The Jacob Javits Center’s vast North Hall was the site of BMCC’s 47th Commencement Exercises on June 1st, marking the conferring of associate degrees on 3,200 students in 30 areas of study.
BMCC President Antonio Pérez welcomed the audience.
“BMCC has played a role in expanding your hearts as well as your minds,” he told the graduates. “Through its diverse community and its curriculum, BMCC has provided you with a sense of the world as a global community.”
In that community, he said, “people of more than a hundred countries, people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds, study together—and in the process, forge friendships that last a lifetime.”
NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott delivers keynote address
New York City Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott delivered the keynote address, recognizing on the dais his friend, guest speaker New York State Senator Charles Schumer, and sharing something they have in common.
“Both his father and my father were exterminators,” Walcott said. “My father was a high school dropout. Fortunately, there were opportunities for him to go on, and learn to support my mother and our family—opportunities that are no longer there.”
Emphasizing the increasingly critical value of higher education, Walcott talked about leaving his job as a kindergarten teacher to found the Frederick Douglass Brother-to-Brother mentoring program for young boys. From there, he served as President of the New York Urban League, where he expanded youth programs including Jeter’s Leaders and the Bridge to Brotherhood.
Today, said President Pérez in his introduction of Walcott, “he is committed to making sure that the 1.1 million public school students in New York City today receive an education that will be a strong foundation as they enter college,” and noted that 4,000 of those students will enter BMCC this coming fall.
Losing the fear of falling
Philip Alfonso Berry, Vice Chairperson of the CUNY Board of Trustees, also congratulated the graduates. “Is this a good day or what?” asked Berry, who happens to be a BMCC alumni, himself.
“I am a product of the New York City schools and I got my start right here at BMCC,” he said.
“In this audience are our City’s next medical doctors, our next heads of community organizations and corporations, and those who will come up with new advances in science. Education doesn’t stop with this degree, but it begins here. Do not forget this college. Give back.”
Marc V. Shaw, CUNY Senior Vice Chancellor for Budget, Finance and Fiscal Policy, brought greetings on behalf of CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein.
“Whatever your next step, make it a challenging one, a difficult and honorable one,” he said. “Also, don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid of taking some risks, falling down a little now and then.”
“Tell them, it’s never too late.”
BMCC Vice President for Student Affairs, Marva Craig, introduced Student Government President JoNae Smith, who spoke of the unique experience of attending BMCC, “whether you were watching the sun rise over Battery Park or watching it set on the growing Freedom Tower.”
Valedictorian Andre Barber described the challenges he overcame as a special education student in high school, thanking his mother and “nurturing professors at BMCC” for supporting his efforts to earn a 4.0 grade point average.
Barber, who volunteers at Metropolitan Hospital by reading to young patients, is active in the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, the BMCC Debate Club and Scholarship Society events, and works at a Manhattan Starbucks.
He even took time during his studies to don the big blue head and furry costume of the BMCC mascot, going incognito as the Panther, and told of returning to the school close to midnight one night, because he had forgotten his books.
“When I arrived,” he said, “there were students studying and reading…that’s when I realized, hard-working individuals who make up my campus surround me all day.”
Having been inspired by others at BMCC, Barber urged his fellow graduates to “share our knowledge with our communities and those future students who will take our place at BMCC…Tell them it is never too late. Tell them that you know the journey ahead is difficult…and then tell them our BMCC motto: ‘Start Here. Go Anywhere’. Then they will sit where you are now.”
A senator’s gift, and Presidential Medal
Longtime BMCC friend, New York State Senator Charles Schumer spoke to the graduates and their families, reminding them to take advantage of legislature he created, to help offset college costs.
“I wrote a law so that you and your parents, whoever paid your tuition, will be eligible for a full tax credit, $2,500 off your taxes each year—provided that your family income is below “$200,000 a year,” he told the cheering audience.
Finally, in a traditional moment of the commencement event, President Pérez presented the BMCC Presidential Medal to a special friend and supporter of the college; this year, recognizing Elizabeth Butson, a member and former chair of the BMCC Foundation Board.
Butson, who was the first woman vice president at Philip Morris, also excelled as a photojournalist, and with her late husband, Tom Butson, bought two small newspapers in New York City that provided an important forum for community issues related to BMCC’s Lower Manhattan neighborhood.
“Every time I walk the halls of BMCC, I am inspired by the energy of BMCC students,” she told the graduating class, adding, "You have to remember where you came from, but also where you’re going. Every time the sky darkens a little and rain falls on your dreams, remember this day."
Education’s impact on the whole family
The vast North Hall was filled about halfway with graduates, and in the other half with families and friends holding happy face balloons, bouquets of flowers, and the graduates’ younger siblings.
Socorro Beltran was there to watch her son Michael Pérez Rinaldi walk across the stage for his degree in multimedia design.
“He’s the second one to graduate from college in our family,” said Beltran, whose daughter, Katherine is a special education major at NYU, and whose son, Alfred, graduated from Columbia University and is working at CBS.
Inspired by her children’s success, Beltran, who has worked as a teacher’s aide, says, “I would like to go back to school to study teaching, someday.”
Graduates focus on their next goal
Before the ceremony, graduates in blue robes lined up outside the hall in groups erupting with hugs and camera flashes, sharing plans as diverse as the student body itself.
Joyce Julio, who moved to New York from the Philippines in 2007, majored in early childhood education and plans to transfer to City College, CUNY this fall, “to eventually become a preschool teacher,” she says.
Human services graduate Tamiko Nelson is transferring to Medgar Evers College “to obtain my bachelor’s in social work,” she says, adding that she will continue working full-time at YAI, a social service agency—a job that evolved from her internship through BMCC.
Andrea Kreth served as an Intelligence Interceptor and Analyst in the Army before attending BMCC. Now graduating with a degree in English, “I want to teach junior high English,” she says.
Liberal Arts major Yancy Greene was accepted into Brooklyn College for the fall, where he plans to focus on a medical field, or teaching degree. Meanwhile, he is pursuing his dance career. “I’m taking two classes at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater,” he says, “and I’ll continue auditioning for dance and music videos.”
Diego Zuniga, a business administration major who moved to New York from Colombia 20 years ago, plans on attending Baruch College to earn a bachelor’s degree in business and finance. “Now I’m working as a manager for a parking company, and my plan is to continue advancing with that company,” he says.
Robert Smith, whose associate degree is in Computer Information Systems, actually graduated from BMCC in December 2011, and is already attending Brooklyn College for a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems. “I have a tech job now, doing database work and programming,” he says. “My long-term plan is to get my master’s in computer information or computer science.”
Respiratory Therapy major Palash Sen, who grew up in Bangladesh, plans eventually to complete a pharmacy and biotechnology degree. “I enjoy chemistry,” he says.
Video Arts and Technology graduate Vincent Reardon, who grew up in Queens, plans “to attend the New York City Police Academy,” he says, “and eventually work in surveillance, going into counter-terrorism and preventing the next terrorist attack on New York City."
Lissett Ortiz, a Liberal Arts graduate, is transferring to SUNY Binghamton this fall, and wants to teach math. “I’ve always loved math,” she says, “and I like working with kids. Why not put them together?”
Math major Leonce Colas has worked as an electrician while completing his degree at BMCC. “I’m an MIJ—a mid-level journeyman, working with Local 3,” he says. “I’d like to pursue a degree in electrical engineering eventually. Meanwhile, the math is important for code calculations, and other aspects of my work.”