A spectacular celebration in honor of Borough of Manhattan Community College’s 50th anniversary was held recently on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in Lower Manhattan.
Waving over the six iconic columns of the Stock Exchange, a U.S. flag and one for the State of New York were joined by a flag showing the BMCC logo and announcing the college's half-century anniversary.
Festivities were held on the trading floor, where guests wound through clusters of broker stations transformed into a kind of futuristic café, overlooked by the famous bell-ringing platform and 70-foot, sky-lit ceilings. Hundreds of flat screens flashed images of the evening’s attendees, and catering staff sliced roast beef, rolled sushi, and circulated with trays of hors d’oeuvres.
An earlier reception in the Stock Exchange’s opulent boardroom recognized special friends of the college and highlighted 50th Anniversary Honorees Lawrence Leibowitz, Chief Operating Officer of NYSE Euronext, and Antonio Pérez, President of BMCC.
An unprecedented grand total in funds raised
Laura Morrison, Senior VP of Global Index and Exchange Traded Products at NYSE and Chair of the 50th Anniversary Event Planning Committee, welcomed guests to the pre-party reception in the historic main board room of the Stock Exchange.
BMCC Foundation Scholars—students whose education is made possible by funds raised at this annual event—mingled with Foundation Board members, members of the finance community and other guests amid the room's famously vast board table, soaring Tiffany ceiling and resplendent, red-malachite Faberge urn, a gift from Russian Czar Nicholas II in 1902.
Christine Larsen, Executive VP for J.P. Morgan Chase and Chair of the BMCC Foundation Board, announced to warm applause that the celebration had raised over $838,500 in scholarship funds—and rising.
“Those of you who have attended our gala events in recent years know that this total is a substantial increase over what we have raised in years past,” she told the audience. “In addition to marking BMCC’s special milestone, and honoring two important figures in downtown Manhattan, our primary goal for this evening is to raise much-needed scholarship funds to help ensure our students’ success.”
Special guests, a well-known radio host, and appreciative scholars
The pre-party reception acknowledged special guests and friends of the college, including Steven and Susan Fiterman; Steven Fiterman’s parents, Shirley and the late Miles Fiterman, donated the original Fiterman Hall to BMCC in 1993.
Also recognized were BMCC Foundation Board members Elizabeth Butson, Publisher Emeritus of the Downtown Express; James McKenna, CEO of the Hunter Roberts Construction Group, and Burt Resnick of Jack Resnick & Sons, who was unable to attend.
BMCC Foundation scholars circulated through the room and personally presented thank-you cards to the evening’s special guests, as Master of Ceremonies Chris Riback—host of the ABC radio show, Conversations, and author of You Won--Now What? How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, from Touchstone Press—took the stage.
“BMCC’s motto is ‘Start Here, Go Anywhere’, and there are thousands of stories to tell about students who have transferred from BMCC to Columbia, to Cornell, and to many fine CUNY colleges, and started their careers,” Riback said, introducing three BMCC Foundation scholars.
“Through this experience I understand that leadership and policy change the lives of others,” said Liberal Arts major Abraham Albarracin, who has lobbied government budget officials on behalf of CUNY and plans to major in political science.
Noura Mohamed described her goal “to travel the world and teach, participate in grassroots projects and impact the education system as an administrator,” and Natascha Bhuiyan talked of her plans to transfer to Columbia University and pursue a bachelor’s degree in financial economics.
Lawrence Leibowitz: A visionary finance leader—and neighbor
Chris Riback introduced a video highlighting the evening’s first Honoree, NYSE Euronext COO Lawrence Leibowitz, “whose visionary leadership has supported the integration of technology platforms throughout the financial industry.”
Filmed on the bustling trading floor of the Stock Exchange, Leibowitz remarks that “I think BMCC stands for opportunity … people can get ahead, through education, just like they can through investing—and investing in themselves is one of the best things they can ever do.”
His own parents, he said, were the first in their generation to gain a college education, and he added that at the Stock Exchange, “some of our greatest employees came from BMCC, and we’re really proud of them. These are people who typically didn’t start with a lot, and they fought against the odds and got themselves an education…We’re thrilled to have them here.”
After the video, Leibowitz accepted his award and noted that, “As a Tribeca resident and the son of CUNY graduates, I am very glad that my involvement in this 50th anniversary has enabled me to learn about the great work going on at BMCC right in my neighborhood.”
Antonio Pérez: A president who says, “We can.”
“We have been through many years of growth at BMCC, including some tough years, when we saw just how strong—and resilient—the BMCC community is,” said Steven Fiterman, as he and Christine Larsen presented the Award of Excellence to BMCC President Antonio Pérez.
A video was screened, highlighting the President’s multi-faceted role in his tenure of over 25 years at BMCC—from reading to small children in the BMCC Early Childhood Center, to shepherding the college through the aftermath of 9/11.
Among those featured in the video was Raymond O’Keefe, Jr., President of the James T. Lee Foundation and Founder and Vice Chair of the BMCC Foundation, who looks back on that difficult period.
“When people were saying, ‘Lower Manhattan will never come back’, Tony was one of the first people that said, ‘We can overcome this’,” O’Keefe remembers. “And when people said, ‘Let’s dismiss the students, let’s send them other places, you can’t open this physical facility’, he said, ‘We can’—and he did.”
As President Pérez accepted his award, he focused on the students of BMCC, more than half of whom “are the sons and daughters of immigrants," he said. "They move gracefully from culture to culture and navigate the fast-changing landscape of shifting technologies—and now, thanks to you, they have moved into the world of higher education, and set a path for themselves in the global economy of tomorrow, armed with the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed.”
A surprise gift from the students of BMCC
Steven Fiterman also presented to President Pérez, an unexpected surprise—the results of a student-driven fundraising effort on campus.
“With their pennies, their nickels and dollars, they have raised a special contribution to add to the total raised tonight,” said Fiterman, adding that Foundation board members had contributed a matching amount, to support the students’ efforts.
“I’m not surprised to see this kind of entrepreneurism in the students of BMCC,” President Pérez commented. “Your initiative, your drive, and most of all, your commitment to giving back is very inspiring. The future of New York City is in good hands.”
A widening world
Over a dozen BMCC Foundation Scholars attended both the pre-party event and the celebration on the trading floor. Dressed to the nines, they gathered with funders and staff from BMCC at the epicenter of the business and finance industry many of them hope to join someday—and a long way from where they started.
Accounting major Adelina Maze grew up in the Republic of Albania. “I’d heard lots of good comments from my friends and neighbors about BMCC,” she said, “so I enrolled. I love my professors, they are my inspiration.”
Thanks to the BMCC Foundation Scholarship, she said, she was able to forego the part-time jobs she was trying to fit around her classes and family responsibilities, and is planning to attend John Jay College after earning her associate degree at BMCC.
Christian Meyers, a computer network technology major, moved to New York from Miami in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, and has a somewhat different story, having found himself, at age 30, serving time on Rikers Island.
“Receiving the BMCC Scholarship boosted me to a whole new level; for the first time, I felt like a winner,” he said. “I’m here tonight to thank the donors for having confidence in us to strive and work hard, and believing that positive things are in our future.”
Foundation Scholar Teineicia Patrick, a soft-spoken nursing major, grew up in the Caribbean Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. “I love science, and I love babies, too,” she said. “I’m going to complete my nursing degree at BMCC, then become a certified midwife.”
Other BMCC Foundation scholars in attendance were Dana Elbaz, Jhoselyn Escobar, Luis Felipe Aragon Gonzalez, Maria Horsford, Qiaozheng Li, Rima-Ioana Merino and Monika Paskal.
Sussie Gyamfi, BMCC scholarship coordinator, accompanied the Foundation Scholars, and is their touchstone on campus.
“Two years ago,” she said, “A student came to my office after the fundraising gala to say how much she appreciated being there. ‘All my life’, she said, ‘I’ve never mingled with people like that. I’m the person who’s putting the food down, I’m one of the servers—I’m never the person being served’.”
According to Gyamfi, “It’s important that students know where the Foundation Scholarship funds are coming from—that our supporters are not just writing checks, but that they are real people who genuinely care about student success, and they not only want students to succeed academically, they want their sense of themselves and of the world, to widen.”