Outstanding 2012 Grads

August 30, 2012 | CUNY Matters, The University

Fulbright Fellow Jordan Stockdale will return from a year teaching abroad to help younger city students “who look like me” to succeed.

Some already are pursuing high goals — such as expanding accessibility for the disabled and inspiring tolerance along with scholarship in school children.

Many graduates are well acquainted with struggle and adversity, but perhaps none like New York City’s newest commissioner. Victor Calise, class of 2012 with a master’s degree in urban affairs from Queens College, was recently named by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to lead the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. Calise responded with an ambitious pledge: “to make New York the most accessible city in the world to people of all abilities and ages.”

Victor Calise, who uses a wheelchair, works with Mayor Michael Bloomberg as head of the Mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities.

Since injuring his spinal cord in a 1994 mountain bike accident, Commissioner Calise has used a wheelchair. An avid athlete, Calise competed with a USA Paralympic Sled Hockey team in the 1998 Winter Paralympic Games in Nagano, Japan (“We placed fifth out of 16 and played better than we placed.”) At Mt. Sinai Medical Center, he helped patients reconceive their lives after spinal cord injuries. At the United Spinal Association, he expanded recreation opportunities for disabled veterans and coordinated nationwide adaptive sports programs. And most recently at the Parks Department, he made programs and services available to New Yorkers of all abilities.

Achievement, grit, perseverance and creativity: These are the hallmarks of the Class of 2012, which earned a record 14,800 associate degrees, 21,500 bachelor’s degrees and 11,000 graduate degrees. That total is 37.6 percent higher than in 2001, when the University took steps to increase academic quality, including raising senior college admission standards.

“Those who were naysayers of this reform movement now have something to reflect upon, because we’ve never seen growth of this magnitude — and we’re all delighted,” Chancellor Matthew Goldstein said at the June Board of Trustees meeting.

He noted some of the prestigious graduate schools where students were heading — Berkeley, Cambridge, Columbia, CUNY, Harvard and MIT doctoral programs; Duke, Georgetown and Harvard law schools; and Einstein, Harvard and Mt. Sinai medical schools among them — calling this year “a game-changer for this University.”

Math for America Fellow Umussahar “Sahar” Khatri aims to teach in city schools and also further “ethnic, racial and religious understanding.”

Umussahar “Sahar” Khatri (Macaulay Honors College at Queens College, B.S., mathematics) was just 5 when she and her mother left Pakistan to join her father in Queens. One of four CUNY students to win a Math for America Fellowship — which covers her math-education master’s at City College and carries a $100,000 stipend over five years — she has committed to teach in the city’s secondary schools and furthering ethnic, racial and religious understanding. “I am determined to not only be a teacher, but also to be someone who inspires students to reach their full potential,” she says.

Rhoda Smith (Lehman College, B.S., nursing) was forced to quit Borough of Manhattan Community College in 1989 due to domestic abuse. Staring down the barrel of a gun eight years later, she left her home and young daughter, lived on the streets and used drugs. By 2009, she had turned her life around and entered Lehman. “I jumped in headfirst, carrying 13.5 credits and working full time,” she says. “At 40 I was finally developing.”

Smith received awards and grants, interned at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York and volunteered at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and in a Kenyan slum. And she earned a 2012 summer internship at the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research in Maryland. She intends to pursue a master’s in public health or a research-related field of nursing. She also has full custody of her daughter, who this year completed a medical assistant course at Hostos Community College and is exploring LPN programs.

Tony Wan faced two tours in Iraq before earning a B.S. in chemistry and becoming York College’s 2012 valedictorian. Born in Belize to Chinese immigrants to that country, an emigrant to the United States at 3, Wan joined the Marine Corps to fund his education. After a close friend was killed, this decorated Marine corporal promised “not to let any more Marines die on my watch.” He crawled streets on hands and knees, looking for explosives before he’d let his convoy pass. Wan finished York’s physician assistant program in three years and is studying for the MCAT medical-school test. He plans to pursue neurology so he can help veterans and others with neurological disorders.

Grit also took different forms. Russian immigrant Vladislav Romanov (College of Staten Island, B.S., business management) notched record-breaking swimming performances, making multiple NCAA Division III National Championship cut times and setting school and ECAC records in the 100-yard backstroke and his leg of the 400 medley relay, among other triumphs. He is interning with Apple this summer, hopes to become an entrepreneur and may train for the 2016 Olympics.

Jordan Stockdale (Hunter College M.A., special education) grew up in Kansas City, but wanted to live and teach in New York. He joined the city Teaching Fellows Program and taught in East Harlem’s PS 57, “a high-needs school and a really good school. Being a minority male, I want to inspire younger students who look like me to succeed.” He won a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English in Spain for 2012-2013, but intends to return to teaching in the city and earn a doctorate.

At KCC, One Cuomo Hails Grads and Two Cuomos Are Honored

‘The nation is aching for a change. … you will have to heighten efforts to do what must be done to encourage a more intelligent, constructive and reasonable acceptance of our nation’s unique diversity, through dialogue and hard work and respect,” former New York first lady Matilda Raffa Cuomo told graduates at Kingsborough Community College’s 47th commencement ceremony.

“If we are able to do that,” she continued, “we will not only improve current conditions, we will have an opportunity to make the kind of progress we have not seen since the Industrial Revolution.”

Noting her own family’s immigrant roots, she said “immigrants have helped build us into the most powerful nation in world history, blessed with the fruit of foreign cultures.” In  recent years, she said, “the surge of discovery, innovation and technology, and accelerating globalization has opened new markets to scores of new products and techniques — and jobs for many more people. Kingsborough has provided you with the precious insights that will help you in approaching the global workplace. … a whole new world awaits building. ”

Before the commencement address, Kingsborough President Regina Peruggi presented the college’s highest honor — President’s Medals, designating a lifetime of dedicated service — to Matilda Cuomo and to her husband, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, both pictured at left.