Early on the morning of May 28, the stage at Madison Square Garden reserved for BMCC’s 45th Commencement Exercises was stacked with boxes, and students carried dry-cleaner bags with their gowns, calling out to each other as they pitched in, setting up chairs.
Three hours later, the BMCC banner was displayed behind the stage, boxes had been replaced with floral arrangements, rows of seating created an arc on the dais, and the BMCC Brass Ensemble was performing Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” aisles filling with friends and family finding their seats.
Greetings from the President, and CUNY dignitaries
BMCC President Antonio Pérez greeted the gathering, advising graduates, “through education you will clarify your goals and discover your gifts.” He spoke of the “storms” of life, and how everyone graduating that day had weathered them with the support of their loved ones. “You took a risk,” he said.
The Honorable Rita DeMartino, Member of the Board of Trustees, City University of New York (CUNY), in her address stressed that, “Education is the strategic architecture for your life,” closing with words that brought cheers from the audience: ¡Si, Se Puede! (Yes, we can!)
Dr. Alexandra Logue, CUNY’s Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost, noted encouraging trends, such as the fact that while nationwide, only 16% of community college students graduate in three years or fewer, BMCC’s fall 2007 cohort raised that percentage to 55% -- a phenomenon attributed in part to the college’s successful Out-in-Two and ASAP programs.
Senator Schumer speaks
Keynote Speaker Charles Schumer, U.S. Senator from New York announced a “class gift” to the graduates, explaining that while lower-income students have access to various types of financial aid, in this economy, middle-class students need help, too.
“So two years ago I wrote a law,” he said, referring to a college tuition tax credit in the federal economic stimulus package, “so you or your parents who pay for tuition can take $500 off your taxes for each year of college. But only if your family income is below,” and here he paused, “$200,000 a year!” -- an amount met with cheers by the audience, most of whom likely qualify for the aid.
But it was his parting words that seemed to most capture the energy in the room, and were taken up and chanted enthusiastically by the sea of graduates: “Go for it!”
Lin Ye, President of the BMCC Student Government Association, spoke to the assembly of his struggle to find his way in a new country, and the academic supports that helped him be successful at BMCC. “As an international student,” he said, “English was not my native language. But today I am a confident speaker,” words evoking spontaneous applause.
His mother, Shu Dongli, had traveled from her village of Hang Zhou, near Shanghai, China, to watch her son graduate. “Lin Ye studies and wants to work in finance,” she said, through an interpreter. “And this is the financial center of the world.”
Leslie-Ann Reid-Bacchus, Valedictorian, told her story of moving from Trinidad, where there was a neighborhood girl who “couldn’t even pronounce her own name.” That young girl had a part in shaping the area of study and career choice—speech pathology—Reid-Bacchus would eventually choose, at New York University where she enrolled after graduating this past year from BMCC.
“It took 21 years since high school for me to get here,” she said, referring to her time at BMCC, during which she not only earned a 4.0 GPA, but volunteered in a number of organizations including Out-in-Two, Each One Teach One, and New York Cares.
Seeds sowed: A Presidential Medalist, and graduates’ voices
Together, President Pérez and CUNY Trustee DiMartino presented the Presidential Medal to Raymond O’Keefe, Jr.
Founder and former Chairman of the BMCC Foundation, President of the James T. Lee Foundation and long-time friend of the college, O’Keefe has made over $350,000 in scholarship funds available to BMCC students over the years.
Thanks to his efforts, and other kinds of support, including that of friends and family who, as President Pérez said in his comments, “encourage us when we’re down,” over 2,700 students graduated in this 45th BMCC commencement, and the conferring of degrees was accomplished with a steady stream of students who, one at a time, formalized their accomplishment with a handshake, a hug, and a walk across the stage.
“They actually cared about what happened to us,” said Jason Commissiong, a Health Information Technology major who appreciated working with Professors Rawle Chichester and Linda Carlson. Said his classmate Vanessa Rodnez, “Someday I want to do consulting, and work with electronic medical records.”
“Someday I would like to operate a restaurant,” said Mohammad Hussain, a Business Management major. “I’m interested in studying urban life in Europe,” said Yomayra Almonte, who majored in Liberal Arts.
“My best experience here was playing the character Mary in the BMCC production, Everything Will Be Alright,” said Theatre major Kristina Acheampong. “Now I plan to audition for everything I can find.”
Orlando Torres, who sat with his lanky sight dog, a German Shepherd named “George,” graduated with an Associate in Human Services degree, and described accommodations the BMCC Office of Services for Students with Disabilities had put in place to support his academic experience. These included talking computers, in which Torres input class notes that voice-recognition software read back to him. “Most of all, though, it was the instructors,” he said. “And their patience.”
“It’s exciting to graduate, said Temitope Olasokan, a Liberal Arts major. “I did it in two years. I’d like to move into the science field, maybe nursing, and I’d like to attend maybe Adelphi or SUNY Buffalo. What I’ll miss the most are all the scholarships available to you as a BMCC student.”
“I want to invent something that will make life easier for people,” said Jih Shyu, an engineering major. Kaiser, another engineering graduate, wants to work in environmental energy, and named English Professor Julie Vega as his favorite.
Oscar Lopez, who majored in Computer Information Systems (CIS), considers himself a role model for his 11-year-old daughter, and wants to learn more about database management. Manfred Serand, who also studied CIS, plans to pursue programming at Brooklyn College or City Tech.
“I love how the nursing department worked as a team,” said Nyima Tsering, who volunteered at two hospitals while attending BMCC. “I loved the labs and clinicals.” Nursing majors Tamara Rugg and Mangit Gill are going to miss their favorite professor, Patricia Boyle-Egland, who “brought out the best in us.”
Math major Karam Rampersaud hopes to continue his studies in math and physics, and eventually would like to teach math. He advises others interested in the field, “Don’t be afraid to get things wrong. That’s how you learn.” His classmate Serigne Leye, originally from Senegal, says the small math department at BMCC was like “family,” and hopes to move on to Lehman College and teach math at the college level, someday.
“I want to be a forensic social worker, and help kids who are in trouble by gathering data for the court,” said Lolita Baker, a Human Services major who’s already enrolled at the College of New Rochelle, and like the thousands of fellow graduates surrounding her, is well on the way to reaching her goal.