Earlier today, the largest graduating class in the history of LaGuardia Community College—1,735—celebrated earning their associate’s degrees at the college’s 2017 Commencement. The ceremony, which marked the 45th graduation for the college, a member of the City University of New York (CUNY), had an audience of over 10,000 family members and friends of the graduates, college faculty and staff, CUNY Trustees, elected officials, and invited guests. The event was held at Barclays Center.
“LaGuardia graduates are what our city and nation need to thrive! Because our students overwhelmingly come from low-income, recent immigrant, or other disadvantaged backgrounds, earning their associate’s is an incredible accomplishment,” said LaGuardia Community College President Gail O. Mellow. “And the grit that many have shown—learning English, juggling work, raising young children, and dealing with other obstacles along the way, often with optimism, humor, and perseverance—is sure to serve them well in a senior college or in the job market. These 2017 graduates represent our greatest achievement.”
Co-founder of #BlackLiverMatter and special projects director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Alicia Garza, gave the keynote address. Lorelei Salas, JD, commissioner of NYC’s Department of Consumer Affairs, gave the alumni speech. Commissioner Salas is a 1993 graduate of LaGuardia.
“LaGuardia Community College graduates represent just about every possible background—every color and culture, every faith and walk of life. I was pleased and honored to have delivered the 2017 Commencement keynote today,” said Garza, who will receive the Sydney Peace Prize, Australia’s international peace prize, later this year. “The world needs the best and the brightest thinkers, strategists, and tech gurus, to build the world that we want to see. A world where all lives matter.”
“My presence at today’s graduation is proof that LaGuardia creates opportunities for those with perseverance and intellect,” said Commissioner Salas.
The 2017 Class Speech was given by Remy Patrick Lavilla, age 19, who moved to the United States in 2015 after Typhoon Haiyan devastated his hometown in The Philippines. He received his associate’s in accounting; this fall he’ll begin pursuing his bachelor’s in economics at Columbia University. During his time at LaGuardia, he was awarded numerous awards and honors, including ThinkGeek’s National Innovation for Tomorrow Award. At LaGuardia, Lavilla was a President’s Society Ambassador, a member of both the Honors Program and Phi Theta Kappa. He managed his many on-campus activities while consistently making the Dean’s List; maintaining a 3.9 GPA.
“I thank the professors at LaGuardia for making learning our passion, for instilling in us the hunger for knowledge, and the passion to learn,” said Lavilla. “Today, we became LaGuardia alums and I encourage my fellow Class 2017 graduates to continue to fight against stereotypes about community college students. We are the ultimate measure of the success of community colleges!”
Among the oldest graduates is Verdia Hart, 72-years-old, a retired African-American woman who’s traveled to NYC from her home in Columbia, South Carolina, to pick up her associate’s degree. After raising her six children, all of whom will be in the audience, and helping with her 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, Mrs. Hart is fulfilling her life-long goal of earning her college degree. Next step, a bachelor’s!
According to data about the 2017 graduates from LaGuardia’s registrar office, 48 percent are 25 years old or older, and 60 percent are female. Nearly 50 percent self-identify as Hispanic/Latino. The next largest student demographic is Asian, 23 percent; followed by 16 percent Black/African-American. Fifty-nine percent of graduates live in Queens, while 18 percent live in Brooklyn. The top three majors of the class of 2017 were: Business Administration, Liberal Arts: Social Science & Humanities, and Criminal Justice.
Jonathan Morales, one of three LaGuardia honors program students selected for the prestigious and generous Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which provides up to $40,000 a year towards their bachelor’s, will graduate. He dropped out of high school and worked as a carpenter for several years before finding his way to LaGuardia. This fall he’ll start pursuing his bachelor’s at Stanford University.
Mahmudur Rahman, a Bengali-American from Jamaica, Queens, transferred to LaGuardia after two years at a SUNY college. He earned his associate’s in business administration, and plans to pursue his bachelor’s at Brooklyn College. “LaGuardia created a space where I could take chances exploring what most interests me, and because of LaGuardia’s open access admissions, I’ve met people from all walks of life,” said Rahman, who was a member of the first-ever cohort of President’s Society: Tech, an enrichment program for high-achieving students interested in the tech industry.
The LaGuardia Student Choir performed the Star Spangled Banner, arranged and conducted by LaGuardia Associate Professor of Music and Theater, Lisa DeSpain.