By Rich Bockmann
The commencement speaker at York College’s 43rd graduation counseled a class of predominantly minority women students not to let the obstacles of racism, sexism and prejudice get in the way of their career goals.
“I think of — and this is what I share with you — any of the ‘isms’ like I think of gravity,” Johnny Taylor Jr. told York’s class of 2013 Friday morning. “We understand that gravity is everywhere, it’s all around us, right? But in spite of it airplanes take off, in spite of it trees grow vertically.”
Taylor is the president and chief executive officer of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which financially supports 53 public, historically black colleges and universities, including York.
Named by Ebony Magazine in 2011 as one of the 100 most influential black Americans, Taylor held several high-ranking positions in law and media companies before joining the fund, and he urged the class of more than 1,000 grads not to ignore but instead to go “over, around and under” the prejudices they will face in their lives.
“It wins if you allow it to get in the way of your success,” he said.
The graduating class had a more than 2-1 ratio of women to men, included 11 veterans and counted members who hailed from countries as far away as Albania and Tanzania.
“You are as diverse in majors and ages as you are in ethnicity,” York President Marcia Keizs told the students.
York faced a particular hardship earlier in the academic year when Superstorm Sandy hit, and the school shut down for several days in order to serve as a shelter for about 200 people displaced by the storm.
Valedictorian Debra Worms, who graduated with a 3.989 GPA and a bachelor’s in chemistry, said she immigrated to the United States five years ago from a small community in Jamaica, “where educational success is not measured because it is so seldom achieved.”
She plans to intern at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., for a year as she prepares for medical school, where she would like to study for both her M.D. and Ph.D.
Worms said she refused to let society place limitations on her because of who she was and encouraged her classmates not to be victims of their circumstances.
“Many of us, including myself, are proof that it does not matter where you are from or the obstacles you have had to overcome,” she said. “What truly matters is that we are determined enough to overcome them.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.