Address on Behalf of the Graduates by Suzanne Tamang
Ph.D. Program in Computer Science
June 3, 2014
Good evening everyone. I am honored to speak on behalf of the graduating class of 2014.
I'd first like to thank everyone for being here to celebrate this moment of commencement. Our distinguished guests, Interim President Robinson, Interim Provost and Senior Vice President Lennihan, Honorees Eugene Goodheart, Leonard Lauder, and Jan Vilcek, Graduate Center trustees, Chancellor Milliken, honored guests on the platform from the Graduate Center Foundation, Graduate Center faculty and staff, and my colleagues, the graduating class of 2014.
A special thanks to our families and friends for their love and support, and for taking the time to be with us here today. My partner was the only person in my immediate family that understood why graduate school might take more than two years. For all of you that have supported us, we sincerely appreciate your understanding, kindness, but most of all, patience. All of you have helped us through to the very end, and made our graduate school experiences not only possible, but successful.
I want to thank the Graduate Center for providing incredible learning experiences that went far beyond the academic work in our programs. Groups such as the Doctoral Students’ Council, the New Media Lab, the Graduate Center General Assembly, the Center for the Humanities, and the Macaulay Instructional Technology Fellows program were some of the transdisciplinary influences that shaped my Graduate Center experience.
I am going to take my time today to not only thank everyone that helped us to reach this achievement in our lives, but to reflect on our accomplishments, and a unique institution that has provided high quality scholarship for the benefit of the public for over 150 years.
The City University of New York traces its roots back to the Free Academy, established in Manhattan in 1847 by individuals that declared higher education an important investment in society. If an institution like CUNY did not exist, it's unlikely that I, and many others of us here today, would have a graduate degree.
My mother was the first member in my family to attend college. My father was an immigrant from Dolpo, Nepal. With my twin sisters, just a year older, I was raised entirely without the help of my father, and not very far from the Staten Island side of the Verrazano. The generosity of my grandparents helped to cover what federal aid did not, and allowed all three of us to attend college at once.
Getting to college is one obstacle, finishing is another altogether. Despite the effort of my family, I wasn’t convinced of the value of a degree, and almost gave up on college. Fortunately, I had an epiphany in an English composition class that changed me. It was inspiring faculty and adjuncts at Brooklyn College that helped me to not only recognize a new found love of learning, but motivated me to complete a bachelor’s in science. Also, it was their influence that led me to pursue scholarship, and pedagogy, as a vehicle for change in our world.
CUNY exists to ensure that higher education does not become a right of privilege, and is instead a human right. It exists for every day people like us. Although the corporations responsible for the financial crisis are again thriving in our city, the People of New York, whom it belongs to, and which build their lives here, are still struggling to recover. Income and social disparities in New York City are growing at alarming rates. Many CUNY students that are still struggling to survive the economic realities of the recession, are also faced with rising tuition prices at the time when access to higher education can benefit them the most.
The principle of affordable public higher education that has connected generations of immigrants and their children, and those not born into wealth, to the ladder to social, economic and educational success — is being threatened in New York City, San Francisco, and other urban centers across the U.S. As recipients of an exceptional public education, it is now our responsibility, our duty, to support others in their struggle for affordable higher education.
We all have a unique path that brought us to the Graduate Center, and carried us through to this moment of commencement. We've met amazing mentors whom we will be forever indebted to, and who have challenged us to go past our limits, and to create new ones.
We have been trained in the methods, and have demonstrated the abilities of learned scholars. How we chose to impact our world, our passion, our purpose, these definitions are ultimately up to us, and regardless of our discipline, we can work collectively as scholars, as teachers, as engaged citizens, to make our world more social and just. We must remember that we not only have gained life-long friends and colleagues during our time at the Graduate Center, but we are now part of a learning community that can help to keep our work honest, our motivations altruistic, and our hearts and minds open.
Change will happen. That may be the only certainly I can say for us. Today not only signals the start of a new and exciting path in our lives, where we draw on our experiences at the Graduate Center, but the end of over 500 incredible journeys that belong the graduates in this room, and those that could not be here today. We must believe that if we make courageous choices, if we maintain integrity in our work, and if we aren't afraid to fail, that we will have an impact, as a result of what we do. I wish the best for all of us, wherever change may take us.
Thank you all.