ALBANY — The City University of New York Chancellor James B. Milliken today presented Distinguished Alumnus awards to Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and Goya Foods, Inc. Vice President and General Counsel Carlos Ortiz, at the annual CUNY and Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus Luncheon/Program. Warren and Ortiz attended John Jay College and Lehman College, respectively, and are graduates of CUNY’s Percy E. Sutton SEEK (Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge) Program, whose 50th anniversary as a vehicle providing educational opportunity to low-income students was celebrated at the event.
The luncheon and “Special Celebration: 50th Anniversary of the Percy Ellis Sutton Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK) Program,” was attended by members of CUNY’s Board of Trustees, CUNY college presidents, and other prominent New York leaders. It featured a video tribute to SEEK’s civil rights-era advocates including the late Percy Sutton, former Manhattan Borough President; the late Herman Badillo, former Congressman and Chair of the CUNY Board of Trustees; the late former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, and others. Passed by the Legislature in 1966 and signed into law by Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, the SEEK program has helped more than 50,000 high-potential, low-income students earn baccalaureate degrees, and many have achieved prominence in their fields.
“SEEK’s successes are legendary and a source of tremendous pride,” said Chancellor Milliken, who presented the Distinguished Alumni awards at the noon event at Prime at the Plaza at Empire State Plaza. “Today, through an array of successful and affordable academic programs, CUNY continues to fulfill its legislatively mandated, historic mission to provide educational opportunity to disadvantaged students who might otherwise never have the chance to attend college and achieve professional success.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a citation commemorating SEEK’s half-century milestone, recognizing it for “contributing to CUNY’s mission to provide a vehicle of upward mobility for the disadvantaged of the City of New York.”
Scheduled speakers included Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie; New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer; Assemblyman Nick Perry, Chair of the NYS Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus; Assemblywoman Michele Titus, Chair of the NYS Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators, and New York State Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, among others.
Distinguished Alumnus honoree Lovely Warren graduated from CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice with a bachelor’s degree in government in 2000 and earned her law degree at Albany Law School. She has lauded her SEEK counselors at John Jay for “pushing us to the next level.” In 2014 she was sworn in as Rochester’s 67th mayor – the first female mayor in the city’s history, its second black mayor and its youngest in modern times. She has focused on improving education, creating more jobs, improving community-police relations and bringing safer, more vibrant neighborhoods to the upstate city where she was born and raised.
“Lovely Warren is a perfect example of what education, hard work, and perseverance, can lead to,” said former Lt. Governor Robert Duffy. “She was an outstanding City Council President during my tenure as Rochester’s mayor, and she has been an outstanding mayor and leader of our city in her new role. Mayor Warren is leading a transformation of Rochester through her focus on education, economic development, and her emphasis on addressing poverty. She is a strong, principled leader who has never forgotten the challenges in her life and is a role model for so many of Rochester’s children.”
Honoree Carlos Ortiz graduated from Lehman College’s SEEK Program in 1979 with a bachelor’s in accounting and earned his law degree at Brooklyn Law School. “If there wasn’t for SEEK, many of us would not have been able to lead good, productive lives,” Ortiz has said. The son of Puerto Rican migrants who came to New York with little education, Ortiz is now Vice President and General Counsel to Goya Foods, Inc.
One of his mentors at Lehman was Professor James Kraus, who was the pre-law advisor, and he says his former student is still in touch and they see each other despite the many years since Carlos graduated. Carlos once asked his professor for advice about a rent strike that he was organizing at his apartment building. “It wasn’t just gutsy,” Professor Kraus said. “He really didn’t have time for that kind of thing but he made time for it. He still makes that kind of time.”
Also attending the luncheon program were students selected for the Black, Puerto Rican, Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative CUNY Caucus Scholars Program who were introduced by CUNY Vice Chairperson Philip Alfonso Berry and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Frank Sanchez. CUNY Trustee Freida Foster announced the third Terence D. Tolbert Public Service Internship Scholar – Arielle Wright, a Master of Public Administration student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The program honors the public service legacy of Trustee Foster’s late husband.
Since the late 1960s, SEEK – one of CUNY’s two higher education opportunity programs (the other is College Discovery) – has graduated more than 50,000 highly motivated low-income students who otherwise might not have pursued a college because they were not academically well prepared for college work. SEEK and CD offer counseling and academic support initiatives to students who meet the University and New York State guidelines for admission.