By Madina Toure
More than 2,500 graduates, including working parents and first-generation college students, graduated from Queens College in Kew Gardens Hills during its commencement ceremony last week.
The 91st commencement ceremony, held in the Quadrangle of the college at 65-30 Kissena Blvd., marked Queens College President Félix Matos Rodríguez’s first commencement.
Rodriguez said the graduates would hold “a special place in my heart.”
“You’re a class destined for great things and we will hear much about you in the future,” Rodríguez said.
The college also awarded an honorary degree to the late civil rights worker Andrew Goodman, who was murdered in Mississippi, along with his friends and fellow activists James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, in June 1964.
The three men were pulled over by police near Philadelphia, Miss., released, and then kidnapped by Ku Klux Klansmen. David Goodman, Andrew’s brother, accepted the degree.
U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), who represents parts of Queens and the Bronx, received his bachelor’s degree from Queens College in 1985 and served as commencement speaker.
He spoke of his work on immigration reform and the legalization of same-sex marriage. It was at Queens College that he began to experience diversity, he said.
“Queens College truly opened my eyes to the world around me in a unique way,” Crowley said.
He also praised Andrew Goodman for his work, noting that Goodman was white.
“He was motivated to take up that cause to make a better life not just for himself but for all of you, all of us,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) encouraged graduates to take advantage of a tax credit for families who make less than $200,000 and told them that they were born into the era of technology.
He said they should go for their dreams, citing his decision to act on his desire to go into politics despite his family’s expectations he would choose a different course.
“Now is the time to figure out what your dream is and reach high for it,” Schumer said.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) said the graduates represent the future.
“When I look out at your faces, I see the leaders, the thinkers, the innovators and the explorers,” Mark-Viverito said.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, for her part, urged the graduates to maintain their ties to the college.
“Please come back to whoever you care deeply about, to whoever gave you that leg up,” Katz said.
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), a Queens College alum, expressed similar sentiments, also noting they should keep their city roots.
“Always be New Yorkers in everything that you do,” Lancman said. “Be bold, be tenacious, be industrious, be candid—better yet, be blunt.”
Valedictorian Eliyahu Perl spoke of crises such as Hurricane Sandy, the threat of ISIS and Boko Haram, the earthquake in Nepal and the shootings by police of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Eric Garner in Staten Island.
“With this education, we have the ability to change the world,” Perl said.