BMCC celebrated its fiftieth commencement on May 29 in The Theater in Madison Square Garden, awarding associate degrees to over 3,500 graduates and filling the theater, which seats over 5,000, with family and friends.
The commencement also honored a special friend and supporter of the college, Jay Lieberman, trustee of The Derfner Foundation and a leader in the real estate community of New York City.
BMCC President Antonio Pérez presented the medal, and spoke about his friend.
“Like many successful people, Jay keeps a very low profile,” he said, adding that Mr. Lieberman is the president of Derfner Management and worked with the late Harold Derfner, who was his mentor and friend, for many years.
“Together, they developed many of the building complexes you see on the Upper East Side, and throughout our city.”
A much-needed communication center
“Thanks to the vision and the generosity of Jay Lieberman and The Derfner Foundation,” President Pérez said, “BMCC now houses its state-of-the-art Derfner Foundation Communication Center.”
The Center is available to students who want to refine their basic speaking skills, working at soundproof carrels or in groups.
“Here at BMCC, our students come from a huge variety of backgrounds,” said BMCC communication professor and chair of the Speech, Communications and Theatre Arts department, Hollis Glaser.
“Many are speaking English for the first time, or learned a version of English at home from parents who don’t speak it as their first language.”
Students have a compelling drive, she said, to continue their educations and enter their careers, “yet they find themselves at a disadvantage in situations such as interviews, where if they don’t speak a particular way, they won’t get that first important internship or job.”
Donating to expand a successful program
Jay Lieberman and The Derfner Foundation have also given a recent substantial donation to BMCC’s Out in Two program, enabling it to expand its services and help more students graduate in two years than ever before.
Students receiving Out-in-Two scholarships are able to work fewer hours in jobs outside their full-time class schedule. It also helps defray the cost of textbooks, transportation to campus and other expenses.
Lieberman’s generosity has made a difference at BMCC, the president said, and yet “Jay Lieberman’s generosity started long before he became a friend of BMCC.”
Jay Lieberman and his wife Penny have been long-time benefactors of the AHRC New York City Foundation, which advocates for mentally disabled children and their families. He has also served on boards including the Surgery Advisory Board at Mt. Sinai Hospital, and he actively supports organizations such as the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale, New York.
Lieberman grew up in the Bronx, and attended high school at Riverside Military Academy in Gainseville, Georgia. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Tulane University in New Orleans, and served two terms of duty in the U.S. Air Force in the Military Airlift Command, during the Vietnam War.
When he returned to New York City, he became involved in real estate as a builder and a manager of real estate projects from Rockland County to the Hamptons in Long Island and served as President of Derfner Management Inc.
A message to the graduates
Today, Jay Lieberman’s main focus is serving as trustee and CEO of The Derfner Foundation.
“Those who know him well know he loves his family, improving education for all students, and golf,” said President Pérez.
“This afternoon, we’re going to shine a light on Jay and thank him for his generosity by presenting him with this Presidential Medal from our college. Please join me in a round of applause for a great friend to BMCC, Jay Lieberman.”
As Lieberman accepted his medal, he said of BMCC, “I believe in the college’s commitment of offering quality education at a price that is affordable to a diverse population.”
He told the graduates, “Your hard work has paid off … Whatever you decide to do now, take with you the lessons you have learned at BMCC and apply them to help improve your community, our city, and beyond.”