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Meet the Class of 2024 Senior Speaker: Cielo “Cephie” Howell

By: Summer Tyler

Cielo "Cehphie" Howell, a creative writing major, is clebrating the end of her fifth and final year at SUNY Purchase as the Class of 2024 Commencement speaker (Photo via the Purchase College website)

Cephie Howell is currently a graduating senior here at Purchase. She is from Katonah, New York and is almost finished with her fifth and final year at Purchase as a creative writing major. Cephie has a passion for writing and has taken on several leadership positions within the Purchase community, including being both an assistant and ambassador for the creative writing program.  

Why did you choose Purchase?

I originally wanted to go to Suny New Paltz. My parents convinced me because of the proximity of the school to our house that I should check out Purchase. They told me to go on a tour and to see how it goes. I fell in love with the Purchase atmosphere and community, getting to meet other alt people with fun clothes and fun hair and piercings was really refreshing since I come from a white picket fence kind of town. The community is really what drew me in.

How did you know you wanted to study creative writing?

I was actually supposed to come here for opera. The week that my portfolio was due, I got laryngitis. I couldn't speak let alone sing and I panicked. I had been practicing an opera for about 10 years at that point. I just wrote for fun. I wrote for myself, for my own pleasure. I decided to send some of my writing in on a whim and I got into the creative writing program. I started out writing fiction and I ended up writing more poetry.

What made you want to submit for Senior Speaker? What inspired you?

My friends and I were talking one night and they said to me, “Wouldn't it be funny if you were the commencement speaker for graduation?” Since I have a bubbly, boisterous personality and I have a lot of positions at school. I’m an assistant to the creative writing program, an ambassador for the creative writing program, I was president of the literature society, and I wear many hats at Purchase. When I saw that they were looking for people to apply to be the commencement speaker, I thought I might as well submit an application. I really didn't think I was gonna get it and then I got it. I thought woah, this is crazy, maybe the bit was taken a little too far. But I am very excited and happy to be given this honor. I’m very passionate about writing so it was really cool for me to be able to share a piece of my writing in that way.

What topics are you going to speak about in your commencement speech? Due to the recent events (an encampment, protests, protesters' demands being met to a certain degree, etc.) on campus, have you changed anything about your speech?

Originally, my speech was going to be pretty generic. Something along the lines of, “We did it guys! We made it!” I worked with Professor Donna Cornachio and she really wanted my speech to be more pointed toward me and parts of my experience here, as well as bringing in aspects of what I learned from this experience. We crafted an incredible speech that I'm really proud of. And then the events happened last week at this school and I thought okay, I have to change the speech now. The school settled which was crazy and so unexpected. I am so proud of the people who fought to get us to that point, both students and faculty. For the most part, I have retained the original speech at this point. I definitely focused more on speaking about what has happened on campus recently and what brought us to this point. I do focus on sharing the obstacles we’ve faced and what we've overcome as a student body. I talk about the importance of found family here at Purchase, friendships, commodore, and togetherness.

Are you excited to graduate?

I am excited to graduate and to start the next phase of my life. I am very sad to leave Purchase and all the friends I've made. This school has so many great memories for me. I’m looking into event planning and going into that for post grad occupations. I’m hopeful to get a job in event planning or coordinations or something in that realm. 

What do you want graduating students and faculty to obtain from your speech? 

I hope to make the graduates laugh and smile. If I can make the graduates and their family/friends smile then I will have succeeded. It’s a happy day; it should be a happy day at least and we should be celebratory toward our incredible achievements. It’s gonna be really hard but I'm gonna try not to cry during the speech. Overall, I really hope that people feel satisfied with everything I say.

Commencement is this Friday, May 17, beginning at 12:30 p.m. in the Westchester County Center (198 Central Ave. White Plains, NY).



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