LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City marked its 50th anniversary during its 2022 commencement ceremonies Tuesday where nearly 2,500 graduates received associate degrees and professional certificates.
Graduates from LaGuardia overcame enormous challenges in their pursuit of higher education, but the Class of 2022 was celebrated for its persistence during the pandemic.
“In addition to celebrating the achievements of the nearly 2,500 graduates, today we marked two milestones — our first in-person ceremony in three years, and 50 years of serving communities in Queens and beyond,” LaGuardia Community College President Kenneth Adams said. “Since our first graduating class of 1973, New York has benefited from our graduates’ grit and resilience — coming from poverty and other disadvantaged circumstances, many juggling work and family responsibilities along with school to get to the finish line.”
Adams commended the Class of 2022’s fortitude despite the “extra hurdles” they faced including “an economic downtown” and the “ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Their fortitude reflects their readiness to earn a bachelor’s degree, start a career in their chosen field, or take whatever next step they choose. Their LaGuardia family will be with them every step of the way — cheering them on and celebrating their accomplishments — just as we have done for all our graduates since our doors first opened five decades ago,” Adams said.
LaGuardia held its first commencement for 256 graduates at Queens College in ‘73 and the keynote speaker was Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the House of Representatives and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Governor Kathy Hochul, who became the first woman to serve as the state’s chief executive last August, was the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s commencement.
“Fifty years of this institution changed the lives of countless individuals. So many immigrants who came to this state, looking for what is known as the American Dream, but I call it the New York Dream because we welcome everyone here,” Hochul said.
She added, “Your success will define the success of your children and your children’s children. That’s a testament to you as people of strength and people who believe in yourself so much that you say I can get a better outcome with this degree. This degree is my ticket. It’s a ticket to opportunity. It’s a ticket to a good job. It’s a ticket to success. And that ticket you’re punching here today, you’ve just done it for the children to follow in your family and yes, your grandchildren. That’s the power of this degree.”
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards offered some sage advice.
“Keep an open mind. Understand that even if the path your life takes is not the path you envisioned — and trust me, there will be a fork in everyone’s road — there is possibility and promise around every bend,” Richards said. “Whenever you feel discouraged by your direction or unsure of the worth of that degree in your hands, make sure to never hang your head. Because if you do, you’ll be blind to the potential of the path you’re on. It’s OK to not know where your road will lead. And I can’t guarantee that the career you lead is the career you seek. But what I can guarantee is that there will be plenty of opportunities to put that degree to good use.”
Among the graduates was Class of 2022 representative Talha Islam, who spoke about overcoming insecurities and hardships relating to his personal story as a political asylum seeker from Bangladesh who arrived in the U.S. at age 11. His parents relied on food pantries to put meals on the table.
When he enrolled at LaGuardia, his immigration status put significant limits on his options for federal or state financial aid. Scholarships and grants from the LaGuardia Community College Foundation helped him pay tuition and the Jamaica resident will start classes at Cornell University toward a bachelor’s degree in applied economics. Other notable graduates include M.I.T.-bound Evelyn De La Rosa who started LaGuardia at age 24 while expecting her first child. Her goal is to start and lead a clean energy engineering business.
Perspective from a LaGuardia alumna was shared by Lely Nourmania from the Class of 2017, a human trafficking survivor from Indonesia. When she escaped her enslavement, Nourmania found herself in New York, a city she barely knew, without family, education or financial support.
At LaGuardia, she learned English, enrolled in college classes, and found self-confidence and hope for the future. Today, she dedicates her career to helping children in foster care, juvenile detention, or with refugee status. She holds an Associate of Arts from LaGuardia and a CUNY Baccalaureate and is pursuing a master’s degree at CUNY’s Baruch College.
“In coming through this, it made you so strong, so resilient. No one can touch you now,” Hochul said. “When times get tough, you say I got through this pandemic. I got a degree. I persevered, and there’s no one else tougher than me. And when you come back in 50 years for a college reunion to celebrate the 100th anniversary of LaGuardia College, save me a seat. I’ll try to be here, too. You’ll come back and you’re going to look at your classmates and say, wow, we went through a lot together. Nobody else has that same story.”