Laura Butler Reflects Upon SUNY Orange Experience, Details Hurdles She Cleared to Earn a Pair of Degrees

PHOTO: Laura Butler and President Dr. William RichardsDuring her first semester at SUNY Orange, Laura Butler and her mother, Diane, shared a car. That meant that each worked a full day—Diane as a realtor in Sullivan County and Laura as a produce worker at Peck’s Market in Eldred, N.Y.—before piling into the family Jeep for Laura’s 60-minute commute to night classes on the College’s Middletown campus.

Four nights per week during the Fall of 2004, the pair journeyed to Middletown. Often while Laura was in class, Diane would occupy herself by working out at Gold’s Gym. Sometimes, Diane might read a book, gulp down an “on the go” dinner or prepare for her next day’s appointments to pass the time. Then, it was another 60 minutes on the road before the pair returned home, often after 11 p.m.

“You might say my mom was an overprotective mom,” Laura admits fondly. “But, she didn’t really want me to drive at night, so she came along to make sure I would be safe. I know there were nights where she would have wanted to stay home after a long day at work, but she rode along with me anyway. We have always been close, but that time really helped us become even closer. I’m so happy I have such an amazing mom.”

Divorced since Laura was in the fourth grade, Diane lovingly raised Laura and her older brother, Thomas, as a single parent. Often times, money was tight. When it came time for Laura to choose a college, SUNY Orange’s affordability and location were deciding factors, even though Laura could have attended SUNY Sullivan as an “in-county” student.

Both schools were equidistant from her Eldred home, but Diane encouraged Laura to strongly consider SUNY Orange because the bulk of her commute would include dependable highways rather than twisting country roads. SUNY Orange’s strong academic reputation in the Hudson Valley was a deciding factor as well.

After that first semester of night classes, the Butlers were able to afford a second car, which allowed Laura to take “afternoon” classes that began at 4 p.m. during her second semester before moving to a daytime schedule for her second and third years at the College. All the while, she retained her job at Peck’s Market; the one she’s had since she was 14.

From those humble beginnings as a shy night student, Laura blossomed into a force on campus, becoming actively involved in the Student Senate, the Criminal Justice Club and the Campus Watch. This past May, she graduated with degrees in Criminal Justice and Liberal Arts: Social Sciences. A perennial Dean’s List student, she crafted such an impressive resume during her tenure that College officials selected her to serve in the prestigious role of student marshal during May’s Commencement ceremony.

In addition to leading the graduate processional at Commencement, Laura was tabbed as the College’s representative for the State University of New York’s “One Millionth” community college graduate initiative this spring. With the SUNY system on course to confer its one millionth community college degree in 2007, each of the state’s 30 community colleges conducted similar symbolic presentations in honor of that milestone achievement (Laura is shown with SUNY Orange President Dr. William Richards in photo above).

“Laura is exactly what you look for in a student leader. She grew into her role and learned from her experiences. I’m confident she will take those experiences and use them long after she leaves here,” says Steve Harpst, the College’s director of student activities. “She fulfilled the old adage, ‘you get out of it what you put into it.’”

As a student senator and sitting member on several Senate committees, Laura often was required to attend meetings and planning events on days when she wasn’t scheduled for class. That meant an additional 60-minute, one-way commute each time.

Laura, who remembered feeling isolated as a nighttime student, credits her advisor, criminal justice professor Ken Graham, with persuading and encouraging her to get involved on campus. She says being a part of those various organizations helped her assimilate to college life, a transition she was intent on accomplishing prior to transferring to a four-year school.

“SUNY Orange offered me a good starting point. I was interested in criminal justice, but SUNY Orange allowed me to save some money while also seeing if I really liked criminal justice before I invested a lot of time and money into a career that I didn’t have an interest in,” Laura says. “Also, the staff and faculty give you a lot of attention. But, finding time to be involved in activities was my biggest hurdle,” Laura says.

“I was nervous about going to college, but the people at SUNY Orange changed my whole outlook. They helped me grow up and get ready for my next step.”

Diane’s career as a realtor has influenced Laura to pursue a career as a real estate attorney. Recently, many of the family’s relatives have relocated to South Carolina. Laura and Diane are considering a move there themselves, so Laura has yet to seek a transfer to a four-year school. But, as soon as the Butler’s determine their future plans, Laura intends to resume progress toward her bachelor’s degree with her sights ultimately set on law school.

With her mom’s steadfast support, Laura Butler overcame many obstacles en route to acquiring her dual SUNY Orange degrees. Regardless of what the next chapter in their lives might bring, rest assured the Butlers will once again tackle any challenge head-on, and side-by-side, thanks to their commitment to each other and the confidence Laura gained during her time at SUNY Orange.

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Mike Albright
Communications Officer
115 South Street
Middletown, NY 10940