May 29, 2020
Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) celebrated the Class of 2020 with a virtual speaker program on May 29. View the graduation guestbooks: Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Summer 2019, Summer 2020, Winter.
BMCC, like countless other colleges and universities across nation, was forced to move to a distance-learning model in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 crisis. While a huge commencement gathering was not an option, just under 5,000 BMCC graduates who completed their studies in the Summer 2019, Fall 2019, Winter 2020 and Spring 2020 semesters were conferred Associate of Art, Associate of Science and Associate of Applied Science degrees from over 50 academic programs.
A video of the virtual celebration honoring their achievement opens with an original jazz improvisation of “The Star-Spangled Bangle,” performed by saxophonist Brent Birckhead and BMCC Interim President Karrin Wilks welcomes the graduates, audience and honored guests.
“Graduates, today is a momentous milestone in each of your lives, a testament to your intelligence, hard work and your commitment to your own success and a better future, a commitment we share,” said Wilks. “Your achievement is even more remarkable, given that in the last few months, we have endured unimaginable changes to how we live and how we learn. Your resilience and your staying true to your dreams is truly inspirational. Today is a time to reflect on your educational journey — how far you have come, and how far you will go.”
Wilks said BMCC students bring a rich diversity of experience and knowledge to the college community. “You come to us from around the world. Many are the first in your families to earn a college degree.”
While earning their degrees, Wilks says, the 2020 graduates had served as tutors and completed internships in hospitals, corporations, theaters and schools all over New York City.
“You benefited from those experiences but you also enriched the lives of others through your good work and passion to make a difference,” she says. “Graduates you have demonstrated that you have the potential and promise to make the world a better place. Congratulations BMCC graduates, the Class of 2020! You started here and you have earned your degrees to go anywhere. I wish you health, great happiness and continued success.”
CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez speaks next and extends a warm congratulations to “the very special, resilient and persevering class of 2020.”
“Like all of you, I wish we could all be celebrating your wonderful achievement together, in person, in a grand setting with all the pomp and circumstance that I know you and your families have looked forward to,” Rodriguez says.
While the celebration is virtual, he says, the milestone it signifies is very real.
“Even without a procession in caps and gowns, nothing can diminish the power of this moment in your lives, and nothing should dampen the pride you feel in having gotten here. I am incredibly proud of you, and despite the uncertain times ahead, I am as optimistic and excited as ever about the futures you will ultimately create for yourselves.”
The next speaker, BMCC Vice President for Student Affairs Marva Craig, says that BMCC graduates had marked this day on their calendars for some time now.
“It was not penciled in or written with erasable ink — it was written with a permanent marker,” she said. “The alarm on your phone was set to go off, and today it is realized … Congratulations, Class of 2020!”
In a more solemn moment, Craig acknowledged that some graduates’ family members and friends had also placed this date on their calendars, and “unfortunately, they are no longer here with us, but we know the support they have given you will forever live in your memory.”
In closing, Craig remarks that “The coronavirus pandemic will come and go, but you will, for all time, be a graduate from BMCC. This will never be erased from history … In the words that have bonded us over the semesters, ‘Start here. Go anywhere.’”
The next speaker, BMCC Student Government Association President Cheng Chen, congratulates her fellow graduates for having accomplished a milestone in spite of the global health crisis.
“We all worked hard to get to this day and we will never forget the toilet paper fight, the endless Zoom meetings, the salute to healthcare workers and the ones we lost in the battle with COVID 19,” she said. “We have emerged from it even stronger.”
Chen reminds the students of the tremendous courage and creativity they demonstrated in a semester that abruptly switched to distance learning because of a grave global pandemic.
“You have shown that you can get things done, no matter how challenging the situation can be,” she says, adding on a more personal note, “I will miss the campus, the library, the learning resource center, the gym, the swimming pool and the tuna sandwich I bought from the cafeteria each day. But mostly, I will miss the warm greetings and hugs classmates and friends.”
Chen closes her remarks by thanking BMCC faculty and staff for working hard to help students continue learning during the Spring 2020 semester.
“Consider this a special spring,” Chen says to her fellow graduates. “I hope you have found a unique seed. Sow it and look forward to the day it blooms. I’m sure today will be the only the first of many proud successful moments for you.”
Next in the virtual event, Acting Provost and Senior Vice President Erwin Wong introduces Valedictorian Ana Maldonado, a Video Arts and Technology graduate who moved to New York from Colombia and maintained a 4.0 GPA while working at the 9/11 Museum, participating in groups including Phi Theta Kappa and the BMCC Learning Academy and completing six short films.
“I like documentaries,” Maldonado says. “Every time I come up with an idea for a film, I think about the impact that idea can have on the world. I hope to raise environmental or social justice awareness. BMCC has given me a reason to fight for my goals and to push myself to the limit.”
Having grown up in Colombia, Maldonado says, her first focus in the United States was learning English as she worked in factories and as a cashier in restaurants in New York City.
Then, she says, BMCC entered her life. “I have met amazing people, from students to the faculty. They have pushed me to dream high and to pursue my passion and believe in myself. I have also learned about helping others. I started my video arts major just thinking I just wanted to be an editor. I have finished my journey with the confidence to know that I will help this world through film.”
Referring to her fellow graduating class members, Maldonado closes by saying, “I believe that we are the change. Like my parents always taught me, ‘It doesn’t matter what you decide to do as long as you have dedication and love for it.’ Congratulations, BMCC 2020 graduates! The world needs you, go out and make your mark on it.”
The next part of the ceremony is announced by VP Wong.
“We now come to the happiest part of the celebration, the conferring of degrees,” he says. “Interim President Wilks, on behalf of the faculty of Borough of Manhattan Community College of The City University of New York, it is my honor to present to you the students who have met all the requirements for the associate in arts, the associate in science and the associate in applied Science. Congratulations to BMCC’s graduating class of 2020!”
The graduates’ names can be viewed at any time on the BMCC Class of 2020 Virtual Celebration online program.
Next up, special guest speaker New York Senator Chuck Schumer tells the graduates, “When the worst is over, we’ll need your help to rebuild our country even stronger than it was before. You are our future leaders and we have faith in you. Our society will overcome this pandemic, and so will you. Good luck, congratulations and Godspeed.”
The final guest speaker, New York Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, congratulates the graduating class and says, “This wasn’t the speech I had originally planned to deliver — just like it’s not the sort of graduation ceremony you had expected to attend, just a few short months ago. As you have learned already, the ability to adapt is a survival technique that each of you have had to perfect. You are now entering into a world that has been radically altered.”
What will strengthen the graduates as they enter that world, she says, is that each of them is now bonded with other members of the Class of 2020, and share a moment of history that will define a generation.
Closing out the virtual celebration, Interim President Wilks again congratulates the graduates and confers their degrees.
She encourages the graduates to join the BMCC alumni association. “You will always be part of the BMCC family, and we will always be proud of you,” she says.
The video ends with a montage of BMCC faculty and staff simulating a time-honored commencement tradition, moving the tassel on their academic caps from the left side to the right side, as graduates do to indicate they have now received their degrees.
Graduates are invited to join the BMCC Alumni Association.
- While large gatherings are prohibited by pandemic guidelines, BMCC graduating class of 2020 is celebrated in virtual ceremony
- A BMCC Class of 2020 Virtual Celebration video and online program is available
- Speakers include CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, BMCC Interim President Karrin E. Wilks and Valedictorian Ana Maldonado