Tompkins Cortland Community College

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Harriet Rovner Ferguson

Class of 1972Harriet Rovner Ferguson

The faculty and staff dressing room is always busy before commencement with professors and administrators ducking into robes, pinning back hair and hats, and chatting with food in hand. This year, amidst the buzz, Harriette Rovner Ferguson spent a lot of time smiling. "I can't even tell you how happy I am to be here," she said, as she adjusted her cap, receiving assistance with the unwieldy uniform of academia. It had to be perfect, said the helping hand. "Can't have the commencement speaker looking out of sorts."

The moment would have been difficult to imagine in 1970. Harriette was packed into a car with her parents, tuning in and tuning out as her father quizzed her on Groton's place in the larger geography, telling her she might just find a husband at Cornell while she was here. But that wasn't her dream. She may not have had specific aspirations in mind, but she was going to college. And she was not finding a husband. "My dream was to go to Tompkins Cortland and be open to wherever the experience took me. I had a goal in mind, but I had no expectations."

Her specialty in high school had been a social life. And while her friends went to four-year institutions that ignored Harriette, she found direction through acceptance at Tompkins Cortland. It was small and far enough (she grew up downstate), and mostly importantly, the college wanted her. "I'll always be thankful to the College for taking a chance on me. The fact that they trusted that I could live on my own away from my home, and thrive in their classrooms, made me proud and inspired to learn and begin my real education."

It was early in the life of the college (Tompkins Cortland was created in 1968), and early in the lives of most community colleges in the country, but Tompkins Cortland was already known for providing the supportive, community-based environment that persists to this day. In the small classes, Harriette found supportive teachers who helped her discover talents and passions that had certainly been on display in high school, but not in the academic context. Here, with this awakening inspiring her studies, she began to forge a direction.

"My family was forever telling me I was too touchy and emotional. But my professor saw my sensitivity as a positive attribute. She loved my writing and honored my compassion by telling me I was obviously an intelligent, caring person."

Writing and compassion. Those words would become central to her career. Later in the year she attended a career day and heard a social worker speak to the group. "I felt like I found a home."

Harriette graduated from Tompkins Cortland in 1972. She went to receive a BSW from SUNY Brockport, and an MSW from Stony Brook University. The Compassion: Harriette has spent most of her career counseling couples and individuals experiencing infertility, and operates a private practice in Smithtown. And the Writing: She also is the co-author of Experiencing Infertility, published by WW Norton in 2000 - a bestseller in the field of infertility counseling.

She hadn't been back to the College since the 70s, so she got the full tour this spring, and the red-carpet treatment for commencement. She shared stories of the old Groton campus, and bowling with the locals. And she shared her stories for the students, and reminded them of the opportunity they had been presented.

"If I hadn't gone to Tompkins Cortland...instead of speaking to you here today, I might have ultimately listened to my dad and been sitting in a mansion somewhere saying to my Cornell graduate husband, 'you know honey, I really feel like I am missing something.' I am so happy to tell you that for right now, on this day, on this incredible campus, I am not missing one thing."