The annual Peter Jennings Scholarship Laurel Award Ceremony was recently held in CUNY’s television studio at the CUNY Graduate Center in midtown Manhattan, and honored 10 students who earned their General Equivalency Diploma (GED), through a CUNY adult education center, then enrolled in a CUNY college.
Two of the award winners attended GED classes at BMCC’s Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development: Carolina Muñoz, who will start classes at New York City College of Technology in the fall, and Frank Quiñones, who was just accepted into BMCC.
“It was the teacher,” said Quiñones, giving credit to GED instructor Jane Tarica. “She engaged you. She would walk around the class and get on you if you didn’t want to answer the questions.”
Carolina Muñoz, who plans to study radiology at NYC College of Technology, had a similar experience studying for her GED at BMCC.
“They make sure you get the material,” she said. “In math class, they ask questions, and you’re expected to explain the problem.” She also described benefits of being in the GED program’s CUNY Start classes.
“Not only did I get academic skills I needed,” she said, “I learned how to register for class and apply for financial aid—you need all these skills to be successful in college.”
A teenage father, and future radiologist
As is the case for many of the two million adults in New York City in need of English language and GED classes, both Quiñones and Muñoz have faced obstacles to earn their Laurel Award.
“I’m still with my high school sweetheart,” says Quiñones, who grew up in Puerto Rico, moved to New York as a youngster and left school in the tenth grade. Starting as a teenage father, he now has three children.
His wife, Carmen Reyes-Quiñones, graduated with an Associate degree in Human Services from BMCC, where Quiñones plans to study sociology this fall. “I like to question how computers and social media have changed the ways we interact,” he said.
Laurel Award winner Carolina Muñoz, who grew up in East Harlem, worked full-time at the Gap while pursuing her GED, and raising her child. She plans to study radiology at City Tech this fall. “Allied health is a growing field, and I want to work closely with patients,” she said.
Don’t be satisfied
The Laurel Award highlights students who regard their GED as the first step toward long-term educational and professional goals.
“Our advice, don’t be satisfied until you have earned your college degree,” said Leslee Oppenheim, University Director of Language and Literacy Programs, who moderated the event.
Tara Colton, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education told the winners, “CUNY, and the City of New York have invested in you.” By going beyond the GED to pursue a college degree, she said, “Your kids are going to do better in school. You’ll have an easier time accessing the health system, and finding better employment. There are tangible results for investing in adult education.”
Kevin Smith, Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Adult Career and Continuing Education Services of the NYS Education Department, agreed. Literacy, he said, whether applied academically, in the workforce or daily life, “Is the ability to access, utilize and understand information…that is the business we’re in.”
That business, said BMCC GED instructor Jane Tarica, must go beyond test-taking strategies, “because we don’t want students to just pass the test—we want them to be active learners in their communities. We create leaders, who can go out in the world and maybe even teach others how to learn.”
The Peter Jennings legacy
The late Peter Jennings, one of America's most distinguished journalists was the anchor and senior editor of ABC's World News Tonight. In a career that spanned more than four decades, he covered pivotal world events—the civil rights movements in the United States, the struggle for equality in South Africa, the Vietnam War, Gulf War, events of 9-11 and more.
The Peter Jennings Foundation fights homelessness, drug addiction, hunger and illiteracy, and in remembrance of Peter Jennings, a video of the 2003 Laurel Award ceremony—which he hosted—was screened.
At that event, CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein conferred on Jennings the University’s highest honor, the Chancellor’s Medal, and Jennings addressed each award recipient individually, sharing that he was “envious” of their having earned a GED, while he never completed high school.
“We are all perpetually defining ourselves,” he said.
Receiving their Laurels
Kayce Freed Jennings and Leslee Oppenheim presented the 2011 Laurel Award Winners with their certificates; there were eight winners in addition to the two who attended BMCC’s adult education program.
Rachida Alassani, who studied for her GED at the Lehman College Adult Learning Center, is headed this fall to BMCC, where Eddie Medjo—who studied at the Bronx Community College Adult Basic Education & Training Program—is already attending classes.
Emelin Caba, who attended the Lehman College Adult Learning Center, now attends Bronx Community College. Jennifer deRoche, who completed the Medgar Evers College GED Center, attends Medgar Evers College and Khawla Kawara, from the Brooklyn College Adult Literacy Program, attends Kingsborough Community College.
Mercy Ofori, of the LaGuardia Community College Adult Learning Center, attends LaGuardia Community College. Elionardo Rivera, who attended the NYC College of Technology Adult Learning Center, will attend Kingsborough College and Arturo Tovar, who studied for his GED at Hostos Community College Adult Learning Center, will attend Hostos Community College.
Two student speakers closed the event. Mercy Ofori, who grew up in Ghana, West Africa, left school in the tenth grade to apprentice with a dress maker. Arturo Tovar, from Mexico, joined a student study group, which met before and after they took the GED—in case someone didn’t pass. As it turns out, though, they all did.