By Shanna Fuld
Nearly 1600 graduates, in addition to faculty, friends and family, filled the Theater at Madison Square Garden June 4 for the LaGuardia Community College commencement. The President of the college, Gail Mellow said she apologized for the lack of seats, but she was not sorry that there were 400 more graduates this year. Everyone cheered.
“We are here! Congrats Class of 2015,” class representative Edemir Castaño said. Castaño will be continuing his college education at Brown University this fall. Often times, the student speaker at graduation ceremonies is the valedictorian, or the student with the highest GPA. LaGuardia, however, prefers to select the student that will best represent the class at graduation; this year it was Castaño. His grandmother was so proud, she could barely speak through her tears.
In his speech, Castaño talked about his experiences prior to enrolling at LaGuardia. He said he was depressed, broken down, defeated and couldn’t find people to engage in intellectual conversation. “I found joy in philosophy. It wasn’t until my 24th birthday that I realized I was finally able to apply for financial aid.” There was laughter from the audience and Castaño flashed a smile. “ We cannot be afraid to disturb the status quo. Go out there and fight for a better world. Do not believe the lie that we do not have the voice to make change.”
Wellington Chen, a Trustee of the Board of CUNY, made a brief speech to welcome the graduates and guests. “Every single one of you can be a leader,” he said. “It’s not how much wealth you acquire, the knowledge you acquire. It’s the impact you make.” Chen brought warmth and an encouraging feeling to the room before the keynote speaker was introduced by Mellow.
The keynote address was given by Cecilia Muñoz, the Director of the Domestic Policy Council in the White House. She shared her success story with the students.
“My job is to make the American dream as real for everybody else as it was for me,” Cecilia Muñoz said. Muñoz was born to Bolivian immigrant parents. One way of achieving the goal of the American dream, she added, was “ensuring that women receive equal pay for equal work.”
After Muñoz’s speech was finished, students lined up to take their diplomas. Each announced their name into the microphone and included their major.
Many students that graduated already have plans for their next step. One of them, Krishan Ray, is transferring to Hunter College in the fall. He will major in urban studies and plans to continue on to grad school to become a professor.
“I like that Cecilia shared her experience about her immigrant family,” he said. “I have been here for only a year and a half (from Bangladesh) and I can improve. She proved that the U.S. is a country that values immigrants.”