Photo by Luis Zapata
Graduates from the Department of Education and Social Sciences at the Queens College 94th Commencement Ceremony head toward their seats.
By Carlotta Mohamed

Dark clouds and rain couldn’t dampen the high-spirited celebration of Queens College graduates who earned their degrees at the 94th commencement ceremony held at the campus Quadrangle in Flushing last week.

More than 10,000 attendees — including graduates, faculty, staff, family members, and alumni — gathered at the May 31 ceremony as the president of Queens College, Felix Matos Rodríguez, congratulated the class of 2018 on their achievements. Cristina Jimenez Moreta, a 2007 alumni receiving an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters, delivered an inspiring address to the graduating class.

Jimenez Moreta, graduated from Queens College cum laude in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Business. She is a 2017 MacArthur “Genius Award” recipient and was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2018. She is also the co-founder of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country with over 400,000 members in 26 states.

“Despite the odds and challenges you have made it to your graduation day,” said Jimenez Moreta. “The journeys that we, our parents, and ancestors took to get us here at Queens College needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. Regardless of the races and hateful agenda some politicians are pushing, we ought to be proud of who we are and where we come from.”

Jimenez Moreta’s message to the class of 2018 was one of encouragement for everyone in the fight against adversity to share their stories, never be afraid to step forward and let their voices be heard, and taking on the challenges of tomorrow to help build a better future and country together.

Born in Quito, Ecuador, Jimenez Moreta immigrated to the United States in 1998 at the age of 13 with her parents, who risked everything to pursue the promise of a better life in Queens. As undocumented immigrants and people of color, her parents struggled through multiple jobs, experienced wage theft, and exploitation at the workplace, while living in fear of deportation.

It was not until Jimenez Moreta became a student at Queens College that she found the courage to publicly share her undocumented status.

“Sharing our stories and feeling proud of where we come from is a political act of bravery,” said Jimenez Moreta. “We are in a moment where as a country we’re hearing from leaders and some people that immigrants of color and people of different faiths are a threat to our country, or who are trying to claim that as women or immigrants or members of the LGBTQ community, Jewish or Muslim, you do not have equal rights.”

There were more than 2,600 degree candidates at the commencement and more than 4,300 undergraduate and graduate degrees were be awarded this year to candidates from the summer and fall of 2017 and the spring of 2018. Of those more than 3,200 were bachelor’s degrees, the highest number awarded in five years.

Rodriguez , who has been the Queens College president for four years, said the class of 2018 represents the 80th graduating class, and will “always have a special place in his heart.”

“We celebrate your hard work, your accomplishments, your countless sacrifices, that they have all finally paid off,” Rodríguez said. “Whether it took you two years, four years, six years, or a little longer, earning a degree from Queens College is a splendid achievement. You should be proud of yourselves as we’re all proud of what you have accomplished.”

Special guests included U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), and alumni from the classes of 1943, 1948, 1958, 1968.

Josephine Cooke, the valedictorian of the class of 2018, and a Marshall Scholar, who is a neuroscience and psychology double major, graduated summa cum laude. Cooke will continue her post-graduate studies at Imperial College London, where she plans to pursue a Ph.D focusing on how dance therapy can be used to rehabilitate neurological disorders.

“The advisers and mentors I have had while at Queens College have been invaluable in helping me get to this point, and I’ve gladly come to accept New York and Queens College as a second home,” Cooke said.

Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmohamed@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4526.

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