On Wednesday, May 31, the largest graduating class in John Jay College history — 3,690 students —became the newest alumni when they received bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the College’s 52nd Commencement ceremonies, which were held this year at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, Queens.
“The Class of 2017 is our biggest ever,” said President Jeremy Travis, “and I could not be happier. I am confident that our newest graduates, like the tens of thousands who have preceded them, will go forth from John Jay ready to make their mark locally, nationally and globally as fierce advocates for justice.”
“No other institution in the world – none – can claim John Jay College’s mission of educating for justice,” Travis told the graduates. “No other educational community commits itself to being fierce advocates for justice. You have been tested. You have succeeded. You are ready to change the world.”
Data from the College registrar’s office showed a graduating class that is roughly 57.5 percent female, with graduates ranging in age from 18-year-old Kenyatta LeSeur to 65-year-old Mary Bost. The class includes 190 military veterans and 440 international students representing 64 countries.
Nine pairs of siblings are in the Class of 2017, including three sets of twins: Caitlin and Brittany Ancone; Brian and Vincent Eco, and Hema and Harini Maragh. Also represented in the class are the first graduates of the Macaulay Honors College at John Jay, and the first graduate of the ACE (Accelerate, Complete, Engage) program, 19-year-old Piotr Tandek.
Academically, the graduating class was led by valedictorian Giuseppe (Joey) Fattorusso, an English major with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average, and salutatorian Samuel Choi, a Forensic Psychology major.
Honorary doctorates were be presented at the 10:30 A.M. and 3:30 P.M. ceremonies to Mary Bonauto, a leading civil rights attorney who has led the legal fight for marriage equality, and Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and activist whose disclosure of his undocumented immigration status helped to jump-start a national conversation on the experiences of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
Bonauto, who received an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws degree at the 10:30 A.M. ceremony, has been Civil Rights Project Director at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders since 1990. In that role she has been the lead or co-counsel in many recent groundbreaking state and federal court cases, including the historic 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which established the freedom to marry for same-sex couples nationwide.
A forceful advocate on discrimination issues, parental and children’s rights, relationship recognition, and free speech and religious liberty, Bonauto led the federal court challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act. She has won court cases on civil union laws in Vermont and right-to-marry laws in Massachusetts and Connecticut. She is the Shikes Fellow in Civil Liberties and Civil Rights at Harvard Law School.
Honored with a Doctorate of Humane Letters at the 3:30 P.M. ceremony, Vargas was part of the news team at The Washington Post that won the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting massacre in 2007. In 2011, in an essay written for The New York Times Magazine, he revealed and chronicled his life in America as an undocumented immigrant, and in so doing became a leading voice for immigrant rights.
In addition to his award-winning journalism, Vargas is also a filmmaker and media entrepreneur, who followed up his essay in The Times by producing and directing “Documented,” a documentary feature film on his immigrant experience. As the founder and CEO of Define American, a nonprofit media and cultural organization, he works to elevate the conversation surrounding immigration and citizenship in the United States. He also founded #EmergingUS, a media start-up focusing on the intersection of race, immigration and identity in multicultural America.