In a perfect world, this story would begin here and its jump would be
a few thousand pages long, chronicling the struggles and triumphs of the
more than 28,500 women and men who received a degree from CUNY in the
It would give a full account of students like Emmanuel Fallah, who emerged
from a Nigerian refugee camp to complete his nursing studies at the College
of Staten Island and who hopes to return to aid his suffering people.
It would tell Lidija Markes story: growing up in Croatia, losing
her father to heart disease and her country to war, yet persevering
to graduate from the Borough of Manhattan Community College with a near-perfect
It would tell of Bridgete Smith, an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago
whose struggle with lupus led her to major in medical nutrition under
mentorship of a Lehman College professor.
It would detail the life of John Bradley, who turned to CUNY after being
laid off in the early 1990s at age 48, after 23 years work as
a journeyman steamfitter. His B.S. is in economics; he plans to continue
toward a Masters in operations research, working with mathematical
models of economics situations.
It would go on for a few pages about Sylvia Arredondo, who came to the
United States as an au pair from Guatemala, and who thought her dreams
of getting an education would be cut short by financial problems. A
BMCC professor helped her find aid, allowing her continue engineering
studies at City College, where she graduated as valedictorian.
Sadly, there is no room to tell the stories of all who passed the milestone
of a college degree. Here, though, are brief stories about a few that
may suggest the wealth of human experience and achievement that enriches
Lab Work Impossible?
Not for this New Ph.D.
In her early days as an aspiring scientist, Melissa Garcia was
once told that the fact that she had spina bifida, a congenital cleft
of the vertebral column, would rule out her working in a laboratory.
Instead of taking no for an answer, she decided to take
a Ph.D. in biology, as lab-intensive a career as can be imagined.
In the course of earning her 2003 doctorate in the Molecular Cell Development
sub-program from the CUNY Graduate Center, Garcia inevitably became
a lab animal, studying the mechanisms involved in visual and central
nervous system development. As part of this research, she identified
a novel gene that appears to play a role in growth cone navigation
during development of the central nervous and visual systems.
Garcias Bachelors is from Hofstra University, and her Masters
is from Long Island University, where she worked on stem cell research.
Afterward, she worked in Amplicon Corporation labs on mapping newly-identified
genes involved in breast cancer pathogenesis, then in North Shore University
Hospital labs on genes involved in rheumatoid arthritis and perfect
pitch. At the Graduate Center, Garcia was the recipient of a Humana
Two-Year Fellowship and a Presidential Dissertation Fellowship.
And her next job will beGarcia seems to love rubbing it inin
yet another laboratory. She has accepted a post-doctoral position at
the National Institute of Environmental Health, where she plans to study
a signaling pathway that may play a role in the metastasis of cancer
Grads (One Couple)
When Graziela Ionescu met Vasili Byros in an Italian
restaurant in Brooklyn that Vasili was managing for his Greek father,
something clicked. We began to talk, he asked me out, and before
long, we knew we were meant for each other, Ionescu recalls. Two
days after they graduated from Queens College on May 29, they were married,
and in the fall each will be taking up doctoral studies at Yale, Ionescu
in ancient history, Byros in music.
Ionescu, a native of Romania, maintained a 4.0 GPA and was the Colleges
Commencement speaker. A Phi Beta Kappa member, she came to the U.S.
after high school and soon enrolled at LaGuardia Community College.
At Queens she discovered her passion for Latin, the classics, and ancient
Roman history, becoming especially interested in researching the little-explored
subject of the relations of the Roman Empire with Dacia, as Romania
was called in ancient times.
No other place could have helped me further my interests as Queens
College did, she says. It had the ideal environment, resources,
and professors who became mentors to me.
Byros, a pianist born and raised in Queens by his Greek immigrant parents,
is graduating from the Colleges Aaron Copland School of Music
with a Masters and will continue for his doctorate in music at
Yale. The School of Music is incredible, he says, comparable
in quality to much more expensive schools such as Mannes and the Manhattan
School of Music, and the faculty are skilled in performance and have
made major contributions to the field.
Turns Cum Laude Just 58 Years Later
For most students the hiatus between sophomore and junior year is about
three months. James OConnors hiatus lasted well over
half a century. The 84-year-old former dentist marched in City Colleges
2003 honors convocation, having earned a Bachelors degree in philosophy
cum laude. It was exactly 58 years after the Bronx-born son of Irish
immigrants entered City College as a World War II veteran with sciences
and a dental career in mind.
A New Bus
Route in Brooklyn: The Gleason Depot to CUNY BA
OConnors big early break came when N.Y.U. accepted him into
its doctoral program in dentistry even though he had no undergraduate
degree. These were special times after the war, recalls
OConnor, who served with the U.S. Army in England. He graduated
in 1951 and went on to practice in Inwood for the next 47 years.
After he retired, the notion of hitting the books again proved irresistible.
The thing is that Im interested in education, and after
I retired I felt it was important to come back to City College and pursue
that degree I never got. He found certain aspects of life on
the hill unchanged: This place is very demanding and challenging,
he says, and I learned a lot from the young people herefrom
people who disagreed with me. (Former Mayor Ed Koch had a similar
career path: after WWII interrupted his CCNY studies, he earned an N.Y.U.
law degree in 1948, but came back for his B.A. at the College in 1981.)
Nikolas Pappas, chair of philosophy and teacher of OConnors
Ancient Philosophy class, was impressed: Mr. OConnor responded
to philosophy the way I want all my students to. He got into a conversation
with the great philosophers. When he disagreed with them, he trusted
his lifes rich experience to tell him when to re-examine his own
beliefs and when he should stand firm, just as an intelligent person
ought to do in every conversation.
OConnor, who picked up an M.A. in liberal arts at Fordham before
his City College home-coming, says, Im proud of City College
and still think of it as the poor mans Harvard. Ive
had a happy time here.
Sometimes, late in the night, a young passenger will stay on the bus of
to the end of the line in Brownsville, talking about
plans and dreams.
Jessamy, who has been driving the B35 bus along Church Avenue in Brooklyn
for nearly seven years, offers the benefit of broad experience in juggling
job, family and education. During those years, he spent nights at the
wheel of his bus and days with his shoulder to the wheel of a college
He is among this springs graduates of the CUNY Baccalaureate Program,
having completed work for a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration
at Brooklyn College.
The 43-year-old native of Grenada, who came to this country in 1986, attended
with the help of a Thomas W. Smith academic scholarship, which he was
granted after he earned an Associates degree with honors from Kingsborough
Community College. That covered my tuition and books, he says.
After he came to Brooklyn, Jessamy worked as a field inspector for an
company. When I was laid off in a downsizing, I was forced to look
around for any job I could get, he recalls. I had a young
son, born in 1992, so it was kind of a panic situation. A friend of mine
said, Why not take the bus driver exam?
Jessamy took the test and passed, but the first offers were for driving
in Manhattan and the Bronx. Instead, he began working for a social service
agency in Brooklyn. I worked in a facility for homeless young women
with children, he recalls. We would screen them and house
them for a maximum of six months. We prepared them to live on their own.
It was deeply satisfying work, which left him with a resolve to continue
trying to help people in need. He rose from family manager to full case
manager, while, starting in 1994, carrying a full-credit load at Kingsborough.
Working full-time and studying full-time was really a killer,
A second son arrived, tightening the financial screws. When the MTA called
with an offer of a Brooklyn route, he took it. He now works out of the
Jackie Gleason Depot on Fifth Avenue and 39th Street. Driving, Jessamy
says, allowed him to contemplate education, because bus drivers
pick their shifts and days off approximately every two months. He
drove from mid-afternoon to the early morning hours. Id go
to bed about 2 a.m., get up at 8 and go to class, he recalls. Back
home about noon, a few hours sleep, then back to the Depot.
Had it not been for my wife, Elizabeth, taking up the slack, this
would have been impossible for me, Jessamy says. He relaxes by playing
guitar and painting landscapes and by writing poetry (sample it on the
Prof. Hershey Friedman was Jessamys CUNY/BA mentor at Brooklyn College.
Whenever I called, he was right there, Jessamy says. He was
a tremendous help to me.
Being a student gave him good credibility with his sons, now 11 and 16,
who face the same challenges in their daily lives. Between us, we
set goals and then work to achieve them, says dad. Theyve
learned that you face obstacles, but if you keep at it youll overcome
Jessamy is studying now to get his state license as an insurance agent,
and has lined up part-time work with a financial services company. The
idea of continuing on for a Masters is parked in the back of his
mind, but, Jessamy says with an easy laugh, For the moment, I plan
to keep driving the bus.
Strip, then the Stage Former Beat of New Ph.D.
For 15 years, from 1965 to 1980, Henry Miller was a police officer
assigned to District 3 of the then New York City Transit Police in Harlem.
At that time, District 3 covered what was one of Harlems toughest,
most crime-ridden areas, known as The Strip, from 110th
to 125th Streets. Talk about street theater.
But all the while, Miller, newly minted as a CUNY Ph.D. in Theater,
was becoming a veteran of the 1960s/70s African-American theater. Now
60, he was a founding member of the Joseph Patterson Players in the
South Bronx and also worked with the Afro-American Repertory Theater
in Harlem. (His wife is a retired Harlem public school principal.)
Millers ground-breaking dissertation, Art or Propaganda:
A Historical and Critical Analysis of African-American Approaches to
Dramatic Theory, 1900-1965, considers how the Black Arts Movement
influenced African-American theater.
A MAGNETMinority Access/ Graduate NetworkingFellow, Miller
has also been an engaged theatrical practitioner as well as scholar.
He has original plays and musical theater works among his credits, and,
most recently directed main-stage operatic productions of Porgy and
Bess in Philadelphia and Indianapolis. His one-act plays, The Christmas
Eve Companion Plays: A Winter Reunion and Gifts of Parting, won awards
in 1995 and 1998. His latest work-in-progress, Only Yesterday, will
be a drama employing the music of Duke Ellington that takes place at
the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. Miller, a South
Bronx native (his mom was Miss Palm Café, a Harlem
beauty queen), grew up in the former neighborhood of Isaac Bashevis
Singer and attended the same junior high school as Colin Powell.
Abuser to City Tech Valedictorian
Substance abuse dogged Jed Gelber for two decadesduring
high school on the Upper West Side, through a year at SUNY Stony Brook,
a stint as a Wall Street clerk, then during an enlistment in the U.S.
Marines. I am living proof that we dont just get a second
chance in life, we get a third, fourth, or fifth, Gelber says.
But its not an infinite number, and at some point you either
pull yourself out of the pit or languish in it permanently.
Even after another ten years as an abstractor for a title insurance
company, Gelber had not hit bottom with his abuse. So, finally, at the
age of 40, Gelber did pull himself out of the pitand into New
York City College of Technologys paralegal studies program, the
only public one of its kind in the City. In many ways my life
really did begin at 40, when I recovered from my final relapse. Thats
when I enrolled in City Tech.
He took to campus life, he says, incredibly well. He was
rewarded with a 4.0 that first semester, a GPA he has managed to maintain
ever since. I was especially inspired by my criminal law professor,
who is a supervising attorney at the Brooklyn Legal Aid Society,
Gelber, always a skilled writer, kept himself afloat financially by
working as a writing tutor in City Techs Office of Student Support
Services. Though he will be enrolled at CUNY Law School next fall, he
is already mulling a return to campus. When I finish law school,
Id like to come back and teach a writing course. It will be one
way I can give back.
A remarkable irony attended Gelbers graduation. His father Jack
Gelber, a noted playwright who died just weeks before the ceremony,
first made his name with The Connection, a raw look at the dead-end
life of the drug-addicted. It premiered Off Broadway in 1959, the year
Jed was born.
Ye Shall Finda Path to Yale
Ismaele Jacques, who has been spending a lot of time with 2,3,7,8-tetrachloro-dibenzo-p-dioxinCTCDD
for short, and part of the notorious defoliant Agent Orangewill
soon be departing from Bushwick to begin her studies in advanced microbiology
at Yale University. Its a remarkable leap: Jacques attended Brooklyn
College as a SEEK student.
As a sophomore, Jacques convinced her counselors to let her take three
of the toughest classes in the Colleges curriculum all at once:
Chemistry 1 (five credits), Organic Chemistry (five credits), and Calculus
(three credits), earning two B+s and an A. She joined the Minority
Access to Research Careers (MARC) program in her junior year, with the
goal of a career in medical research and teaching. Last summer she interned
at Cornells Medical Center for researchers working on dermal fibroblasts.
When Im taking a new course, its almost like I get
high on the challenge, she says.
Jacques arrived in the U.S. in 1991 with her parents and three younger
brothers from Haiti, lived in a one-room apartment, then moved into
larger accommodations in the Marcy Projects in Bushwick. After graduating
from Martin Luther King High School, she entered the SEEK program, which
offers financial and study support to promising students.
Leaving Bushwick is not without tension for the 21-year-old Jacques.
Getting into Yale worried her less than getting to Yale. Im
claustrophobic, she said. I sometimes get severe panic attacks
on trains, and I cant fly. I was afraid this might limit my choice
of schools. But I was really proud. It was the first time I had ever
gone out of state by myself, and the bus ride was fine.
Dream Comes True for BLM3p Student
Growing up in Grenada, Ronald Charles had the grades to attend
medical school, but not enough money to do so. Like so many others,
he had to make the heart-wrenching decision to leave home and emigrate
to the U.S. for more opportunity, bringing his younger brother with
him. Both were accepted into City College as full-time students. But
they had to endure poor living conditions, and Ronald worked long hours
at low-paying jobs to support them both. Despite these hardships, he
established an outstanding academic record and was named a Minority
Access to Research Careers Scholar, which paid his tuition and a monthly
stipend for his research. He graduated from City College this June and,
fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a doctor, he has won a Salk
Scholarship to medical school.
As a MARC Scholar, Charles worked in Professor Carol Wood Moores
lab on a project to determine the function of an unknown and conserved
protein in yeastthe novel BLM3p gene, which is one of many yeast
genes whose function is unknown. Recently, similar genes were found
in humans, and BLM3p is considered likely to be very important in multiple
organisms. Charles is particularly interested in understanding how cells
respond to damage of DNA and how this gene might help in repair. His
research paper on the subject, Functional Characterization of
BLM3p, a Protein involved in Resistance to Oxidative Damage to Saccharomyces
cerevisiae, helped him to win his Salk award, which he will enjoy
at Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
Nightmare with a Dream Ending
Susan Madera remembers well howlong ago, in 1978her
dream of going to college turned into a nightmare.
Like many a New Yorker, she was bilingual: English and neighborhood
(hers being Little Italy). A very intimidating teacher of Speech
101 at Brooklyn College made so much fun of her neighborhood
idioms that she dropped out after one semester. Marriage, the
birth of two sons, and a steady rise to head of a word-processing
department at Morgan Guaranty followed. Then she resigned to be
a full-time mom and began to think about a return to college.
In 1999 Madera came to Queensborough Community College, and this
June received her Associates degree with honors in English.
She just made her publishing debut with One Voice,
an essay describing her life story that QCC English chair Sheena
Gillespie included in the 5th edition of her Across Cultures (Allyn
& Bacon), a collection of essays on multicultural experiences.
Adapted here is the happy ending of her essay.
I was lucky enough to get a position as a typist in a very prestigious
company, Morgan Guaranty. I began my career in the typing pool,
typing on an IBM typewriter. Within a year, word processors came
into the office, and I was thrilled to be picked as one of the
people trained to use one. Eventually, they made me an offer I
could not refuse: I headed a department of word processors in
the investment research division. I left Morgan on maternity leave
with my first child. Upon my return, I was trained to be on the
new IBM computers, and become supervisor of an even larger group
of people. But once our son was born and I looked into his sparkling
eyes, I knew I could not leave him to the care of a baby-sitter.
When I returned three months later, it was to resign my position.
I am still a supervisor, but of our home. Michael is now twelve
years old, and Matthew is six. I want our children to have the
benefit of a strong background in English. I know the downfalls
of not speaking properly, and I do not want them to experience
them, as I have.
To say that I have conquered all my fears of the English language
would be untrue. Twenty-one years after walking away from Brooklyn
College, I am back in school at Queensborough Community College.
What was the first class I decided to take? Why English, of course.
I am doing well in my class, and I am proud of myself. I am also
quite glad that QCC has decided to give me the three credits I
earned in Speech at Brooklyn College, although I barely passed,
with a grade of D. I could not have taken that class again.
Over the years, I have gained confidence in myself as a writer.
The way I speak does not exemplify who I am; however, my writing
is a true expression of the person I am inside. When I write,
words come from deep inside of me, and spill out onto the page.
I never stop to correct myself, as I would if I were speaking.
I may speak two languages, but I write with one voice.
Professor Applauds Her Students
On January 27, when the
Board of Trustees formally appointed Jerrilynn D. Dodds a Distinguished
Professor, the architectural historian, formerly on the Columbia
University faculty, spoke briefly but passionately about her City
College students. Referring to her new title, Dr. Dodds said:
It is a title I owe most of all to City College studentsstudents from the School of Architecture, with their piercing intelligence, their staggering drive and dedication, and their knowledge of a world which I only knew as an intellectual construct before I came here...If my writing was about cultural interaction when I first came to City College, it was the questioning, the deep intellectual curiosity and life experience of School of Architecture students that gave it the complexity or depth it required...
Multiculturalism, that word by which we have come to distinguish part of the City College experience, is not on any level some kind of compensatory consideration there, a kind of politically correct, working-class consolation which one might weigh against the competitive excellence of a private college education.
It doesnt work that way. City students are intensely stimulating;
they are intellectually challenging and alive. And further, I
believe that City students, because of their deep understanding
of the urban world of negotiated identities and ambivalent boundaries,
understand more about the world which is to come than any other
college students I know. Their life experience, together with
their City College education, gird them uniquely to lead this
generation. They are prepared for leadership in this international,
urban world more than any Ivy League students I have taught...