By Joe Anuta
Queens College’s class of 2013 sweated through their graduation ceremony last week while receiving some parting advice from a distinguished alumnus who got his start in the borough.
The CUNY school held its commencement ceremony last Thursday morning under sunny skies and a beating sun.
But that did not dampen the mood on the Queens College quadrangle, where art collector, philanthropist, scholar and class of 1974 graduate Nasser David Khalili spoke at length about the need for mutual respect between people of different religious faiths and his hard-scrabble days along Woodside Avenue in the late 1960s.
“The biggest weapon of mass destruction is ignorance,” he told the legions of black robe-clad students assembled before him. “And if ignorance is the problem, education is surely the solution.”
Khalili emigrated from Iran in 1967 with less than $1,000 to his name. While attending Queens College, he waited tables at a diner along Queens Boulevard while living in an $8-a-week room on Woodside Avenue that was barely big enough for a bed and dresser.
A British subject, Khalili is now a renowned scholar of Islamic art and noted that people often thought his fascination strange since he was Jewish.
Khalili, who was awarded the Queens College President’s Medal, has set up multiple programs to foster understanding between religious faiths, according to the college’s president, James Muyskens.
“Through his efforts, many students have been exposed to a culture they might otherwise have known only poorly or through a distorted lens,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) delivered a well-honed speech he has used at multiple commencement ceremonies in which he characterized the graduates’ innate ties to technology as a distinct advantage in the job market when coupled with a quality Queens College education.
But another speaker, honorary doctorate recipient Diane Ravitch, a policy analyst in the field of education, cautioned against letting technology rule one’s life.
“We are not data points, we are not gadgets and we will not be programmed,” she told the class of 2013, referring to a movement called big data, which refers to information collected, typically unwittingly, from people browsing the Internet that is often used for advertising purposes.
Several of the speakers discussed the fledging economic recovery and less-than-stellar job prospects in various fields, but many Queens College grads are heading into the real world well-prepared.
Sasha Hendricks graduated with English and education degrees and said she would try and substitute teach until she gets a permanent job.
Maria Tsang earned an bachelor of fine arts and said she had been doing an internship that would help her land on her feet in the post-graduate world.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.