Courtesy of LaGuardia Community College
LaGuardia Community College president Gail O. Mellow congratulates on of the nearly 2,000 students who received their associate degrees during her final commencement ceremony at the school.

LaGuardia Community College President Gail O. Mellow presided over her final commencement at the college Thursday at the Barclays Center. She will step down in August after 19 years.

Associate degrees were conferred to nearly 2,000 graduated at the school’s 47th commencement, making it LaGuardia’s largest graduating class to date.

“Presiding over the granting of associate degrees each year for the past 19 years has been an absolute privilege,” Mellow said. “These degrees represent the culmination of an incredible amount of work, dedication, and juggling for our students, many of whom work, are parents of young children or have other family responsibilities, or are recent immigrants seeking a better life in the U.S. It’s also a celebration for our dedicated and creative faculty and staff, who provide high-quality education, as well as guidance and support for our students.”

Reflecting the college’s diverse student body, more than 20 percent of the graduates are age 30 or older, and 25 percent are between the ages of 25 and 29.

Students who identify as Hispanic remain the largest ethnic group, at 45 percent. Sixty-two percent live in Queens.

“We each have our own story to tell. The experience that you’ve had, whatever they may have been, are instrumental and priceless in building your character,” said Kishuan Givens, 30. “Know that these experiences will take you to new heights that are greater than your imagination. It is not by chance that we are here; it’s the end result of the hard work we’ve invested into attaining another milestone in our lives.”

Givans received her associate degree in therapeutic recreation and represented the class of 2019 in a speech in which she shared her personal story about moving to the U.S. from Jamaica to seek medical attention for a mysterious illness that caused her to be paralyzed from the neck down. She recovered, and with a lot of hard work, she’s regained most of her mobility.

“We have beaten the odds and now we sit before each other on the cushion of hard work and sacrifice,” Givans said. “I am proving to the world that yes, this person of color who overcame a serious illness, completed her associate degree. Now with the knowledge and power that we have obtained at LaGuardia, let’s proudly walk out of Barclay’s Center on this spectacular day, because you hold the pen that writes your future. Dare to be great.”

Aida Akim-Escriva represented LaGuardia alumni in a speech to the graduates. She spent her childhood in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia before moving to New York City a decade ago to pursue a degree that would allow her to advocate for the rights of women around the world.

“Remember all the doors that were closed before you? With graduation, many of them will now open for you,” Akim-Escriva said. “Society does not yet know the full potential of a community college student and graduate. Knock on the doors that are closed. Teach them that graduating from a community college takes determination and resilience. Teach them that a person who held a job to support their family while gaining a degree is capable of great things. You might be the first community college graduate they hire, but you will not be the last once you pave the way for all those yet to come.”

A father and son were among those celebrating their associate degrees. Unbeknownst to one another, Ridgewood resident Julian Linares and his stepfather, Victor Lopez, of Kew Gardens Hills, enrolled simultaneously at LaGuardia in 2018.

Victor, 45, is a realtor and Air Force reservist who did four tours in the Middle East. The two of them were “shocked and pleased” when they both enrolled at LaGuardia and grew closer through their shared experience.

“Knowing that this was my last commencement as LaGuardia’s president, a role that has been the honor of my lifetime, has been bittersweet,” Mellow said. “Just like today’s graduates, I’m looking towards the next phase of my life with excitement and trepidation. One certainty is that each June, I’ll be thinking about LaGuardia and its newest graduates with pride.”

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