GRADUATION AROUND THE NATION 2009
Secretary Solis Urges Hunter Grads to Harness “Ganas” at 199th Commencement
Imagine yourself as U.S. Secretary of Labor during the greatest economic downtown since the Great Depression. Then on the very same day your department reveals that a record 6.79 million Americans are collecting jobless benefits, you find yourself standing before thousands of the freshest faces in the workforce. That was the daunting task Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis faced on May 28 at Radio City Music Hall. She was about to deliver the main address at the 199th Hunter College commencement ceremony.
How do you inspire some 3,000 college graduates and their families to keep striving given the dire state of the economy? First, confront the immediate economic situation with blunt force. “I don’t have good news to share about that but I can tell you one thing, we will meet those challenges,” Solis said. “And I, as the labor secretary, will do what I can to put forward monies.”
Earlier in the day, Solis had joined Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a Workforce One career center in Jamaica, Queens, to announce that $32 million of federal stimulus will be spent for job training and placement services for about 10,000 New Yorkers over the next two years. Solis said even more money is coming to create public health and green collar careers. “And we want Hunter College to be in the middle of that,” she said. Solis acknowledged that unemployment hits minorities and young people hardest and that women still aren’t making as much as their male counterparts.
“My passion is to see that we help lift everybody’s boat,” Solis said. “And I think that our president (Barack Obama) has placed me and other members in the cabinet that represent this room because we are all diverse.”
The daughter of immigrants from Nicaragua and Mexico, Solis said she was told by a high school counselor that she wasn’t college material and was best suited to be a secretary. But thanks to a friend’s advice, she applied for financial aid and become the first in her family to attend college.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever care about the title of secretary,” she said. “But how does it sound to be a cabinet secretary of the Department of Labor?” And with ganas (the spanish word for desire), Solis promised graduates they too could go just as far.
Other highlights from the ceremony: former ballerina Corinne Vidulich, who graduated with special honors in biology and minors in art history and chemistry, gave the valedictory address. She shared the valedictory title with two other graduates: Jorge Baquero and Alexander Cohen. All three earned a 3.983 grade point average.
“There was no way to break the tie,” said Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab. “But that’s OK, the more the better.”
Hunter alumna and leading attorney Sheila Birnbaum received an honorary doctorate of law. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer received the President’s Medal. And Actor Tony Plana made a surprise appearance. The Cuban-born actor, who stars on the television show “Ugly Betty,” came to the U.S. as an immigrant who spoke only Spanish and had to struggle to make it through school.
“Dream big, dream difficult, dream challenging,” Plana told the graduates. “Find something that makes you want to get up in the morning.”#