Graduation, now what?

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Well, it’s that time of year again. All over the Capital Region and all over the country for that matter, college and high school campuses are teaming with proud parents and anxious graduates. Speeches are given by successful and often times famous individuals and politicians. Names are called, stunts are sometimes pulled, and hats are thrown into the air. Parties are held, gifts are given and diplomas are framed.

Graduation from either high school or college is one of those major events in our lives. It marks the end of one era and the opening of another. For many, it’s a joyful time, a time to celebrate years of hard work and sacrifice. But it can also be a time of uncertainty for the next chapter after graduating high school or college is not always clear.

For those leaving high school, the choice is often college. However, I have been saying for years that college is not for everyone. I believe strongly in promoting the trades to those young people who have a desire to learn them. Whether it be auto repair, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, etc.. learning a trade is often a skill that someone will have for life. And currently, the demand for those in the building trades is high.

For those that choose college, while graduating often meant a guaranteed job, sadly that is no longer the case in today’s economy. Roughly 50% of those who graduate this year will be unemployed for an extended period of time and will perform jobs for which a college degree was not required. And add to that this fact; Seven in 10 college seniors (71%) who graduated last year had student loan debt, with an average of $29,400 per borrower. From 2008 to 2012, debt at graduation (federal and private loans combined) increased an average of six percent each year.

My advice to those about to toss their hats into the air this year is simple. Work hard and then work even harder. Most CEO’s started on the ground floor and worked their way to the top. Secondly, listen to those who have been there and done that. Don’t discount the advice of those close to you who have been where you are now. And most importantly, never lose sight of your dreams. For the greatest failure in life is not that you never attained your dream but that you never tried.

I wish all of our graduates throughout Albany County and the Capital Region all the best as they close one door and open another. And as my mother always said, keep running into the walls until they tumble down.

A Dream Realized?

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Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy went on national television and spoke to the nation about a problem “as old as the scriptures.” He told his fellow citizens that our nation could never truly be free until all of the people that made up the nation were in fact free. It was the introduction of civil rights legislation not seen in the United States since the 14th and 15th amendments were enacted 100 years prior. The landmark legislation, essentially ending legalized segregation, was passed by Congress the following year.

At the ceremony, standing beside President Johnson, was Martin Luther King Jr. For it was Martin Luther King Jr. that led a movement in which its demand was something intrinsic to American democracy. That simple yet often times far reaching ideal that all men are created equal. It was a movement for which much blood was shed and which cost Dr. King his very life.

Fifty years from that moment, we have an African American man as President of the United States, something that would have been thought impossible during the early 1960s. But the question is this; Has Martin Luther King’s dream been fully realized?

I will not attempt to answer that question but only ask that as we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. this coming Monday that we stop and ponder the question. And remember, the dream of of Dr. King was for social and economic justice for all people. Have we in Dr. Kings words “reached the mountain top” or have we a long journey yet ahead of us?

John Reavey, A Cohoes Son

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There are some people that we meet in this life who strike us instantly as being a special breed of human being. John Reavey was one of those human beings. I first met John back in 1984 when I was bartending at a local tavern in Cohoes. I remember he would argue with his brother because he felt he was not tipping me enough. From that moment on I knew this guy John Reavey was one of a kind. A friendship quickly developed and next thing you know it’s been 30 years. Then one day I turn around and he’s gone.

Many people have gotten to know and become friends with John through his diner, aptly titled “Uncle John’s” on Ontario Street in Cohoes. The place is a classic American small town diner, no bigger than a studio apartment. But this is where John held court for the last 20 years. Whatever wall space there is is adorned with photos of Cohoes history. John loved Cohoes but i’ll get to that later.

The diner was not only a great place to eat as John was a great cook, and I certainly have the extra pounds to prove it, but it was a refuge from the hustle and bustle of modern life. And while the conversations at the counter could include all sorts of topics, it was that of local politics that would most often be heard. I can’t even count how many conversations about politics I had with John over the years.

But there was a lot more to John than the diner. First and foremost for John came his family. He was a devoted husband and father. For John, family always came first. As far as a friend, he was the best friend anyone could have. He was always there for me over the years, always there to lend a hand or an ear. John’s political wisdom and keen sense of humor not only made me a better politician, but a better man.

John was essentially a renaissance man. He was a craftsman, a carpenter and could fix just about anything. He loved antiques and history. Then there was the love for his community. John would absolutely relish the opportunity to regale folks from out of town with the history of Cohoes. He would just love talking about the rich history and telling people what they should go and see while they were in town. And one thing is certain, John gave far more to the community than he ever took. He was constantly thinking of ways to improve the community and over the years he devoted countless hours to that cause.

You really only needed to know John for a few moments to understand he would make a life long impression on you. It’s safe to say the 30 years I knew John has left an impression on me that cannot be measured. My most heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with his wife Jackie, their children Levi, Megan and Ryan and all those who mourn the loss of John.

It’s been said that you live your life so even the undertaker cries. John lived his life so that an entire community is crying. He was a proud son of Cohoes and Cohoes is a better place because of him.

John, you have touched the lives of so many. I am truly a better man for having known you. We love you and we will miss you. May you have the eternal rest that you so well deserve.

Goodbye my friend.

The Gift of Hope

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“Tiz the season to be jolly,” is a line in one of those famous carols we have heard hundreds of times over the course of our lives. For indeed, Christmas and the holidays are a time when many of us are spending time with friends and family, buying gifts for our loved ones, and experiencing the joy on children’s faces as they realize that Santa has not forgotten them this year.

However, Christmas and the holidays, for many, are a time of great distress and sadness. For those who struggle to pay their basic bills, it’s a time of great heartache as they will not get to see the broad smiles of their children when they open that gift they have been asking for. For others, like the Cunniff family, there will be much grief and sadness as they mourn the loss of a devoted father and husband. And for some, it will be a time of great loneliness, especially for some of our seniors. Yesterday, I was able to spend some time with our residents at the Albany County Nursing Home who have been and continue to be an inspiration to me.

But whatever our circumstance in life may be, whatever our religion may dictate or even if you have no religious beliefs to speak of, we can all take part in the gift of Christmas, which is the gift of hope. Hope that there is something greater than all of us. Hope that mankind will one day live in peace. Hope that if we are without a job that we will find work in the new year. Hope that our grief will dissipate with time. Hope that our current sorrows will soon turn into joy.

For I would venture to guess that there are many of us who have lost hope. That there are those of us who feel that all is lost and that darkness will never turn into the bright of day.

My wish on this Christmas is that we all receive the greatest gift there is, all of us no matter what our situation. That out of the dark winter sky, a light will shine down and touch our souls and fill us with the greatest gift there is, the gift of hope.

From my family to yours, I wish you a most blessed Christmas and a healthy and prosperous new year.

“He belongs to the ages”

Nelson-Mandela%202 Soon after the moment when President Abraham Lincoln breathed his last breath, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton uttered one of the most famous quotes in American history. “Now he belongs to the ages,” is what was recorded by many who were in the room. Yesterday, President Obama uttered a similar quote as the world lost another history making individual.Like Lincoln, Nelson Mandela has surely earned a venerable place in world history.

By now, most of us know the story. A lawyer, Mandela became involved in politics at an early age, joining the African National Congress in the late 40s. In 1962 he was convicted for conspiracy to overthrow the apartheid government and spent 27 years in prison. An international campaign led to Mandela’s release in 1990. During the year following his release, Mandela was able to begin negotiations with then President F.W. de Klerk and established the first multiracial elections in the nation’s history. History was then made when Mandela became the first black president of South Africa.Once elected he did not seek retribution upon the white minority establishment. He instead formed a unity government which included all people and instituted a reconciliation commission.

I think there are many lessons we can take from the life of Nelson Mandela. First, is that we must never give up hope. Once we lose hope, all is lost. Sitting in a prison cell, one can easily lose any sense of hope. But for 27 years, Mandela endured unthinkable torment and survived because he had hope in his heart. Two, we must never give up fighting for what we believe is right and just. It took decades for Mandela to achieve his dream of ridding South Africa of apartheid. But he never gave up. And third, we must never let our anger turn us into those very forces we were fighting against. For even in victory, we must be open to all points of view and be willing to include the vanquished with us as we move forward in victory. For Mandela, even though his supporters questioned his judgement, this was a non debatable issue.

I pray that our world will take these lessons of Nelson Mandela to heart. I hope that we become a better people because of what he taught us. I hope our leaders lead by his example. And while he now belongs to the ages, the legacy of Nelson Mandela will live on for many years to come.

Giving Thanks

happy-thanksgivingOn October 3rd, 1863, during the middle of one of the bloodiest civil wars in world history, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring that the third Thursday in November be “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

Here was a nation being torn a part by war but yet determined to give thanks for all of the blessings that God had bestowed. Truly remarkable when you think about it.

Thanksgiving has come to mean many things to many people. For some, it’s a time to go off our diets and enjoy the wonderful food associated with the season. For others, it’s a time to watch a great game or do some holiday shopping. And for many, it’s a time to reconnect with family and friends that we don’t get to see on a regular basis.

For me, it’s all those things but above all, it is, as Lincoln said, a time to be thankful for all the blessings that have been bestowed to us. Even if you don’t believe in God or subscribe to any organized faith, we can all certainly appreciate all that we have in life. And in doing so, it’s almost impossible not to think about those who are perhaps less fortunate than we.

I think about our seniors in our Albany County Nursing home, some of whom have no family or friends to be by their side. I think of our men and women in the armed forces who will be spending yet another holiday away from their families. I think of the addicted, the afflicted and the homeless. I think about children that go to bed hungry every night and their parents who struggle to provide the basics of life.

I think about those who are going through difficult times in general, perhaps someone who has lost a loved one or perhaps lost a job. I pray that they have the ability to see beyond the darkness and to focus in on all that is good in their lives.

And I think about all those who will be working on Thanksgiving so that the rest of us can enjoy a wonderful holiday, especially our police officers, firefighters and ems workers.

So as we come to the beginning of another holiday season and as we gather with friends and family, let’s ask ourselves what it is we have to give thanks for. For me, I am thankful for my wife, children, family and friends. I am thankful that we are all healthy and have a beautiful home to enjoy. Because at the end of the day, isn’t that what’s truly important?

I wish all of you a most happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

Honoring our Veterans

VeteransDay6 On Monday, we will come together as a nation to honor the men and women who have served in our armed forces throughout our nation’s history, both in war and at peace. We honor those who established our right to be free and those who fought to keep that right a central component of our American way of life.

While I have said in the past that we should be honoring our veterans everyday, Veterans Day gives us an opportunity to put our partisan and often times petty differences aside, come together as a nation and put our veterans ahead of politics.

And anytime we have service men and women fighting in an active conflict, Veterans Day takes on a whole new meaning. As we go about our days, we need to remember that right now, today, men and women are in far away lands, making sacrifices to be away from their families and others giving the ultimate sacrifice, in defense of our nation.

Today in Albany County, we honored 5 veterans of the greatest generation who fought in the Second World War. Among those honored were Frank Currey, Raymond Joyce, Richard Marowitz, Frank Murphy and John Edwards. I thank them for their service and wish them good health and many more good years a head.

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So this Veterans Day, let’s be sure we take time out to pause and honor all those who have served and those who serve today. If you know a veteran, give them a call. If you know a neighbor that’s a veteran, stop by and say hello. If you have a flag, fly it. If you can, pay a visit to your local cemetery and visit the grave of a veteran, whether it be a friend, family member or complete stranger. For at the end of the day, we owe them at least that much.

May God bless all our veterans and keep them safe.