Alumni Spotlights

For legacy families like the Knights, Niagara is home

February 12, 2014

The Knight family: Debbie, '87, Michael Jr., '13, and Michael Sr., '87

The Knight family: Debbie, '87, Michael Jr., '13, and Michael Sr., '87

All family legacies begin somewhere”¦and with someone.

For the Knights, one such tradition began in the early 1950s when Joseph P. Knight made the decision to attend Niagara University.

Joseph, a native of Geneva, N.Y., studied history and played golf at Niagara before graduating in 1956. He enjoyed a successful 35-year career as a regional salesman for the American Can Company. For his outstanding work as a combat correspondent during the Korean War, he was awarded a Bronze Star.

When it came time for Joseph's (and his wife, Cookie's) children to explore colleges, the family patriarch requested that they consider Niagara, but left the final choice in their hands.

Both Michael and Kristen ultimately opted to pursue their undergraduate studies at NU; Michael for political science and Kristin for communications.

Michael says he fell in love with Niagara's beautiful campus ”“ “it was everything I'd imagined” ”“ and he was drawn by the excellence of the university's political science and pre-law programs. Having attended Catholic elementary and high schools, the faith component offered him an additional sense of familiarity.

“Most importantly,” Michael says of what sealed his decision, “from my very first visit, Niagara felt like home. I always believed that I belonged.”

That fall, on the annual freshman walk to Niagara Falls State Park, Michael met a classmate from Vestal, N.Y. He and Deborah Casper clicked immediately ”“ seven years later, they were married.

Michael, who earned a B.A. in political science (magna cum laude) from Niagara in 1987 and later added a juris doctor from the Albany Law School of Union University, is deputy counsel for the New York State Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection. As a way of thanking his alma mater, he has served as class chair for numerous Niagara University giving campaigns and is an active alumni ambassador for the Office of Admissions.

Meanwhile, Deborah, a 1987 Niagara nursing graduate, worked in cardio-thoracic units at Strong Memorial Hospital, Albany Medical Center, St. Peter's Hospital and Albany Associates in Cardiology. She became a full-time mom in 2000.

Both Michael and Deborah attribute their personal and professional success to the Catholic and Vincentian education they received at NU.

“Niagara offers so much more than a solid liberal arts education,” Michael explains. “Certainly, being able to communicate, to think critically and to read and write effectively are hallmarks of a Niagara education, but being able to use your learning and talents in service to others, in my opinion, elevates the Niagara graduate beyond his or her peers. Niagara University instructs students how to be successful professionals, but it also teaches them how to be successful human beings.”

Michael and Deborah have four sons, the oldest of whom has advanced the Knight family legacy on Monteagle Ridge. In fact, Joseph, Michael Sr. and Michael Jr. all lived in House 3 of Varsity Village!

Michael Jr. graduated from Niagara last May with a degree in psychology. He is currently taking advantage of one of NU's unique dual-degree (4+2) programs, which allows him to obtain a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling in just two years.  

Ask Michael Jr. what it was that attracted him to Niagara, and he echoes a refrain similar to the one his father described two decades earlier.

“I came to Niagara not necessarily because of the beautiful campus, not only because of the kind and friendly faculty, staff and students, nor because of the small class sizes. For me, Niagara felt like something more than the other universities I toured. It felt like home.

“Niagara offers an education that is unique to its students in a way that's difficult to explain. The infusion of Vincentian values, like service unto others, instills within its students the concepts of humility, kindness to others, personal responsibility, and a love of service for the sake of helping others. You can't get that anywhere else.”