GLENS FALLS — Stephen Leszczynski starts Monday.
The 47-year-old husband and father earned his first college degree at Adirondack Community College and starts at GlobalFoundaries' new site to begin work next week.
He was among more than 300 graduates at the college's 49th annual spring commencement Thursday night at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
The Schuylerville resident stayed hopeful despite being one of 8,000 people laid off by Sprint a few years ago.
"I always wanted to go back to school. I never thought it would be possible to get to where I am now," Leszczynski said.
He had worked in various jobs in the telecommunications industry, but he eventually found a high school diploma was a barrier to promotion.
"I just always ran into a problem with a glass ceiling of not being to advance like other engineers, not having the degree," he said.
A crowd of well over 1,000 people attended the ceremony, which stressed the importance of well-rounded alumni who participate in their communities and balance their time.
Mark Mulholland, Saratoga Springs bureau chief for WNYT-TV NewsChannel 13 in Albany, delivered the commencement address, emphasizing the importance of family time with his 9-year-old and 11-year-old children.
"Some people ask me how I do it - as a full-time single father with a full-time career," said Mulholland, who lost his wife to breast cancer in 2007.
"No. 1: I always remember that my most important job is being their father," he said. "No. 2: When there's any doubt, I remind my employer that my most important job is being my kids' father."
Other speakers emphasized the memories of students' college experiences and how graduates should always remember the moment.
Several ACC graduates appeared optimistic about their future careers despite unemployment rates between 10.7 percent at 15.7 percent for adults in their 20s, according to a recent Federal Reserve Bank report.
Nearly three out of every four ACC students are age 24 or younger.
Many had plans to continue their education with bachelor's or master's degrees, and some already had jobs in place.
Student speaker Vera Kasson told the audience how she got a dream job offer as the advertising director and a contributing writer of Saratoga Living magazine.
She said ACC contributed to her success with the magazine, where one class even led her to an internship with the Saratoga Springs-based publication.
Parent Nancy West was in the audience with a bouquet of purple and pink roses for her daughter, Katelyn Wilson.
Wilson recently interviewed for a possible job with McKesson, in Queensbury, and was waiting to hear back, West said.
"She's hopeful," West said.
For older graduates like Leszczynski, who earned an associate degree in electrical technology, the difficulties are different, but still apparent.
While unemployed, he enrolled at ACC after discussing the decision with Labor Department staffers, who he said were instrumental in helping him start college.
"If I don't pursue this, you might as well as sign me up for training to be a truck driver," he said of the conversation.
At school, he encountered further obstacles.
He took calculus twice after failing it once, he said, and noted how discouraging it was to see class sizes dwindle throughout a semester.
Leszczynski said he focused on his studies, though, and had the experience to know the consequences if he didn't succeed.
Despite the setbacks, Leszczynski completed his studies as a full-time student, and plans to continue his education.
"If you stick with it," he said, "you will conquer."