will always be borders to cross, challenges to face," says native
Ecuadorian Pedro Rojas and New York City Technical College valedictorian.
He knows whereof he speaks, having crossed the border the hard way
in 1993 with $70 dollars in his pocket. His parents had put up their
farm home in Cuenca as collateral to finance the trip, and an arrest
in Mexico cost most of his funds in the form of a bribe. Once in
New York, Rojas made the time-honored restaurant business ascent
from busboy to waiter to bartender, the last gig helping him, he
says, "to make friends and learn more about American culture."
Rojas hopes to pursue a career in satellite technology.
Now a permanent
resident, the associate degree grad in telecommunications (with
a 4.0 GPA) expects to continue at City Tech for a bachelor's and
pursue a career in the satellite technology field. "I crossed a
physical border to come here, but also the borders of language,
education, getting ahead." Leaving no doubt about his focus on education,
Rojas not only repaid his parents' loan but has devoted part of
his earnings to helping seven siblings in Cuenca with their high
school studies and one sister with her college expenses.
is but one of approximately 28,000 that City University officials
estimate will be granted in the 2000-2001 cycle, ranging from certificates
up to the Ph.D.
As always, the flurry of black-robed processions, the resounding
of Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" march, the huge audiences of
proud, teary parents and relatives, and the heady fumes of commencement
rhetoric became most intense at CUNY between late May and early
June. This year's 20 commencements unfolded, as usual, like a series
of July Fourth fireworks worthy of one of Macy's barges in the East
The fireworks were, appropriately, of the intellectual kind. Among
the distinguished speakers were former First Lady and now Senator
Hillary Rodham Clinton (York College), a Nobel Laureate in Economics,
Harry Markowitz (Baruch grad), and Harold Levy (Baruch undergrad),
and pioneer media psychologist Ruth Westheimer, who returned to
Lehman College, where she taught for seven years in the 1970s. Combining
his official installation with commencement, President Eduardo Marti
spoke at the Queensborough Community College ceremonies.
Ramirez en route in the New York City Marathon.
careers in education and public service were marked by special awards
and honorary degrees. Among the recipients this year was the eminent
environmental leader and biologist Barry Commoner, who was honored
by Queens College, where he brought his Center for the Biology of
Natural Systems in 1981, and the CUNY Law School presented an Honorary
Doctor of Laws to E. Clinton Bamberger, who established the Legal
Services program under President Lyndon Johnson and has worked in
law clinics on five continents. Congressman Charles Rangel, a founding
member of the Congressional Black Caucus, received City College's
prestigious Presidential Medal. A Hunter College Honorary Doctor
of Science went to Dr. Irwin Redlener, co-founder and president
of the Children's Health Fund and president of Children's Hospital
at Montefiore, who has been a leader in the delivery of health care
in the arts were not slighted. The lyricists and screenwriters Betty
Comden and Adolph Green received Doctors of Music from the Graduate
Center and performed several satirical gems to the clear delight
of the graduates. The author, actor, and humorist Malachy McCourt
was both speaker and Presidential Medal recipient at Bronx Community
College, and two venerable choreographers, Gerald Arpino (long associated
with the Joffrey Ballet) and Laura Dean (founder of her own company),
were awarded Honorary Doctors of Humane Letters by the College of
Staten Island. The only female performer to have won an Oscar, an
Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy, Rita Moreno, came away from City College
with an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts. Outstanding alumni were also
given just deserts by their alma maters. CUNY Trustee Kathleen Pesile
(BBA '75, MBA '77) received a not only a D.H.L. from Baruch, but
also the President's Medal from her other CUNY alma mater, the College
of Staten Island. Brooklyn College presented Alan Dershowitz ('59)
with an Honorary LL.D.
engineering whiz Kettly Joseoph took much more than an associate's
degree away from QCC
inspiring as all the degrees honoris causa are, many of CUNY's newly
minted graduates, like Pedro Rojas, have tales to tell equally deserving
of applause. In some cases their stories are ones of triumph over
adversity, astonishing perseverance, or just plain old-fashioned
ingenuity and resourcefulness. These remarkable tales of the CUNY
mortarboard could fill several Decamerons. Just a few can be celebrated
Ramirez, for example, has become highly proficient at crossing finish
lines. She's been cruising over the one at the New York City Marathon
annually since 1993, a year after a bullet from her ex-boyfriend's
gun left her a paraplegic at the age of 26. On June 6 she crossed
another finish line in Central Park-in magna cum laude style. At
Hunter College's commencement at Centerstage in Rumsey Playfield,
the native of Mexico received her B.A. in computer science.
athlete-tennis, swimming, track-Ramirez regularly visits public
schools to speak on violence and tutors students in math on Roosevelt
Island, where she lives full-time in a hospital. She speaks highly
of the welcoming "family" she found at Hunter's Access Center for
the disabled. A pure product of CUNY, Ramirez studied English in
evening classes at Kingsborough Community College, then (aided by
a Belle Zeller Scholarship) graduated from LaGuardia Community College
in 1998. And what is on the other side of her next finish line?
A Baruch College MBA, she says.
A native Haitian
transformed into a fluent English speaker in just three years, 23-year-old
Kettly Joseph, a computer engineering grad, carried an armful of
honors away from Queensborough Community College graduation ceremonies,
to wit: a NYC-AMP research assistantship, a CUNY Student Leadership
Award, QCC's prestigious John F. Kennedy Memorial Award, and a $13,000-a-year
scholarship to Polytechnic University. Somehow, Joseph, who built
a complete microprocessor as part of her AMP research, also found
time to represent Queensborough on the tennis and volleyball courts.
Salama Benum raised six children, then became a successful deliverer
of social services.
After a 25-year
hiatus-and with the youngest of six children waving good-bye on
the way to first grade-Linda Salama Benun decided to dust off her
own schoolbooks and head for Brooklyn College. "Now we both agonize
over homework and tests together," she wrote in her 1997 application
to the CUNY BA Program. While raising her children, Benun and a
group of friends began a campaign to make home visits to the elderly
and sick in her community. Today, the social service agency she
founded as a volunteer is called Sephardic Bikur Holim; it has a
multi?million-dollar budget, a 36?member board, and a staff of 12
full?time social workers. For this experience, plus her work in
teaching Bible studies, Benun was awarded 12 prior experiential
learning credits by the CUNY BA/BS Program. An accomplished artist,
especially in painting and photography, she combined course work
in Psychology and Art to create an area in Art Therapy and graduated
summa cum laude last January with a B.S. in this field. Benun begins
advanced studies this fall at the Hunter College School of Social
to run in the family of Alfredo Gomez-Beloz. The grandmother of
the native Chicagoan was a currandera, or healer, in Mexico, and
he has just earned his Ph.D. in Biology from The Graduate Center,
with a dissertation on a remarkable wound-healing plant called ohoru
(a.k.a. Symphonia globulifera) used by the Winikina Warao peoples
of the Orinoco River basin. Among his vivid memories of this exotic
project was the nailbiter of finessing a 1993 Venezuelan law designed
to protect the intellectual property rights of indigenous tribal
medicine savants, living with his wife and three-year-old at an
isolated mountain research site 7,000 feet up, and, on the lighter
side, joining a local band called Los Microbios Brothers on guitar.
"I taught them some Beatle tunes like 'I Saw Her Standing There'
and 'I Feel Fine.'" Gomez-Beloz has been working as a Project Coordinator
at the Health Research and Policy Center of the University of Illinois
Gomez-Beloz with a bigtime frond of the Orinoco River basin.
ago, at the ripe age of 16, Rivka Eizik and her friend Yael Katz
hatched the idea of establishing a daytime summer camp on a backyard
site. They started with 40 girls age 6 to 13 and five employees,
and in no time the venture turned into a fully licensed enterprise,
Camp H2O, based at a Spring Valley, New York synagogue. Its eight-week
summer program last summer served 150 Jewish Orthodox girls, employing
a staff of 30 and earning a significant profit. The hook? Learning
to swim is guaranteed: "Our success rate is close to 100%." Also
included: CPR instruction, computer graphics, horseback riding,
hiking, and daily religious instruction. The June graduate in Biology
from Queens College recently won an East Coast Collegiate Entrepreneur
Award for her prodigious business acumen.
Eizik, head of mass transport at her Spring Valley summer camp.
CUNY degrees awarded in 2000-2001 consist of about 8,500 associate,
13,000 bachelor's, and 5,300 master's degrees. At its June 6 commencement,
the Graduate Center conferred 243 doctoral degrees. CUNY's official
record-keepers note that about one half of these degrees were earned
by African American and Hispanic students, and about two-thirds
of degree recipients were women. They also note that, since central
record-keeping began in 1966, the City University has awarded almost
900,000 degrees. The astonishing Millionth Graduate mark is just
a few years away.