Years worth of hard work and determination paid off for more than 700 local men and women on Friday, as they walked across the York College stage to receive their undergraduate degrees.
Blessed with warm sunshine and a refreshing breeze, the college’s 33rd commencement exercises attracted a crowd of family members and friends who applauded the new graduates and their important educational milestone.
The occasion also marked a transition for York College itself. Dr. Russell Hotzler, who has been the interim president for a year, will step down in July to make way for Dr. Robert Hampton, who was named as the new president last week.
The year 2003 marks an uneasy time for many, given the uncertain economy and the backdrop of national insecurity. Not surprisingly, the traditional optimism among graduates was somewhat tempered.
Angelique Tiamfook, of Rosedale, completed her bachelor of arts in psychology. She just completed her examination for a teaching certificate, and hopes to teach at a public elementary school.
“The job market is not very good. All you can do is your best, and hope things work out,” Tiamfook said.
Mickey Sanchez, a political science major who works for Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) agreed. “It does seem kind of bleak. There are some jobs out there, but I have a friend who had stellar credentials who can’t get a job. It’s pretty disheartening,” he said.
The graduates are fanning out into a variety of different careers, from government service to accounting and family therapy, and some will head onto a master’s program, like Dawn Edwards-Phillips, of Rosedale. Sharing her time between work and school, she spent six years earning her degree in business finance.
“I’m thinking about graduate school after I take a break, a well-deserved break,” she said with a laugh.
The class valedictorian, Geetawatie Singh, was emblematic of York College’s diversity and the challenges that confront its students. As the youngest of seven children, she was born in Guyana and was raising two children while attending classes.
That ability and determination to juggle “the roles of student, parent and employee at the same time” is what sets York College graduates apart, Singh said.
In a brief and heartfelt speech, keynote speaker Alonza Cruse encouraged the graduates to follow their dreams and give back to their communities.
A York College alumnus, Cruse aptly symbolized the potential of higher education. He entered the college in the 1980s through a program for students without strong academic backgrounds or the economic resources to pursue a degree. Today, he is the director of the federal Food and Drug Administration district office in Los Angeles.
“Now is the time to reach a little higher and think a little deeper,” he said. “Don’t follow where the path may lead, but make your own path.”
Faculty members also honored Dr. Hotzler, who will leave the Jamaica campus for a position with CUNY’s central administration as the Vice Chancellor for Academic Program Planning.
Hotzler’s tenure led to the implementation of a master’s degree program in occupational therapy and a new undergraduate major in communications technology.