Bronx, New York – On May 31st, the 1507 members of the Bronx Community College Class of 2013 will begin their day as students – and end it as graduates. The 53rd Commencement Day ceremonies will take place on the BCC campus, beginning at 10:00 a.m. with the Academic Procession onto Ohio Field. This year’s events include a commencement address delivered by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes and the awarding of the President’s Medallion to trailblazing New York State Assemblywoman Carmen E. Arroyo.
The youngest of this year’s BCC graduates is 19, the oldest 67. Their journeys to this moment are as diverse as the 80 different countries they call home. Among their stories:
Menelik Goodwin. With a flawless 4.0 grade point average, Goodwin is this year’s valedictorian. A political science major, he developed a particular interest in comparative politics during his years at BCC — a natural fit for this son of Antigua. “I see myself as a Caribbean person. I lived in several different islands. I got to see the variations of democracy.” Dr. Peter Kozoli of BCC’s Social Sciences Department is cited by Goodwin as a major influence in his academic career. “Dr. Kozoli was able to take me beyond the classroom and show me the principles of political science as they pertain to life – the lives we live, the decisions we make, the outlook we develop.” The winner of many BCC distinctions, Goodwin is especially proud of his 2013 Student Leadership Award, a reflection of among other things his tireless work as a political science tutor — even for students who, like him, are excelling in the subject “No matter how good you are, you can become better.” He plans on attending a four-year college in the fall and to eventually take what he has learned back to the Caribbean to work as a consultant to government and business.
Ariela Rosa. This year’s salutatorian, Rosa began at BCC career as a marketing/management major. “A lot of what was covered was really interesting,” the Bronx native recalls. “But I felt like there was more to life than just thinking about how you can manipulate people to buy what you’re selling.” This self-discovery prompted her to change to Media Studies, where she credits Professor Michael Denbo of the English Department for introducing her to the education issues that will now be an important focus of her career. “Before I took his class, I was looking for something bigger, where I could be helpful to my community, to the kind of people that I have lived around.” Rosa paid for her final year at BCC with a coveted Kaplan Scholarship. After receiving offers from eight four-year colleges to continue her studies, Rosa has settled on Lawrence University in Wisconsin, in part because of their program in the oldest form of media, theater. “Eventually I want to come to Bronx and work on getting more theater into the schools.” But first, 26-year-old Rosa, whose family roots are in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica, will be moving north with her husband and lots of warm clothing.
Ruqayah Zuhair. President of the Student Government Association for the past school year, where she helped raise some $30,000 in scholarships, Ruqayah is a stellar example of how much the committed non-traditional student can achieve at BCC. Her road to the 2013 Commencement began on the other side of the world in Sri Lanka, where she was born 34 years ago. She came to the United States in 2004, working at odd jobs, but all the while aspiring to something better. Bronx Community College gave her that chance, allowing her to excel as a math major while her preschool child attended BCC’s on-campus Early Childhood Center. Her mentor for the last two years has been Professor Andrew McInerney, chair of the Mathematics Department. “I’m very grateful to him for being patient during my weak times and supportive during my jubilant times.” Ruqayah has already been accepted at City College for the fall. Her ultimate goal? “I‘d like to teach Middle school, because that is when children get scared of math.” And what will she tell them to conquer that fear? “Every day you step out of your house, you look at the time, you look at the temperature – what are those? Numbers! Math is all around you.”
William Medina. Thirty-eight-year-old Medina is a role model both for other Accounting majors and for students who, like himself, attend BCC with the assistance of the Office of disAbility Services. Legally blind for some 15 years, the father of four has had no trouble keeping up with the rest of his class with the assistance of talking technology and note-taking humans. “A lot of students look at me as an example. They are amazed that I do the work and do it will without the vision that they have.” Business and Information Systems professor Paul Jaijairam was of particular help to Medina these past two years. “He treated me like any other student, which I especially appreciated,” says Medina. “He was always available to talk about anything.” Medina says that “organizational skills” are the secret to being a good accountant — like those of his mother, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic with a third-grade education. “She’s on a fixed income, but she has a way better credit than anyone I know!”
Dorian Whyte. Though Whyte started out as a BCC engineering student, in his heart, the 22-year-old was always attracted to sheer beauty of numbers, and so eventually switched his major to mathematics. As president of the BCC Math Club, Whyte earned a 2013 Student Leadership Award. But a chemistry class with Professor Aaron Socha would lure Dorian back to the real world. Dr. Socha, now head of BCC’s Center for Sustainable Energy, invited Whyte to become part of a lab team that’s developing minimally polluting “bio-fuels” for the ecologically-friendly vehicles of the future. “The good thing about BCC is that you have the ability to find a mentor and to work with someone for a long time,” says Whyte. Now the cause of sustainability has become Whyte’s other all-consuming passion. This summer he’ll work at the Joint BioEnergy Institute in California. And in the fall, Jamaican-born Whyte, who only came to the United States seven years ago, will attend SUNY-Stonybrook to complete a four year degree… in mathematics. “I am going for my PHd,” says Whyte with quiet confidence.
On the last day of the last month of their years at Bronx Community College, these five scholars will be joined by friends and family as they and their 1502 classmates are handed the diplomas and certificates that are the tickets to the next stage of their lives.