BMCC’s 49th Commencement Ceremony honoring over 3,200 graduates was held Friday, May 30, 2014 in The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Members of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, identified by their yellow sashes, led the processional and were followed by students representing over 30 majors; a steady stream of blue gowns, orange sashes and the occasional headscarf under traditional mortar board.
A prelude of musical selections ranging from Aaron Copeland to Ludwig van Beethoven was performed by the BMCC Brass Ensemble and conducted by Professor Howard Meltzer, and “The Star Spangled Banner” was sung by Professor Eugenia Yau, accompanied by Professor Joyce Moorman.
Building ‘a hope-filled future’
“Today is a milestone in the legacy you are creating,” announced BMCC President Antonio Pérez.
He invited the audience of family and friends to stand, to the graduates’ resounding applause, and reminded them, “These are the ones who encouraged you when you were down, who stood by you through tough times.”
He also spoke of the historical significance of the class of 2014—Fiterman Hall, which was destroyed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, reopened in Fall 2012, when many of them first entered the college.
“Fiterman Hall stands as a testament to the belief that you, the graduates of BMCC, are worthy of the best education possible—from the quality of the curricula, to the excellence of the faculty, to the integrity of the buildings themselves,” said President Pérez.
“BMCC has played a role in expanding your hearts as well as your minds … You must never forget that our mission as citizens is to help the world find constructive and peaceful pathways to a hope-filled future.”
He spoke of the technological changes that have impacted the graduates’ aspirations and the necessity of being “flexible and nimble,” to quote an often-used phrase in the current economic environment.
“BMCC students know all about being ‘flexible and nimble’,” said President Pérez.
“You held down jobs, completed internships, raised families and volunteered in your communities while completing your degrees … You will continue learning and building your skills, and as the world around you changes, you will be part of that change. You will even direct that change.”
Presidential Honoree, Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick
This year’s Presidential Honoree was New York State (NYS) Assemblymember and Chair of the NYS State Assembly Higher Education Committee, the Honorable Deborah J. Glick.
Now serving her 11th term in the Assembly, “Deborah Glick’s legislative victories include passage of the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), and the Hospital Visitation Bill, which provides domestic partners the same rights that spouses and next-of-kin have when caring for a loved one in a hospital or nursing facility,” said President Pérez.
He also talked about Assemblymember Glick’s sponsorship of the Women’s Health and Wellness Act, a bill that promotes early detection and prevention of breast cancer and other medical conditions affecting women, and legislation she has authored to make the subway safer and phase-out diesel buses, improving the air quality in New York City.
“The good news is, she’s looking out for you, too,” said President Pérez.
“Deborah Glick has served as Chair of the New York State Assembly’s Higher Education Committee since 2007 … your education is at the top of her priorities, and we are lucky to count her among our friends. This is a person who cares deeply about people, and what is right.”
“Today is about you,” Glick told the audience.
“I have many campuses in my district, but BMCC has a special place in my heart. It is a gateway to education for so many people.”
She urged the students to “pull together to move the next generation forward. The world has made a lot of mistakes, and we’re counting on you to fix them … You are the ones who are going to go forward and make this country great.”
Honored guests: CUNY Trustee Philip Alfonso Berry, Vice Chancellor Pamela Silverblatt and U.S. Senator for New York, Charles Schumer
“Many of you are the first in your families, as I was, to graduate from college,” said Philip Alfonso Berry, a graduate of BMCC who went on to serve as Vice Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY).
“We have many here today who worked two jobs. I worked two jobs when I was at BMCC. It isn’t luck, but perseverance, that got you this far.”
Pamela Silverblatt, Vice Chancellor for Labor Relations, delivered greetings on behalf of CUNY Interim Chancellor William Kelly, and referred back to President Pérez’s comments about the class of 2014 having entered BMCC just as Fiterman Hall reopened.
“President Pérez advocated fiercely and tirelessly that Fiterman Hall would be rebuilt,” she said, and congratulated the graduates on their determination, acknowledging “the sleepless nights as you balanced the demands of school, work and family.”
Surprise guest and friend to BMCC, U.S. Senator for New York, Charles Schumer, reminded the graduates to take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which he authored.
The credit, he explained, is worth up to $2,500 toward the cost of qualifying educational expenses, including course materials and tuition.
“Last year, a third of those eligible for the credit did not claim it,” he told the audience. “Tell your friends about it.”
Valedictorian Cindy Salazar and SGA President Domingo Estevez
BMCC Vice President for Student Affairs Marva Craig introduced Student Government Association president, Domingo Estevez.
“I have a last request to my fellow graduates,” he said.
“Our families are coming here from all parts of the world, not knowing the language and culture. We have a responsibility with our communities to go back and help solve problems, to be role models. Never forget who you are, and never forget where you came from.”
VP Robert Messina introduced Valedictorian and Business Administration graduate, Cindy Salazar, who earned a 4.0 GPA, was a member of Phi Theta Kappa and an Each One, Reach One peer mentor.
She also participated in the Goldman Sachs Leadership Program at BMCC, held a Citigroup/BMCC internship and volunteered in a rehabilitation center in her neighborhood.
Salazar will focus on fashion merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology in the fall, planning to help build her parent’s clothing business.
“All those years of advice and inspiration have paid off,” she said, and spoke of the importance of “giving back … to create a more equitable and just society.”
What’s your next step?
The commencement setting in Madison Square Garden was familiar to liberal arts graduate Yves Nday, who worked there throughout his years at BMCC and was just accepted into Hunter College, where he will major in physical therapy.
“I want to go into law enforcement or nursing,” says his fellow liberal arts major Yerlina Dominguez, who grew up in the Bronx.
Kimye Richards worked in her mother’s day care center while earning her associate degree in early childhood education, and was just accepted into Brooklyn College, where she’ll study special education.
Writing and Literature major Bryan Rivera grew up in Brooklyn, and is considering either Brooklyn or Hunter College, for his bachelor’s degree.
Eduardo Martinez, who grew up in Queens, earned his associate degree in science and is heading off to York College, where he’ll study to become a physician’s assistant.
“The best part about BMCC is the diversity of the people,” he says. “You meet people from different cultures in every class.”
Raul Perez, another science graduate and president of the group, Student Action Against Sexual and Domestic Assault says, “the help I got from the staff and faculty at BMCC was tremendous.” In the fall, he’ll study biology at City College, CUNY.
“I’m going to major in business and minor in marketing at St. Francis College,” says Vanessa Soto, who earned her associate degree in business administration.
“The professors were very helpful at BMCC,” she says. “I think I also benefited from how many different countries the people in our classes are from, because business has become so global.”
“I was born in Guinea, in West Africa, but I grew up in New York City,” says Mohamed Diaby, whose earned his associate degree in engineering science while tutoring other students through BMCC’s Each One, Reach One program.
“I’ll be at SUNY Buffalo in the fall,” he says, “to study civil engineering.”
Math graduate Jose Guzman will continue his studies in math at Baruch College in the fall.
“I worked in CLIP, the CUNY Language Immersion Program, while I was at BMCC,” he says. “The whole campus is full of people with different languages and cultures. I enjoyed helping them with their English and I think I might want to teach someday.”