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FITCHBURG — Extraordinary efforts make for extraordinary celebrations, Robert Antonucci, president of Fitchburg State University, said.

Based on the chatter he heard as he walked into the building, the 2013 winter commencement would be a joyous event.

The president praised the accomplishments and hard work of graduating students.

“They took the ball and ran with it.” he said during the ceremony held last night at the packed Recreation Center.

“Somebody caught that ball,” and that was a dedicated faculty, Antonucci, a member of the class of 1967 and 1970, said. The university’s curriculum was the other factor bringing these hard-working scholars to the goal post.

“Each and every one of you scored a touchdown,” Antonucci said. “You determined you were going to be the best in class.”

After receiving a degree, graduates have a choice. The new credential can sit on the counter or in the closet “or you can take it and do something,” he said. “Take your education and do something with it.”

The degree can be a ticket to success. One recipient will begin a new job in his field on Jan. 2. Antonucci said the new employer is lucky to have a Fitchburg State graduate.

The president urged new graduates to dream big, take risks and use their imaginations and creativity.

“Look to the future and respect the past. Do what you need to do and have a great time doing it,” he said.

Antonucci congratulated Emily Capone, Grace Connor and Laura Shotwell, undergraduates with high grade-point averages. They earned distinctions as Sterilite Scholars.

Fitchburg Police Chief Robert DeMoura received the President’s Medal. In addition to being a leader in public safety, the chief, who will soon retire, worked with the university to prepare new leaders in policing, Antonnuci said.

Members of the Alumni Association attended the ceremony celebrating the most recent graduates. Among them was Vincent J. DiSessa, who graduated with a bachelor of science in industrial arts in 1949.

He spoke informally while waiting with the other alumni for the commencement to begin. The World War II veteran’s experience proved the president’s later words to the graduates.

“I was happy,” DiSessa said. “This school made my life.”

Like the 2013 graduates praised by Antonucci, DiSessa wanted to succeed. After completing his service in the Pacific, the Everett resident attended the State Teachers College at Fitchburg, living in the men’s dorm. The GI Bill paid his way.

The degree allowed him to enter a career that has spanned a lifetime. The 88-year-old retired from teaching in 1990 and has been a substitute teacher for the last 24 years.

“I wouldn’t change my career. I love what I’m doing,” he said as he pulled out a holiday card his students made for him.

New graduates are in a position to make the types of decisions DiSessa made nearly 65 years ago.

“You take your destiny in your own hands,” Antonucci told them.

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