be continuing her education at Brockport State College in the Fall. Wagner Cepeda, from Farmingdale State College,

Marie Jackson, from Monore Community College “MCC”, wrote the message “Our future rests in the minds of our children”. This spoke to Marie’s past as a college drop-out who, after working many dead end jobs, turned her life around and went back to school. Marie stands as a strong inspiration for her two children, who are strong motivators for her success. Today, Marie studies Education at MCC, and will be continuing her education at Brockport State College in the Fall.

Wagner Cepeda, from Farmingdale State College, wrote the message “Read & be anything. It works!”; this highlighted his history of growing up in a small town in the Dominican Republic, watching his mother work hard to provide for his family. After learning English at the age of 10, and the power of reading, Wagner set course on a path to beat the odds set forth against him. His quote was one of the first things he said in English, and something that he carries with him everywhere he goes. Wanger is now completing his degree in Telecommunications with a full scholarship at Farmingdale.

Vice President Elect, Bridget Doyle, from Fredonia wrote “Say what is in your heart”; Bridget identifies as a people pleaser who went to Fredonia to study Music Education, a path that was paved for her by her parents and grandparents who did the same. After realizing this wasn’t what she wanted to do, she made the very hard decision to follow her heart and defying the wishes of her parents and family. As hard as this was, Bridget emerged as a strong advocate for women and LGBT rights as a History Major with a minor in Women and Gender Studies at Fredonia.

This exercise not only exhibited the true diversity of SUNY and SUNY SA, it also helped to bring us even closer together, and serve as a joyful end to our Spring Conference.

Here are the stories from the SUNY Student Assembly;

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