By Kelsey Durham
More than 2,000 students celebrated the end of a chapter of their lives while also preparing to begin a new one as the Queensborough Community College Class of 2014 walked across the stage last Friday.
Seated under a tent on the Bayside campus’s athletic field, the students gathered for the college’s 53rd commencement ceremony that recognized a unique group of graduates made up of students from more than 40 countries around the world.
The graduates and their families were treated to inspirational remarks from several speakers, including school President Dr. Diane Call, state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and state Assembly members Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside), Nily Rozic (D-Flushing) and David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), who all congratulated the group of honorees for completing the first step of the rest of their lives.
“This is a commencement, but it’s also an ending,” said Stavisky. “It’s a dream that begins today.”
During her brief speech, Stavisky quoted Abraham Lincoln by telling the graduates they have spent the last two years “sharpening their ax” by earning a degree that will help them advance through any challenge they encounter in life.
Weprin congratulated the group and said he was “immensely proud” of the task they had just accomplished and said he was certain the students would go on to make the world a better place.
“You’ll go on to cure diseases, spread peace and improve human conditions,” Weprin told the group of students. “It’s a goal and accomplishment, but it’s also the beginning of new challenges ahead, and armed with a great education and the love of those closest to you, you’ll continue to make history.”
Of the thousands of students who were finally presented with their degree Friday, the youngest was just 18, and the oldest was Stephen Jones, a 60-year-old South Jamaica native who served as president of QCC’s student government and also received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award as he walked across the stage for acting as a leader in promoting racial harmony and appreciation of cultural diversity.
As Jones delivered his speech before diplomas were presented, he told his classmates and their families his heartwarming story of the ups and downs that led to his success at QCC.
After finishing eighth-grade, Jones dropped out of school and eventually went off to the U.S. Army after his father enrolled him at age 16. He returned a few years later, at age 19, and earned his GED, but he did not make the decision to go to college until the fall of 2012, when he enrolled at QCC after more than four decades of being out of school.
“I was scared when I first walked on campus, being almost 60 years old and back in school after 43 years,” Jones said. “As a South Jamaica native, I was not expected to excel at anything, but I’m here to tell you that there are no excuses.”
Jones graduated on the dean’s list with a 3.3 GPA and earned his associate’s degree in applied science in new media technology, a feat he accomplished by going to school full time while also working.
When diplomas were distributed as the last leg of the ceremony, Jones was the last graduate to walk across the stage and raised his arms in triumph as he received his second standing ovation of the day before the QCC class of 2014 moved their tassels from right to left.
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.