President Jennifer Raab Presides Over Hunter College Commencement
By Shara Grau
The unforgettable and familiar strains of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance ushered in the198th Hunter Commencement, followed by a stirring bagpipe performance of Scotland the Brave by Hunter graduate Nicholas Rozak. Presiding over the ceremony, President Jennifer Raab addressed the graduating class with words that inspired and acknowledged the accomplishments of her students. “It’s a great day today,” she stated, adding “you are all winners; the nation is in your hands.” President Raab encouraged the students to “enrich your local community and the world. Remain committed to our community and the nation.”
Throughout the afternoon, students shared their riveting life stories with the audience. Their ability to persevere in the face of adversity, and reach significant academic achievements moved everyone in the audience.
Singing the national anthem, for example, was Eliana Kissner, a 2009 graduate with a GPA of 3.97. Kissner, a music major, hit the high notes with a perfect pitch. Her boyfriend, an opera singer and legally blind, was a fellow graduate. This accomplished group of students included Robert Setton, who has been accepted to two medical schools, and Evan Gruzis, a 2008 graduate, who just sold a painting to the Whitney Museum. As she honored these students, President Raab evoked President Obama’s accomplishments. She affirmed that today, “everyone can reach their full potential.”
Clearly, many of the graduates were on their way. Four, in particular, stood out for their strength.
Fulani Muyenzikazi was born in the Congo, where her parents had fled as Rwandan refugees. Fulani graduated with a degree in Community Health Education. She plans to pursue a Masters in Public Health before returning to Rwanda. Patrick Fay, after a long career on Wall Street, decided to pursue a Masters in mathematics. Until receiving his Masters degree, Fay had been taking night classes at Hunter for ten years. He now looks forward to earning a Ph.D. In addition, he and his wife have adopted six children with special needs and continue to champion the rights of special needs children. Luis Mostacero, a media studies major from Peru, built a reputation reporting for local Hispanic media. Through his work, he earned a ticket to the Presidential Inauguration. And Saiehyana Riley, a widow and survivor of domestic abuse, has raised five children. She also helped to raise a grandson when her daughter left to serve in the military. Saiehyana graduated with a degree in sociology.
Philanthropist Richard Gilder received an honorary degree, while New York Secretary of State Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez received the President’s Medal. Mr. Gilder, recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Law, began working on Wall Street after graduating from Yale University. In 1968 he started his own brokerage company, now known as Gilder Gagnon Howe & Co. Quoting Marcel Proust, he advised Hunter’s graduates to find their true passion, to “swim upstream” and “not be afraid to change jobs.” Mr. Gilder, who had attended law school for a brief period following college, was proud to say that, “After 55 years, I finally got my law degree.”
Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez was confirmed as New York State’s 65th secretary of state in March 2007. She is the first Hispanic to hold the position since it was established in 1778. As the commencement speaker, she told the graduates, “You have altered the course of your life and that of your family and community. You are examples of how to put actions into words.” When she graduated from Hunter in 1975, Secretary Cortés-Vázquez was unable to attend her own commencement ceremony. She said that she was grateful to finally make it to their Hunter graduation, and closed by letting the graduates know “You can make a difference. You are the difference.”
Valedictorian Nikoletta Digirolamo, a biological sciences major who garnered a GPA of 3.98 and plans to earn a Ph.D. in biology, thanked the faculty and staff of Hunter College for imparting her with a “distinct vision of the future and the tools necessary to implement it.”