On June 17, 2022, the Stella and Charles Guttman Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY) celebrated its Ninth Annual Commencement Ceremony, the first ever to take place in historic Bryant Park, across the street from the Guttman campus. This year’s ceremony marked the eagerly anticipated return to an in-person celebration for the College’s students after two years of remote learning because of the pandemic. President Larry D. Johnson, Jr., Interim Provost Eva Fernández, Dean Nicola Blake (who served as officiant for the ceremony) and the College´s faculty, staff, and administration welcomed esteemed guests and community leaders on this special day, including CUNY Trustee Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, as well as members from the Guttman Family Foundation, the Guttman Community College Foundation, and the CUNY Chancellery.
Degrees were conferred to over 115 students, including Associate of Arts degrees in Business Administration, Associate of Arts degrees in Human Services, Associate of Applied Science degrees in Information Technology, Associate of Arts degrees in Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Associate of Arts degrees in Urban Studies, The ceremony recognized two Co-Valedictorians, graduating with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average: Mr. Kareem Ahmed (AA in Business Administration) and Ms. Luciana Vivanco Puccio (AA in Liberal Arts). In addition, the ceremony celebrated this year’s recipient of the Shawn Depusoir Award, Ms. Fabiola Cohate (AA in Urban Studies. This last award, named after a former Guttman student whose life was taken on June 7, 2015, recognizes a graduate who, like Shawn, embodies passion and excellence in the pursuit of learning.
The Ninth Commencement Ceremony began with impassioned remarks from Dr. Dalvin Hill, Assistant Professor of Information Technology, who served as Grand Marshal. “Because we pride ourselves on being student-centered and having a unique academic model, teaching at Guttman requires faculty and staff to be collaborative and creative, as well as rigorous and approachable. We expect a lot from our students because we see them as our city’s and our nation’s future leaders.”
In his address to the remarkable Class of 2022, the second President of Guttman Community College, Dr. Larry D. Johnson, Jr., commended students for persisting during one of the most difficult times in America’s history. “As students, you navigated an abrupt pivot to online instruction, experienced social and racial unrest, and, most recently, witnessed the effects of gun violence on our communities. This has truly tested your emotional and mental health. And I recognize that this is a narrative we all share. However, this experience has strengthened and fortified you for tomorrow. We applaud you and celebrate you for remaining focused and committed to your academic goals.”
CUNY Trustee Cortés-Vázquez, appointed by New York City Mayor Eric Adams as Commissioner to the Department for the Aging in March 2022, introduced Mr. Bashir Juwara, the 2021-2022 Student Government President and 2022 graduate with an Associate in Liberal Arts. Mr. Juwara spoke passionately to the audience:
With the odds stacked against us, we found a way through—a way through a pandemic that not only sparked global fear and shared adversity, but also changed every aspect of our lives. I remember watching as the Governor shared statistics about how COVID disproportionately impacts communities of color. For a brief moment, I asked myself, “Is COVID racist?” And then I reflected on my coursework—learning about policies such as redlining, inequities in education, and limited access to adequate healthcare for communities of color. Why, when it comes to resources such as housing, education, and healthcare, are our communities always at the bottom? Far too often, the suffering, injustice, and discrimination is amplified for people of color. Personally, I am tired—tired of seeing people who look like me sacrificing their lives just trying to succeed, all because the doors are closed for them. My experience as the SGA President has shown me that I possess the power and voice to make change. Someday, I will say, amigo, no te preocupes, I have your back. Eres mi hermano, eres mi prima. Juntos, ganamos.
Bashir called his fellow graduates to action: “As you graduate today and pursue a career that is going to bring economic prosperity to you and your families, do not forget the community that raised you. Your community wants you to be successful so that you may one day demolish the systematic structures that make it difficult for people like you and me to succeed. Be the role model and inspiration for your younger brothers and sisters. You will not fail them—as our ancestors did not fail us.”
The theme of equity and education continued with the keynote address, provided by Mr. George Suttles, the Executive Director of the Commonfund Institute. Mr. Suttles, who is a proud New York City native and philanthropist, leads Commonfund’s educational, market research, and professional development. He also serves as a member of the Commonfund Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office. Mr. Suttles spoke passionately about imposter syndrome, and reminded students they belong in the spaces they find themselves.
The faculty speaker, Dr. Marcus Allen, Professor of Political Science at Guttman and Director of United Men of Color, captivated the audience with a heartfelt narrative chronicling his personal and educational trajectory. Dr. Allen shared some of his life lessons with the Class of 2022. “I have learned that the best way to prepare for the unknown is to always be ready. First, keep your values front and center. Second, sharpen the saw! Keep challenging yourself with new goals. You’ve earned this degree, what next? Third, an important lesson that I continue to apply to my own life is that ‘actions proceed motivation.’ There are days that I do not want to get up and go, sometimes I win, and sometimes I lose, but most times, I win or at least that’s what I tell myself. You will have those moments too. It is a model that I hope you will consider as you enter this next chapter of your lives.”
Co-Valedictorian Ms. Luciana Vivanco Puccio, who has successfully transferred to Hunter College to study psychology, delivered the Invocation. “How many of you, like me, are new to the United States? I came here at seventeen. How many of you are first-generation college graduates? How many of you have dreamed of this moment, but could not fully see it, having a million uncertainties? Will I be able to reach my goals? Will I make my loved ones proud? How can I repay them in some way, for the sacrifices they have made so that I could be here today to celebrate my scholastic achievements and receive my college diploma? As you revel in this victory, never forget that you did not do this alone. Look around you. Everyone here—families, friends, faculty, staff, and special invited guests—has had a significant impact on your journey. Yes, we did this, through our hard work and determination, but also through their dedication to us.”
These sentiments resonated with remarks by Co-Valedictorian Mr. Kareem Ahmed, who has successfully transferred to Baruch, to pursue a Bachelor of Business Administration in Entrepreneurship, in his valedictory address. “My fellow students, despite the many challenges, we have achieved so much, successful paintings created and weaved on a pallet of many different textures, colors, and patterns. So, let’s go out and continue to paint and change our world. Let’s create portraits and visions of what is possible; let’s create a picture of the New World where we—the people of our generation—are change agents that create a lasting positive impact.”
President Johnson, whose unwavering leadership has been crucial to steering Guttman Community College through these unprecedented times, concluded the festivities with a fitting and inspirational send-off:
Graduates, you are now alums of one of the most innovative community colleges in the nation. Wear this accomplishment like a badge of honor. As you leave this institution, take with you the knowledge that was imparted into by our dynamic faculty and the support from a student-centered staff. You are now equipped for the next phase of your academic journey. I leave you with these parting words from Mother Teresa who states, ‘People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway…” Class of 2022, congratulations and know that the best is still yet to come!
As one of the CUNY’s most innovative institutions, Guttman Community College has a proven record of graduation rates that far exceed the national average. Since Guttman’s opening in 2012, more than 1500 students completed Associates degrees. Over 1100 have transferred to four-year colleges in CUNY and SUNY to complete baccalaureate degrees.
 Someday, I will say, friend, don’t worry, I have your back. You’re my brother, you’re my cousin. Together, we win.