A controversial figure in New York state politics will deliver this year's commencement address at Paul Smith's College.
College officials announced Tuesday afternoon that former Governor David Paterson will speak to the 2011 graduating class next month.
Paterson became New York's 55th governor after another controversial figure, Eliot Spitzer, was forced to resign amid a prostitution scandal. He served just two years in the Executive Mansion, taking office in 2008 and finishing in 2010.
But in just two years, Paterson made a name for himself, delivering scathing remarks about the state Legislature while fending off allegations that he attempted to cover up an assault case involving one of his top aides.
Paterson rose to public office in 1985 as a 31-year-old state senator serving a district in Harlem. At the time, he was the youngest senator in Albany and later became the leader of the Senate's Democratic minority. He was elected lieutenant governor in 2007 and became the state's first black governor after the Spitzer resignation.
Dr. John W. Mills is president of Paul Smith's College. He notes that Paterson - who is blind - has overcome a variety of obstacles throughout his life.
Mills says Paterson was thrust into a high-profile political role at the beginning of the nation's worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
"I know our graduates will benefit from hearing somebody with such a rich life story," Mills said in a prepared statement
College spokesman Ken Aaron told WNBZ that a graduate with a personal connection to Paterson helped organize the commencement appearance.
"We're really excited that the governor is going to be coming here," he said. "He's got a fascinating life story, be it his tenure as governor to his position in the state Senate. He's overcome a lot of obstacles in his life and we think he'll have a terrific message to share with our graduates this May."
Paterson didn't make many friends in the environmental world while in office. In fact, he received exceptionally poor ratings for proposing major cuts to the state Environmental Protection Fund.
Aaron says that environmental stewardship is, in fact, part of the college's DNA. But he adds that despite Paterson's past dust-ups with the environmental sector, there won't be bad blood come graduation.
"But I think it's fair to say that Gov. Paterson had a lot of difficult choices to make during his tenure given the budget situation and other factors," Aaron said. "I'm sure that if you got 100 people in a room, you'd have 100 different ideas of what those choices should have been. But bottom line, we're excited to have him and I think he'll bring an interesting perspective to our alums and we're excited to have him."
For his part, Paterson says he's honored to address this year's graduating class.
"The Adirondacks are a special place and it is a pleasure to return," he said in a statement provided by the college.
This will be the 64th commencement ceremony for Paul Smith's College, an institution which just matriculated one of its largest classes in history last fall.
Paterson will deliver his remarks at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 15.