By Mark Hallum
LaGuardia Community College lauded the largest graduating class in the history of the school last week, with speakers making empowered statements on LGBT rights and the black community’s struggle with alleged police brutality.
More than 1,700 students collected their degrees at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on June 8, with over 40 percent being born overseas, according to the school.
Black Lives Matter Co-founder Alicia Garza was the keynote speaker in the packed venue. She spoke out against the Trump administration whose agenda may be viewed as an attempt to turn back the clock.
“How completely terrifying is it that this is the state of our world, it’s the state of our country?” Garza said.
“How terrifying it is that when I turn on the television and watch our government work, most of what I see is remnants of the past fighting to stay relevant, fighting to move forward an agenda that honestly only moves us backwards?”
She added, “Some harken back to what they think were the good old days, the days when there were one set of accommodations for whites and one set of accommodations for people of color. The days when women knew their place, when queer and trans people were forced to live without authenticity. But you and I know those were not the good old days. Those days are part of the dark history in this country.”
The message resonated with the people in the stands and on the commencement floor as most in attendance applauded.
“When I look out into your beautiful faces, at the graduating class of LaGuardia Community College class of 2017, I see and feel the world that we are all waiting for,” Garza said. “People of color from every corner of the world — immigrants, queer people, people with disabilities, trans people – we represent what this country is and we represent the promise of a real, true democracy.”
Garza, a writer from Los Angeles, is credited with coining the phrase “black lives matter.”
Remy Patrick Lavilla, 19, gave the class speech. Lavilla moved to the United States from the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan destroyed his hometown. He received his associate’s degree in accounting and was given various awards and honors from the school for academic achievement.
As a member of the LGBT community, Lavilla spoke about his experiences growing up gay in the Philippines and how his sexual orientation was not always accepted.
“When I left the Philippines, I was a scared child hiding from myself. I was constantly watching my back to make sure nobody was watching. But today, LaGuardia and all of you allowed me to stand here as a proud gay man,” Lavilla said. “Today we affirm the struggles we overcame knowing that more struggles are yet to come and we will never stop over coming. We are not defined by how much we suffer in those struggles, but how we come out at the end.”
Lavilla urged graduates to not only continue opposing stigmas against the LGBT community, but stereotypes against people with degrees from community colleges. He will continue his education at Columbia University.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall