When Humna Awan, William Cullen Bryant High School’s valedictorian, moved to Bellerose in 2008 after an earthquake devastated her hometown in Pakistan, she spoke little English and often felt overwhelmed in a country radically different from the one where she grew up.
However, she told her peers at Bryant’s graduation ceremony at CitiField on Friday that she was quickly embraced by the school community and soared academically.
“How far I’ve come would not have been possible without the help from so many here,” said Awan, who plans to study engineering at Cornell University in the fall.
Awan, whose hometown of Azadkashmir was destroyed by a quake in 2005, said she came to love her high school.
“Whether it be the long, demanding school days or the memorable field trips, I learned a great lesson,” she said. “We all are gifted, it’s just a matter of realizing what our forte can be.”
Bryant Principal Aaron Perez praised Awan, and all the graduates, for persevering through a difficult year. City officials had considered closing Bryant after the state placed it on a “persistently low achieving” list, though ultimately decided to keep it open after legislators, educators, students and residents rallied for the school they said is a cornerstone of Long Island City.
“You’ve mobilized to help people in need,” Perez said. “After the devastating earthquake in Haiti, you raised money. When there was the earthquake in Japan, you felt the urgency to do something, and you did. I urge you to continue to think of others in need. Remember you have a responsibility to yourselves and those around you.”
Salutatorian Michelle Garcia, of Jackson Heights, became choked up when speaking about her role model and best friend — her mother, Margarita Jaramillo.
“Mom, you’re the best mother in the whole wide world,” said Garcia, who hopes to become a physician. “If there’s one person I can count on, it’s you.”
David Stein, the guest speaker who graduated from Bryant exactly 50 years ago last Friday, said Bryant prepared him well for his career as a professor of criminal justice at Virginia State University.
Stein holds Ph.D.s in psychology and criminal justice.
“Bryant gave us the best education imaginable to prepare for the hardships of life,” said Stein, who attended a 50th anniversary reunion earlier this month. “Bryant is now better than ever.”
Assistant Principal of Science Adam Tanalski told students to follow their dreams.
“It’s not how many times you get knocked down, its how many times you get up,” Tanalski said.