Moving Story Gives Local Boy the Chance for College 

Nicholas Sovignon, future Great Dane. (Photo by Mark Schmidt) 

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 16, 2015) -- 11-year-Nicholas Sovignon of Schenectady woke up one day recently, dressed for school, kissed his mom goodbye, and went off to his bus stop.

When he awoke the next day, he had a full scholarship to the University at Albany. And he hadn't yet eaten his breakfast.

Or, for that matter, graduated from high school.

It's a story with its roots in the very human belief that desperation does not have to be an end game, that education can alter a life, and that a simple act backed by compassion can yield extraordinary outcomes.

And it's a story that started in the simplest ways. At a dinner to honor local luminaries sponsored by a regional newspaper, University at Albany President Robert J. Jones received an award naming him Game Changer of 2015. He made remarks but, due to scheduling conflicts, had to leave the ceremony soon after.

People at a table

Signing the scholarship agreement. From left Esther Sovignon; Darrell P. Wheeler,Vice Provost for Public Engagement and Dean of School of Social Welfare; Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs James A. Stellar; City Mission Executive Director Michael Saccocio, and Nicholas Sovignon. ( Photo by Mark Schmidt)

When Michael Saccocio stepped up to receive the Non-Profit of the Year honor for the City Mission of Schenectady, of which he's the executive director, he told an extraordinary tale. It was the story of a woman and her 11-year-old son, homeless on a wintry night, who made their way City Mission desperate for shelter and safety, a mother nearly out of her mind with worry and concern for her son. And her son, Nicholas, in turn worried that his mother's burden was too much for one person to bear. Mike Saccocio spoke of the young boy's compassion, of his innate intelligence and desire to help, to save them, especially to save his mom. He was, in every sense of the word, a special young boy.

The story was moving of course, and the passion showed by Mike Saccocio in telling it hung heavily in the room. Several of the University's administrators, sitting at a table, recall being stunned by the story, the same way being stunned by a blast of frigid air makes it hard to breathe. Initially, anyway. When they did catch their breath, they looked and read each other, and decided, on the spot, that Nicholas was going to college.

It was up to Provost James Stellar to make the announcement. He told the crowd that the University at Albany, moved by the story and moved by the promise of Nicholas, would make its own promise. It was a University at Albany Foundation scholarship, which would guarantee that Nicholas could attend UAlbany free of tution expenses. All he had to do was keep up his grades, apply, and be accepted.

And when he did finally hear about it, maybe after breakfast that day, his reaction was pure Nicholas. He was honored, but happy, he said, because it meant that his mother would never have to worry, ever, about his future.


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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany-SUNY offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciencesbusiness, public health, health sciences, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.