May 31st – Under a huge white tent pitched on the grounds of the historic Bronx Community College campus, 1507 eager BCC students were transformed into 1507 honored alumni in the course of today’s 53rd Commencement exercises.
Declaring the students “the future leaders of this borough, this state, this nation and the world,” BCC President Carole M. Berotte Joseph noted that the Class of 2013 came from some 80 countries around the world, that the youngest of them was 19-years-old and the oldest was 67 – and that 60 per cent of them were women, an observation which triggered an unmistakably female roar of triumph.
Several speakers acknowledged the obstacles many BCC students had to overcome to earn the degrees that were about to be conferred upon them. “You are exceptional students, but you are not traditional students,” said Congressman José E. Serrano, whose district includes BCC. “While some people in college were trying to figure out on a Thursday night what party they were going to go to on Friday, you were trying to figure out who was going to babysit your baby on Monday so you could go to school.”
This year’s Commencement Address was delivered by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, who wrote the Tony-nominated book of the Broadway musical In the Heights. “Queens County, Richmond Country and Kings County – all of them are named after royalty,” Hudes observed. “But Bronx County is named after a commoner – Jonas Bronck, an immigrant farmer… So the very name – The Bronx – is about what you are all here doing today – making something of yourselves from your own prerogatives and hard work.”
Other speakers included CUNY Vice Chancellor Iris Weinshall, New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera, Valedictorian Menelik R. Goodwin and New York State Assemblywoman Carmen E. Arroyo, who was awarded the President’s Medallion for her “unstoppable insistence on social justice,” in the words of President Berotte Joseph.
One speaker was hugely appreciated for what he did not say. Charles Schumer, New York’s Senior U.S. Senator, briefly referred to his work on two issues of great interest to the gathering – immigration reform and the high cost of higher education – and then took the many pages of his prepared remarks and tore them to bits, which he then tossed into the crowd like confetti. It was a gesture loudly cheered by the students on a day when the temperature and humidity were almost as high as their spirits.
So large was the BCC Class of 2013 that it took an hour and 23 minutes to hand out all the Associate degrees in Arts, Science and Applied Science and several certificates. But at 1:45 in the afternoon, President Berotte Joseph officially conferred the honors and the newly-minted graduates moved their tassels from the right to the left side of their mortarboards and departed for the reception and their futures.