More than 1,600* New Yorkers celebrated earning their associate’s degrees at LaGuardia Community College’s 46th Commencement Ceremony, held this morning at Barclays Center.
“A brighter future lies ahead for today’s graduates,” said LaGuardia Community College President Gail O. Mellow. “Many have dealt with significant obstacles along the way. For some, earning a college degree may have seemed impossible. Their graduation is a testament to their resilience and fortitude. Our ceremony today aimed to help them see that their achievement marks how far they’ve come, and that they’re ready for the next step in their education or professional career.”
Lifetime earnings increase more than $400,000 for students with an associate’s degree. Ninety-three percent of LaGuardia graduates have no student loan debt. And a Stanford University study of economic mobility of US colleges—that is, the ability of a college to move low-income people to the middle class and beyond—ranked LaGuardia #5 among all two-year colleges nationwide. LaGuardia students are 35 percent more likely to transfer to a four-year college than community college students nationally.
Today’s LaGuardia graduates earned an associate’s degree in one of the 60 majors offered at the college, ranging from Accounting, Commercial Photography, Computer Science, Criminal Justice, Deaf Studies, Engineering, Nursing, and New Media Technology.
A majority (71 percent) of LaGuardia Community College’s approx. 50,000 students have family incomes of less than $30,000/year. They come from 150 countries and speak 96 native languages. Forty-two percent are age 23 or older. Some are parents (who can often be seen dropping off young children at our on-campus daycare). Thirty-six percent came in as transfer students, meaning that they had some college credits—some started their college journey at a four-year college, but dropped out due to financial pressures or family set-backs—while others came to LaGuardia to pursue an associate’s degree in a different field than their bachelor’s. Many relied on LaGuardia’s extensive support services—from advisors that keep them on track academically, staff ready to help them navigate the maze of financial aid and apply to scholarships, and counselors that help them sign up for public benefits and access our on-campus food pantry.
Shaun King, a prominent voice within the Black Lives Matter movement, gave the keynote address to the audience of 10,000 comprised of graduates’ family and friends, LaGuardia leadership, faculty, staff, and representatives from the Board of Trustees of The City University of New York.
“LaGuardia Community College’s Class of 2018 graduates have reached an important finish line, but are also at an important starting point,” said Shaun King. “I encouraged them to seek out opportunities to talk about their community college experience and to tell their stories of overcoming obstacles—in order to remind others of the importance of broad access to higher education to achieve social justice, and to motivate other young people, particularly low-income and underserved communities, thinking about making the leap to enrolling in college. With their accessibility and affordability, community colleges like LaGuardia help support the real empowerment and liberation of historically disadvantaged groups.”
Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. and a member of LaGuardia’s Class of 1998 gave the alumni speech. A lifelong resident of Bronx, Borough President Díaz is serving his third term in this role, during which time he was credited with bringing thousands of new jobs, improving infrastructure, housing, education, health, wellness, and public safety, to Bronx.
“LaGuardia Community College set me on the greater path to success, and I would not be where I am today without the lessons I learned as a student there,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “LaGuardia is a place that provides opportunity for New Yorkers who need it the most, and my own experience shows that graduates of this great institution can go on to do amazing things—they can ‘dare to do more.’ I am proud to be a part of this year’s commencement celebration at LaGuardia, as we send more than 1,600 proud men and women on the path to continue their education and start their careers.”
The 2018 Class Speaker, Karina Ramos-Caraballo, who received her Associate in Arts degree in Secondary Education, reminded her fellow graduates of their journey to graduation—encouraging them to use their journey as motivation to pursue future goals in their lives.
“LaGuardia Community College helps people see their potential by providing a welcoming, diverse atmosphere,” said Ms. Ramos-Caraballo. “I’m grateful to LaGuardia for opening the door of opportunity and for placing our education in the hands of extraordinary professors. I’m proud to be part of LaGuardia Community College—thanks to LaGuardia, I know that my family is on a better track. My husband, Marcos Ramos, also graduated today. We’re setting a great example for our daughter about the value of education.”
Karina, age 25, is the first member of her family to graduate college. She was born and raised in a low-income immigrant family in Brooklyn, where they struggled to make ends meet.
Like many students, Karina came to LaGuardia for a second chance. A few years ago, she’d been dismissed from a different community college for poor grades. Around the same time, she met LaGuardia student Marcos Ramos who became her boyfriend and encouraged her to enroll at the college. Just after she enrolled, they learned Karina was pregnant with their first child, so Karina delayed her start at LaGuardia to have their daughter, Keilani. They got married, and once Keilani, was 12-months-old, making her eligible for LaGuardia’s on-campus daycare, Karina jumped back in to pursuing her dream of earning a college degree.
Karina is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in secondary education at Brooklyn College, and her husband Marcos, a criminal justice major, is transferring to John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Marcos’s brother Brian Ramos, a 2017 graduate of LaGuardia, is currently pursuing his bachelor’s at Baruch.
LaGuardia’s Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Paul Arcario, Ed.D., gave the welcome remarks and introductions. Mathematics professor Reem Jaafar, Ph.D., served as Grand Marshal.
The City University of New York was represented by The Honorable Henry T. Berger, J.D., a member of the Board of Trustees, and Matthew Sapienza, MBA, Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer of CUNY, who both addressed the graduates.
The LaGuardia Vocal Ensemble performed the Star Spangled Banner, arranged and conducted by LaGuardia music professor Marianne Solivan, MMus.
*1,250 have completed their graduation requirements; 350+ expected to finish class requirements by August 2018.