NEW YORK____LaGuardia Community College President Gail O. Mellow today presided over her final commencement for the college. She will step down in August after 19 years as LaGuardia’s president. Associate degrees were conferred to nearly 2,000 graduates at the college’s 47thCommencement.
“Presiding over the granting of associate degrees each year for the past 19 years has been an absolute privilege. These degrees represent the culmination of an incredible amount of work, dedication, and juggling for our students, many of whom work, are parents of young children or have other family responsibilities, or are recent immigrants seeking a better life in the U.S. It’s also a celebration for our dedicated and creative faculty and staff, who provide high-quality education, as well as guidance and support to our students.
“Knowing that this was my last commencement as LaGuardia’s president, a role that has been the honor of my lifetime, has been bittersweet. Just like today’s graduates, I’m looking towards the next phase of my life with excitement and trepidation. One certainty is that each June, I’ll be thinking about LaGuardia and its newest graduates with pride,” said Dr. Mellow.
With nearly 2,000 participating in today’s commencement exercises at Barclays Centerthis was LaGuardia’s largest graduating class to date. Reflecting the college’s diverse student body, more than 20 percent of today’s graduates are age 30 or older, and 25 percent are between the ages of 25 and 29. Students who identify as Hispanic remain the largest ethnic group, at 45 percent. Sixty-two percent live in Queens; 16 percent in Brooklyn, and 10 percent in The Bronx.
Graduates earned an associate degree in one of more than 60 majors including creative writing, nursing, mechanical engineering, industrial design, fine arts, paralegal studies, and more. The top three majors of the Class of 2019 were business administration, liberal arts: social science and humanities, and liberal arts: mathematics and science.
Aida Akim-Escriva, LaGuardia’15, represented LaGuardia alumni in a speech to the graduates. Ms. Akim-Escriva spent her childhood in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Russia, before moving to New York City a decade ago to pursue a college degree that would enable her to advocate for the rights of women around the world. She earned her associate degree in journalism, and her bachelor’s from Amherst College which she attended on a full scholarship. Today she works in fundraising for the Global Fund for Women.
She urged today’s graduates to speak up and be bold as they move forward in their journeys. “Remember all the doors that were closed before you? With graduation, many of them will now open for you.” But she reminded graduates that some barriers will remain, “Society does not yet know the full potential of a community college student and graduate. Knock on the doors that are closed. Teach them that graduating from a community college takes determination and resilience. Teach them that a person who held a job to support their family while gaining a degree is capable of great things. You might be the first community college graduate they hire, but you will not be the last once you pave the way for all those yet to come.”
Kishauna Givans, age 30, received her associate degree in therapeutic recreation and represented the Class of 2019 in a speech in which she shared her personal story about moving to the U.S. from Jamaica to seek medical attention for a mysterious illness that caused her to be paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors predicted that she’d be paralyzed for the rest of her life. Thankfully, she’s recovered, and with a lot of hard work, she’s regained most of her mobility. Although her doctors still don’t know what caused her paralysis or if it could return.
Ms. Givans reminded her fellow graduates to be proud of the obstacles they’ve overcome along their way to graduation, and to own their individuality, “We have beaten the odds and now we sit before each other on the cushion of hard work and sacrifice. I am proving to the world that yes, this person of color who overcame a serious illness, completed her associate degree.
“We each have our own story to tell. The experiences that you’ve had, whatever they may have been, are instrumental and priceless in building your character. Know that these experiences will take you the new heights that are greater than your imagination. It is not by chance that we are here; it’s the end result of the hard work we’ve invested into attaining another milestone in our lives. Now with the knowledge and power that we have obtained at LaGuardia, let’s proudly walk out of Barclays Center on this spectacular day, because you hold the pen that writes your future. Dare to be great.”
Ms. Givans plans to transfer to a four-year college to earn her bachelor’s and then pursue a career in public policy, so that she can advocate for people who don’t have the voice to do so themselves—something she felt during her illness.
LaGuardia’s Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, Paul Arcario, Ed.D., gave welcoming remarks and introductions. The City University of New York was represented by the Honorable Henry T. Berger, J.D., a member of the Board of Trustees, who addressed the audience. LaGuardia sociology professor Arianna Martinez, Ph.D. served as grand marshal.
The LaGuardia Vocal Ensemble performed the Star-Spangled Banner, under the direction of LaGuardia music professor Lisa DeSpain, BMus Comp, MMus, and conducted by LaGuardia music professor Thomas Dempsey, BMus, MMus.