Congratulations to the Class of 2014! LaGuardia Community College Celebrates its Annual 42nd Commencement Exercises on June 5

New York City, NY—June 5, 2014—Faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the College gathered in the Jacob K. Javits Center North at 10 a.m. on June 5, 2014 to celebrate the conferring of degrees on LaGuardia Community College’s 42nd graduating class, the Class of 2014. This year, the College graduated 1,080 students.

Thomas E. Perez, the United States Secretary of Labor and Ray Suarez, a veteran broadcast journalist and host of “Inside Story” on Al Jazeera America, were the commencement and keynote speakers, respectively.

Dr. Paul Arcario, the College’s Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs welcomed the Class of 2014 to the ceremony, and introduced the Presidential Platform party, comprised of faculty at LaGuardia. Next, Lisa DeSpain, Music Professor, conducted the LaGuardia Student Choir as they performed The Star Spangled Banner.

To view photos of the ceremony, visit: Flickr Gallery
First to offer well wishes to the graduates was the Honorable Valerie Lancaster Beale, a Trustee of the Board of the City University of New York.

“You are the pride of LaGuardia, CUNY, Queens and New York,” Ms. Lancaster Beale told the Class of 2014. “You maybe the first in your family to receive a college degree, and you did it the old fashioned way: You earned it. The dedicated faculty at LaGuardia have prepared you to continue to grow and move forward to meet the challenges of our contemporary society. Class of 2014, On behalf of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York, congratulations!”

“Good morning 2014 graduates! You look amazing!” said LaGuardia Community College President, Dr. Gail O. Mellow as she addressed the graduates. “Today, we see the abstraction of education as tangible; your dream made real. I am so enormously proud of you!”

Dr. Mellow introduced James B. Milliken, the new Chancellor of CUNY, who on his fourth day in office, joined the well wishers of the Class of 2014. Chancellor Milliken welcomed the graduates, the speakers, distinguished guests and then rallied the new alumni to applaud their family, friends and faculty who helped them reach their goal.

“As you leave and I arrive, we have in common that we chose CUNY. LaGuardia met you where you are, it was a place where you mattered and today you matter most of all. Be open, be willing to change with the times, be true to your principles and never let your beginning define your end. CUNY has produced Nobel Laureates, scientists, civil servants, artists and business titans. Show everyone what a CUNY degree can do. On behalf of the City University of New York, congratulations, and thank you for letting me share this day with you.”

Mr. Suarez, a veteran correspondent, gave the keynote address. He hosts “Inside Story,” a daily discussion program that takes an in-depth look at current stories on al Jazeera America. Mr. Suarez was a chief national correspondent at PBS “NewsHour” from 1999 to 2013, and hosted National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” for six years before joining PBS. He was also a correspondent for Chicago’s NBC-owned station WMAQ-TV, CNN in Los Angeles, a producer for the ABC Radio Network in New York and a reporter for CBS Radio in Rome.

For his achievements in journalism, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in 2010 inducted him into the organization’s Hall of Fame. Mr. Suarez is also the author of three books. His most recent is “Latino Americans: The 500-Year Legacy that Shaped the Nation,” which is a companion book to the six-hour PBS series documenting the Hispanic experience in the U.S.

The news correspondent earned a BA in African History from New York University and a MA in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago.

Mr. Suarez highlighted the importance of lifelong learning in his speech.

“You have the responsibility for making you, you,” he told the graduating class. We know how many of you have faced tough odds in life. If today when you cross the stage you are the first in your family to earn a college degree, you have a special place in the hearts of the people who dreamed up this college and those who taught you here. These have been tough years for our country. Whatever you’re doing, more degrees, credentials, jobs, you must be prepared to keep on learning. What you have learned now is not enough to make it through the rest of your life. The world does not reward standing still.  No matter how much education you get or have, there is always more to learn.”

Julio Trinidad, a theater major at LaGuardia, is the 2014 Class Speaker. His many accolades include: top prize in the Irene Acting Scholarship Auditions, as well as an invitation to the selective Commonwealth Shakespeare Company summer intensive. After graduation this June, Julio plans to pursue an education in fine arts at Lehman College, Brooklyn College or the conservatory program at Julliard.

“Today is a testament to the promise you made to yourself a few years ago. A promise that was bigger than the obstacles you’ve encountered and stronger than the sacrifices you made to get here. For that, I congratulate you. I admire your courage and I am humbled and honored to be your voice today. I have to admit, I used to view LaGuardia as just a transfer school, because community college was not as prestigious in my eyes as university. But my shame changed to pride as I got to know you, the lives you had before you came to this country, the jobs you held, the families you cared for … the dream I chase now was realized at a community college, so let us eliminate the stigma of how community college is perceived. We are proof that at LaGuardia Community College, its not where you invest your money, but how you invest your time.  Congratulations Class of 2014!’

LaGuardia opened the door of opportunity to Rhazi Mohamed Kone ’07 and his wife Arti Cameron ’08, the alumni class speakers that returned to share their stories with the Class of 2014.

Rhazi Mohamed Kone, who was awarded by Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society for his academic excellence in 2007, graduated from Colombia University in 2009 with his bachelor’s degree in architecture.  He works for UNICEF as a program manager and is now preparing for law school.

After graduating in 2008 with numerous accolades—winning a college-wide speech competition, Arti Cameron went on Hunter College where she graduated with a B.S. in Biology in 2011.  She was crowned Miss Guyana World at the Miss World competition in 2012 and plans to apply to medical schools in the U.S.

“It is a pleasure for us to address you as alumni. We too left our homelands behind in search of greater opportunities. Fortunately, we landed at the most nurturing place in New York, LaGuardia Community College. LaGuardia is where we gained the knowledge that set us on our paths to success. We encourage you to stay connected to our ever-growing family of alumni and to always give back. We believe that every single one of you can be role models and make a difference in your communities. You will all succeed and accomplish amazing things,” the engaged couple, who met at LaGuardia, told the graduates by turns.

Mr. Perez, who was appointed U.S. Secretary of Labor by President Barack Obama is a stalwart advocate of equal opportunity for America’s working class families. He was most recently assistant attorney general for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Justice, leading the same division where he began as a career federal employee in the late 1980s for 10 years.

Perez has prioritized providing access to the middle class for everyone willing to work for it by ensuring a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work; connecting ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs through skills programs like Registered Apprenticeship and on-the-job training; promoting gender equality in the workplace; ensuring that people with disabilities and veterans have access to equal employment opportunity; and insisting on a safe and level playing field for all American workers.

From 2002 until 2006, he was a member of the Montgomery County Council. He was later appointed secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. He was a law professor for six years at the University of Maryland School of Law and was a part-time professor at the George Washington School of Public Health.

He received a bachelor’s degree from Brown University in 1983 and, in 1987, received both a master’s of public policy and a law degree from Harvard University.

Secretary Perez told the distinguished assemblage how excited and honored he was to address the Class of 2014, then told the graduates he wanted to tell them about the value of failure and, echoing Mr. Suarez’s advice, extolled the fierce urgency of now. Mr. Perez recounted how his loss of a slot on a ballot eventually led to his appointment as Secretary of Labor of the United States.

“You are in better shape than most of your peers because of the diversity of your college. New York today is American tomorrow. You have climbed the high mountain, gained a lot of wisdom. Wisdom is what we get when we embrace our failures to learn from them.  There is no such thing as failure, only failure to take educated risks or failure to learn from your own experiences. Take educated risks, you have so much talent. You need to live life with a purpose. Today is a gift, that’s why we call it the present. Mr. Suarez spoke of the fierce urgency of now, as Mr. Suarez said, and you must live your life with a sense of urgency. You have the talent to change the world and help a lot of people. Let’s transform from a selfie culture to an ‘ussy’ culture, go out there and make a better community, that’s what LaGuardia’s mission is about and I am confident that’s what you are about. Congratulations!”

Finally, President Mellow conferred the Associate degrees upon the graduates as they processed across the stage smiling radiantly.

When the last graduate accepted her degree, the confetti cannon boomed, showering the Class of 2014 in red and white, LaGuardia’s colors, as Happy began to play while the crowd applauded madly.

The Class of 2014 is a diverse cohort: 50.5% are between the ages of 18-24; 23.3% are between 25-29 years of age; 10.9% are between the ages of 30-34; 10.9% are between the ages of 35-44; 4.3% are age 45 and over.

Thirty-five percent of LaGuardia’s Class of 2014 are Hispanic; 19.6% identify themselves as Asian/Pacific Islanders; 12.3% are Black, non-Hispanic; 12% are White, non-Hispanic. Sixty-four percent live in Queens; 14.9% live in Brooklyn; 10.3% live in Manhattan; 6.6% live in the Bronx; and 4.5% live elsewhere.

Degrees awarded this year encompass: 27% Associate in Applied Science; 40% Associate in Sciences; and 33% Associate in Arts.

For more information about LaGuardia’s 42nd Annual Commencement please visit: www.laguardia.edu/commencement

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Located in Long Island City, Queens in New York City, LaGuardia Community College, part of the City University of New York, is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges. Founded in 1971, the College is recognized as an innovator in educating students who are under prepared for college work and/or are not primary English speakers. A catalyst for development in western Queens and beyond, LaGuardia serves New Yorkers and immigrants from 153 countries through over 50 majors and certificate programs, enabling career advancement and transfer to four-year colleges at twice the national average. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.