April 28, 2022
The Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Office of Academic Affairs has named 17 graduating finalists for the 2022 Valedictorian. After a series of interviews and a close review of essays, one of these graduates will be selected as Valedictorian and tasked with delivering a speech before thousands of attendees at the College’s in-person commencement, set for June 9 at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn.
The 17 students represent a broad range of backgrounds, academic majors and stated goals. Many have overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles along the way, but they will leave BMCC well-equipped to take on the next chapter of their academic journey. Each has maintained a 4.0 GPA during their time at BMCC and several have already been accepted to competitive four-year colleges and universities.
“BMCC celebrates the outstanding academic achievement of all 17 of these impressive students,” said Janice Zummo, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for Support.
“Narrowing this selection down to just one Valedictorian will prove challenging. Each of the candidates deserve a hearty round of applause.”
The finalists include Reem Ali (Liberal Arts), Danny Blakeman (Psychology), Julia Divergilio (Modern Languages, Italian), David Flick (Criminal Justice), Anna Freschi (Forensic Science), Nicholas Giglio (Psychology), Jeremy Hurt (Social Work), Buddeah Ijaz (Undeclared), Sebastian Jerg (Community Health Education), Gabriella Levy (Childhood Education), Mah Noor (Science), Evgeniy Poizhan (Computer Science), Christian Rabenstein (Liberal Arts), Homin Ryu (Studio Art), Isaac Salazar (Human Services), Bridget Screvane (Computer Science) and Karolina Wiesiolek (Biotechnology).
A few of the finalists shared details about their academic journey at BMCC.
A family’s first college student works toward a career in medicine
Science major Mah Noor first moved from Pakistan to Brooklyn when she was three years old. After completing sixth grade, the family went back to Pakistan but returned to New York in 2020 where she completed high school.
Noor chose BMCC after consulting with her high school advisors and CUNY faculty who said BMCC would offer an academic pathway towards an eventual career in medicine. She also appreciated the college’s location in the heart of lower Manhattan. Noor’s decision to attend BMCC was also influenced by videos featured on the BMCC website where students described how they took advantage of student services or academic advisement and were now either earning higher degrees or soaring in their chosen careers.
“As the first in my family to go to college, in a new country on top of that, I was worried that a lack of guidance I had would become problematic,” said Noor. “I was happily proven wrong when I enrolled myself in BMCC programs such as Panther Partners and Sister-2-Sister my first semester.”
Noor says both programs provided intensive support and communicated a sense of stability to first generation college students like herself. Advisors and mentors in both programs alleviated any sense of loneliness and were always present when she needed to talk about the stress and exhaustion of taking final exams and other challenging academic endeavors, she said.
“They were there when I had no one else to turn to,” said Noor. “Their understanding and compassion helped me get to the finish line.”
Noor, who in ten years who plans to have completed medical school and a practicing pediatric surgeon, says BMCC opened the first door into the STEM world for her with its rigorous Science courses.
“Now as I plan to graduate, the vision of becoming not only the first doctor in my family, but also the first female with a professional career, has become clearer, “said Noor. “I believe that to prepare for the rigorous academic demands of medical school, it’s important to seek out an equally challenging pre-medical program that will prepare me for the challenges ahead in my medical career.”
Noor has applied to several Ivy League schools and plans to continue on the career path she’s set out for herself.
Acting skills and academic achievement help prepare a future lawyer
Modern Languages major Julia Divergilio was just 18 years old when she picked up and moved by herself from Las Vegas to New York City. Divergilio then earned a degree in acting at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts and began auditioning and working in the entertainment industry.
By May 2020, she had written a play that was set to be produced and run in a midtown theater, but the Covid-19 pandemic put a full stop on those plans.
“I saw the writing on the wall in terms of a lack of opportunities there would be for the foreseeable future for actors and playwrights so I decided to try my hand at academia,” said Divergilio. “I ended up falling in love with learning and found that I excelled in the classroom. It has changed my life.”
Divergilio has overcome a number of challenges during her journey to this moment including the deaths of loved ones and struggles to make ends meet financially.
“Bartending until 4 am when I had class early the next morning was a major challenge,” said Divergilio.
She says bipolar disorder and ADHD often made it difficult to follow through on classroom directions or meet deadlines.
“I’m extremely disorganized, even now with my good grades,” she said. “I sometimes wonder how I did it. It was like fighting someone every step of the way, but that someone was me. But I did it! And I did it well. And I’m here to say if I can do it, you can do it!”
Originally, Divergilio had planned to attend BMCC for just long enough to knock out some prerequisite courses since she had been accepted to four-year programs
“But I ended up wanting to stay at BMCC because I was receiving such a fantastic education with a wide array of interesting courses,” said Divergilio. “Academia right out of high school is not for everyone.”
She says English Professor Catherine Cammilleri was her greatest support system at BMCC. She adds Modern Languages Professors John Means and Lisa Sarti were invaluable.
Divergilio’s dream is to become an attorney. She’s already started the process at BMCC by participating in the Pre-Law club as well as taking the LSAT prep course. In Spring 2023, she plans to attend either New York University or Columbia to finish her degree.
“In five years, I see myself studying law at NYU School of Law,” said Divergilio. In ten years, I see myself a practicing Lawyer using my skills as an actor coupled with my academic skills to practice law.”
A talent for counseling grows into a career helping communities stay strong
Isaac Salazar moved to the United States from a tiny village in Mexico when he was 17 years old. He made New York City his home. For a while, he volunteered at a health clinic as a peer educator. But when the Covid-19 pandemic shut down in person-visits at the clinic, Salazar decided it was time to embark on the next chapter, so he enrolled at BMCC and pursued an Associate Degree in Human Services.
“As a first-generation college student, my journey through college has been challenging, especially during the height of the pandemic,” said Salazar. “But I’ve worked hard and maintained a 4.0 GPA.
Salazar said BMCC helped him successfully take those first steps on his ongoing academic journey. He says the College’s rich mix of ethnic, cultural diversity and the wide range of ages and world views had been a tangible value add to his overall educational experience.
“I am thankful for having the opportunity to learn from some of the most caring and inspirational professors in this city,” said Salazar. “ Meeting and growing with students who share similar backgrounds in a safe and inclusive environment, gave me the opportunity to express myself, and learn from my peers.”
Salazar says he hopes to be an inspiration for all students, most especially people of color and other minority communities in New York City.
“Coming from a Latinx family, I know how people sometimes downplay the importance of mental health,” said Salazar. “As a future social worker, I see my education as a steppingstone toward a future that involves providing psychological counseling to people who are marginalized, vulnerable, and underrepresented, as I was.”
Salazar, who is currently a student at Hunter College (CUNY) plans to focus his social work on individuals who do not have the tools or resources to navigate to a safe and supportive place of emotional wellbeing.
Lessons learned during a decade in the fashion industry evolve into a love of math and artificial intelligence
Thirty-three-year-old New York City native Bridget Screvane spent the 11 years after she graduated high school pursuing creative passions that included a small business venture featuring custom clothing and accessories as well a special effects FX makeup artist and a number fashion industry jobs.
“I wanted more out of life, so I decided to go to college, but I was terrified,” said Screvene.
Screvane chose BMCC because she had a friend whose brother was attended the college and told her about the opportunities available through the school. She also connected with the BMCC slogan “Start here, go anywhere,” despite not being sure where her journey might take her.
“I knew I would be significantly older than my classmates,” said Screvane. “I live alone and support myself, so I ended up working two jobs while attending BMCC.”
Regardless of the challenges, Screvane knew that pursuing higher education could provide the necessary tools to achieve a better life. While at BMCC, Screvane says she learned the true value of hard work and how to overcome day to day obstacles. Along the way, she says faculty and staff at BMCC provided endless support, critical guidance and encouragement.
“In fact, it was my first Math Professor (Aradhana) Kumari who not only instilled the love of math in me but also inspired me onto the path I am on today,” said Screvane. “Throughout my journey here I have been guided by so many staff and faculty, offering one on one help with classwork, academic guidance, and career readiness opportunities.”
During her time at BMCC, Screvane decided she would pursue a degree in Bachelor of Science in computer science followed by a master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence.
“I plan on becoming a Machine Learning Engineer with a focus on building Artificial Neural Networks for A.I. applications,” said Screvane.
She has been accepted and enrolled at Queens College (CUNY) and is also awaiting a decision from Columbia University.
Karolina Wiesiolek accepted to Columbia, plans to become a Scientist
Biotechnology major Karolina Wiesiolek moved to Brooklyn from Poland during the summer of 2018. She chose BMCC as the starting point for her academic journey after other friends from Europe recommended the College as being friendly to international students.
“Studying in a foreign country is stressful, from applying for the visa, finding a place to live and studying itself, but the last two years at BMCC have also been very productive and even fun,” said Wiesiolek. “BMCC staff and faculty are very helpful, friendly, and supportive.
She said Biology Professor Lalitha Jayant and Biotechnology Professor Nanette Van Loon were especially influential and supportive.
Wiesiolek said her success at BMCC is proof that one can succeed when they work hard and are focused on their goal.
“In March, I was admitted to Columbia University where I hope to gain the education needed to be a successful scientist,” said Wiesiolek.
- All 17 graduates maintained a 4.0 GPA
- Finalists represent various backgrounds, academic majors and stated goals
- Several finalists overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles