LaGuardia Community College recognizes resiliency of its graduates in virtual commencement ceremony

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Sunnyside resident Sofia Moncayo delivers the keynote address during LaGuardia Community College’s commencement celebration. (Courtesy of LaGuardia Community College)

LaGuardia Community College held a virtual commencement celebration Thursday, June 17, recognizing the challenges the 3,300 members of the Class of 2021 faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event featured speeches from two “pandemic heroes” who made a mark in the community in western Queens.

“On behalf of LaGuardia Community College, I commend the more than 3,300 members of the Class of 2021 for sticking with their studies despite the difficulties and uncertainties of this past year, most had to complete the majority of their degree online,” LaGuardia Community College President Kenneth Adams said. “This past year showed us that individuals can make a big impact towards lifting up out communities in times of struggle. We are honored to have two pandemic heroes speak to our Class of 2021. Sofia Moncayo has led efforts to help families and businesses in western Queens stay afloat during the pandemic, and LaGuardia grad Kristy Guzman, R.N. treated COVID-19 patients as an ICU nurse at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.”

Moncayo delivered the keynote address after spearheading efforts to help families and businesses in Sunnyside and Woodside, which were devastated during the crisis. She led a food distribution program through the Mosaic Community Center that gave out 2,000 boxes of food each week.

Moncayo also helped start 25 for Sunnyside & Woodside, a Facebook group with more than 2,000 members that encourages neighborhood residents to patronize area restaurants and businesses. The group is credited with helping many small businesses recover from the financial crisis and rehire employees.

The Colombian-born Moncayo served her community while experiencing her own struggles during the pandemic: she was furloughed from her accounting job, and she and her husband had to shut down their martial arts studio for months.

“When you see people in need, use the skills and knowledge you gained at LaGuardia to step up,” Moncayo said. “Stand up for the marginalized, and do not be silent in the face of injustice. Give back to your community and they will give back to you.”

Guzman, a LaGuardia graduate in 2019, started working in the intensive care unit at Bellevue just months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York City.

“Because of LaGuardia, I felt fully equipped for my nursing job at Bellevue, where patients with the most difficult cases are often transferred from other city hospitals,” Guzman said. “We have to be ready for anything.”

She encouraged the graduates to remember making it through the global pandemic whenever challenges arise for them in the future.

“You have been in crisis mode before, and you persevered,” Guzman said. “You can do it again.”

The Class of 2021 was represented by Diana Athena, a Russian native graduating with an associate degree in creative writing. Unable to work during the pandemic, Athena applied for scholarship from the LaGuardia Community College Foundation and was the first-ever recipient of the Dr. Susan Young Scholarship, named in honor of the late English professor Susan Young.

“I want to keep sharing my story so that other nontraditional students know they are not alone in their journey,” Young said.

LaGuardia’s newest associate degree-holders reflect the college’s tradition of serving low-income students, immigrants and those seeking a second chance through higher education. More than half are Pell recipients and 34 percent are TAP recipients. They come from 113 countries, and their average age is 27 years old. Many are the first in their family to earn a college degree.

“The knowledge and skills they gained at LaGuardia, along with their life experiences, are needed now more than ever to effect positive change and help revitalize our communities,” Adams said. “Congratulations to the graduates and their loved ones!”

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