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Commencement: Alumni honors

Four honored with Harpur alumni awards

By Eric Coker

A medical-practicing couple from Buffalo who met as Harpur College freshmen and now endow the Mike Starzak Summer Research Grant for Undergraduates in Chemistry.

A Tony and Obie award-winning actor and director who has been seen on television, movies and Broadway.

A lawyer for a New York City-based firm who is the incoming chair of the Harpur College Law Council.

The four—Lee Guterman '81 and Lisa Benson '81, MA '83; Ruben Santiago-Hudson '78; and Linda Riefberg '81—received Harpur College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Awards at Harpur's three Commencement ceremonies on May 18-19 in the Events Center.

The recipients of these alumni awards "exemplify the qualities that Harpur College represents—a passion for excellence—an inquiring mind; an abiding curiosity; and a commitment to service," Interim Dean Wayne Jones said.

Lisa Benson ’81, MA ’83 and Lee Guterman '81
Lisa Benson '81, MA '83 and Lee Guterman '81, husband and wife Binghamton University alumni and alumni award recipients, speak at the Division of Science and Mathematics ceremony. | Watch Video 

At the Division of Science and Mathematics ceremony, Benson praised Harpur College for shaping "who I was and who I am today."

"By the time I left Binghamton, I took with me my future husband, my best friend, two cats, a bachelor's degree in history and chemistry, a semester at the Weizman Institute of Science in Israel and a master's degree in chemistry," she said. "I managed five and a half years here on a bicycle.

"However, what I really got was me, the best me, the truest me, the me at the core, the me at my very best," said Benson, who now has a solo practice in medical acupuncture. "I distilled my essence just as I learned to distill water in the chemistry lab."

After acknowledging his wife's birthday, Guterman urged the graduates to "find your passion" and make the next three to four decades of work fulfilling.

"This university has given you the tools to prosper and attain happiness in life," said Guterman, who is medical director of neuroscience at Catholic Health System of Buffalo and a member of the Buffalo Neurosurgery Group. "Never forget that Binghamton University got you started."

Ruben Santiago-Hudson ’78
Ruben Santiago-Hudson '78, a Tony-award winning actor/writer/director who has starred in movies such as "American Gangster" and "Devil's Advocate," speaks at the Division of Fine Arts and Humanities ceremony. | Watch Video

Santiago-Hudson, who starred in "Castle" on ABC and will be featured this fall on the new AMC series "Low Winter Sun," was honored at the Division of Fine Arts and Humanities ceremony.

The actor/writer/director compared graduating from Harpur College to slaying a dragon—and made reference to many campus locations while saluting the graduates' accomplishments.

"You weathered the walk from College in the Woods to Lecture Hall when it was below 30, 20, even 10 degrees," he said. "And sometimes you came back after dinner truckin' past the library and the administration tower to the Fine Arts building for that evening rehearsal, recital or class—in February! Eyebrows frozen, snot crusted on your nose, teeth chattering a familiar tune."

Santiago-Hudson advised the graduates to "choose a career that you want to get up every day and be happy and proud to do."

"Share your life and goodness with people whose hearts and souls and smiles inspire you and give you strength, solace and joy," he said. "Anything you want to do is there for you. But it won't come and get you. You have to go and get it."

Linda Riefberg ’81
Linda Riefberg '81, Harpur College Division of Social Sciences alumnus, speaks at Binghamton University Commencement 2013. | Watch Video

Riefberg, who serves as special counsel at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson LLP, was honored at the Division of Social Sciences ceremony. Her message to graduates: Choose happiness.

"Choose a life, a career and jobs, a home and people to surround yourself with based on the ingredients you need to make yourself happy," she said. "Travel, exercise, read. Learn foreign languages. Volunteer. Enjoy life. Find what it is that will make you a happy person."

Riefberg, who also is treasurer of the Board of Care for the Homeless, added that she thinks of Binghamton University as how hard work and good friends and teachers can be a "springboard to contentment." She even has a 14-year-old cat who reminds her every day what Binghamton means to her. The cat's name is Harpur.

"Thirty years from now you may be in my shoes, speaking to college graduates," she said. "I'd like to think you will be able to take a measurement of where you are then and be able to say that you didn't just go along with the flow—but you consciously made life choices to make sure you would be happy."

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Last Updated: 11/14/16