Adorned in their academic regalia, the graduating class of 2011–12 marched proudly down the aisles of Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall on May 24 for the GC’s forty-eighth commencement ceremony. Unable to contain their enthusiasm, family members, friends, GC faculty, trustees, and staff, along with officers and trustees of the City University of New York, stood and cheered as the Queens College Brass Ensemble played their inspirational rendition of Henry Purcell’s Trumpet Tune in honor of this year’s 492 doctoral, 42 master’s, and 40 en-route master’s students. Co–grand marshals Georgiana Tryon (Prof., GC, Educational Psychology) and Jacob Stern (Prof., GC, Classics, Comparative Literature, Liberal Studies M.A.) led the procession in this, the GC’s fiftieth anniversary year.
For the fourth year in a row, H. Roz Woll, a doctoral student in music, offered a rousing rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” before GC Provost and Senior Vice President Chase F. Robinson, who also served as master of ceremonies, asked the assemblage to take their seats for greetings by the CUNY Board of Trustees’ Honorable Peter S. Pantaleo and CUNY Vice Chancellor Gillian Small. Invoking the words of United States Poet Laureate Philip Levine, who was to receive an honorary degree later in the evening, Pantaleo advised graduates to seek a vocation that motivates them to “stick at it and work with tremendous intensity,” while Small shared her optimism that their experiences at the GC would arm graduates with the courage needed to follow their hearts. Speaking on behalf of the graduates, Adele Kudish of the doctoral program in comparative literature expressed her pride at becoming “a part of the eminent history of this great institution,” and happily shared her intention to remain at CUNY, having accepted a teaching position as an assistant professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) starting this fall.
Before the commencement address, the ceremonies honored three outstanding individuals. The President’s Distinguished Alumni Medal went to Binnaz Toprak (Political Science, 1976), now a member of Turkey’s legislative body, the Grand National Assembly. “You are one of Turkey’s foremost political scientists, a scholar who has brought a highly refined understanding of your country out of the classroom and into the national assembly,” avowed Kelly, presenting her with the medal. Also bestowed this year were two honorary degrees, the Doctor of Humane Letters. The first went to art gallery owner Marian Goodman, who had the added distinction of being inducted into the French Legion of Honor the previous day. Apropos of this accolade, Kevin Murphy (Prof., GC/Brooklyn, Art History) credited Goodman, in reading the citation, for looking abroad “when most of your contemporaries believed the world of art was bounded by the Hudson and East Rivers.” The second honorary degree recipient, hooded by Mario DiGangi (Prof., Lehman, English), was the Pulitzer Prize–winning American poet Philip Levine, who is known for his detailed and personal verse about the working class. “You have always been one of us in spirit,” declared President Kelly in congratulating him as an honoree. “You are now one of us in fact.”
Janet Gornick (Prof., GC, Political Science, Sociology), in delivering the commencement address, began with a number of sobering statistics that, in sum, reveal the United States’ high rates of income inequality. Much of the data she used—from the fact that the prevalence of low pay in the United States is much greater than it is, on average, among thirty rich Western countries, to the reality that U.S. income policies are much less redistributive than elsewhere—came from the Graduate Center’s Luxembourg Income Study Center, a cross-national data archive and research center of which she is director. On a more positive note, Gornick continued, many of the policies that have led to this inequality have largely taken root over the past thirty years, and thus can just as readily be undone. “We ought to be able to usher in a social policy system that is admired around the world—and not scorned,” she asserted, urging the 2012 graduates to arm themselves with facts and press for change. “Wherever you locate yourself, whatever tool you choose, add your voice—and make some noise,” she exhorted the assembly.
Upon conclusion of her empowering words, Chase Robinson presented the candidates, as President Kelly conferred the degrees and Herman Bennett (Prof., GC, History) hooded the honorees. Kelly made sure to acknowledge Chad Cygan, a tenor in the GC’s D.M.A. program in music, who had been selected to read the degree recipients’ names, a task he accomplished with impeccable accuracy. Cygan, who rehearsed using the International Phonetic Alphabet, a subset of phonetic symbols for speech sounds, later acknowledged that his experience singing operatically in many of the languages from which these names derived gave him a leg up in his preparation.
In closing, Kelly provided the etymology of “education” from the Latin verb educere, “to lead out” or “lead forth,” and with these words he encouraged the graduates to “Do good work and embrace the joy so deeply embedded in a life of research, teaching, and scholarship.”
To read the full text of the commencement address, view the pdf.