Queens College celebrates its 98th commencement with first in-person ceremony in two years

Queens College 2022 commencement
Queens College held its first in-person commencement ceremony in two years on Thursday, June 2, on the campus quad, with New York City Mayor Eric Adams as a speaker. (Photo by Dominick Totino)

Queens College on June 2 held its first in-person commencement ceremony in two years and featured New York City Mayor Eric Adams as a speaker.

Queens College President Frank Wu officiated at the college’s 98th commencement ceremony that recognized more than 2,100 degree candidates on the campus quad. This was Wu’s first in-person commencement — and second overall — since being named president in July 2020.

Guest speakers at the ceremony included Senator Charles Schumer, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Councilman James Gennaro and CUNY Trustee Ken Sunshine.

Other speakers were Queens College Association President Zaire Couloute, who also graduated; student commencement speaker Karina Abou Orm Saab; Tony-award winning actor Danny Burstein, class of ‘86, who received the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa; and Arturo Casadevall, class of ‘79, a renowned microbiologist and immunologist, who received the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.

Queens College 2022 commencement
Queens College President Frank Wu and Arturo Casadevall from the class of ‘79, who received the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa. (Photo by Andy Poon)

“Isn’t it great to be back in person again?” Wu asked the cheering crowd as he took the podium to begin the ceremony. “The word commencement, although it occurs at the end of each academic year, means the beginning,” Wu said. “We call it commencement because this moment signals your new beginning in your lives beyond Queens College. You’ve prepared well; just as you’re beginning a new chapter, I feel as if I am with you, almost a member of your class.”

Adams was the first mayor to address graduates at a Queens College commencement since Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2003. Adams, who grew up in Queens, urged the graduates to remain focused on their futures as they “leave these important places of higher learning.”

He shared a word that he embraces “euthymia,” explaining, “It’s a Greek word that means knowing your path and how to stay on it without allowing distractions to get in your way.”

Recalling his difficult youth, Adams described his journey to success as “arrested, dyslexic and now I’m elected — as the mayor of the city of New York.”

Queens College 2022 commencement
Queens College President Frank Wu and Tony award-winning star Danny Burstein, class of ‘86, who received the Doctor of Fine Arts degree, honoris causa. (Photo by Andy Poon)

During his speech, Schumer encouraged the graduates to “take a risk and don’t let fear of failing deter you.”

“Garner up your courage, garner up your strength. Put aside your doubts and take a chance. If you do, it is my hope, prayer and confidence that each of us will find true success and true joy in life,” Schumer said.

The son of immigrant parents and the first person in his family to attend college, Richards touched on the hardships he encountered during his life that led him to become the first Black man to be elected the borough president of Queens county. Richards’ advice to the graduates was to “keep an open mind” along the path in their lives.

“Whenever you feel discouraged by your direction or unsure of the worth of the degree in your hands, make sure to never hang your head,” Richards said. “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 you, but I can guarantee you, there will be plenty of opportunities to put your hard earned college degree to good use.”

Saab, who addressed her fellow graduates, holds an MD from the Universidad de Carabobo in Venezuela and graduated with a BA in political science; her grade point average (GPA) was 4.0. Upon her arrival in New York, Saab worked as a waitress to help pay her tuition at Queens College.

Saab is one of this year’s recipients of the college’s Paul Klapper Scholarship, presented annually to two graduating students. An active member of the Political Science Club and the school’s Amnesty International Chapter, she has published research on the sexual and reproductive health of women, violence against women and public health. Saab plans to pursue a Ph.D. in public health.

Saab reflected on her time at Queens College — from feeling terrified on her first day of class to receiving support, encouragement and guidance from two of her professors who reminded her that she was a great student and that she was going to succeed.

“I hope that Queens College and the faculty gave you as great an experience as they gave me. I always thought that higher education has a special way of transforming you, but this time I don’t only think it transformed me. It also gave some sense to the life I am trying to build from scratch,” Saab said.

After working as a doctor in Venezuela, being politically harassed, and witnessing her colleagues and friends sent to military prisons and her friends killed in protesting, Saab spoke about leaving her family, career and country behind. When she decided to start a new career path, Saab said she found a home at Queens College.

“I finally understood that forced migration is an internal wound in my life, it took a lot from me, so much that I did not know how to enjoy the good things that were happening to me,” Saab said. “I can say that I found some healing every day on this campus. In every class and every engagement within these walls, I finally started to feel that I was building a path belonging to Queens College and this city, and today the story of my life will always be associated with Queens College and the city of New York.”

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