Reflecting the diverse population of Queens, about 1,200 students from more than 80 different countries graduated from Queensborough Community College Friday, surrounded by friends and family speaking a myriad of foreign languages.
"We are the most ethnically diverse borough not only of the country but of the entire world, and our country is richer for it," Borough President Helen Marshall said. "This college represents the ethnic diversity of this borough."
Graduates ranged in age from 19 to 58, with an average graduate age of 26.
David Degeus, 22, a graduate from the Netherlands who received the college's President's Award and George Alterman Award for achieving a perfect 4.0 grade point average, said what he liked the most about Queensborough was the immense cultural diversity of the students.
"I just like walking around campus and seeing the different faces and learning about different cultures," said the valedictorian during a short speech at the graduation ceremony. "In one classroom, I counted 11 different nationalities. In the Netherlands, everybody in my classrooms looked like me."
Degeus plays the piano and studied music during his year and a half at Queensborough College. He said he had a lot of time to study because his foreign student's visa does not allow him to work. He plans on going to City College in Manhattan in the fall to study jazz for two years.
Keynote speaker Dr. Patricia Maher, the college's vice president of student affairs who will be retiring this year after working at Queensborough for 33 years, noted that of the students who sat on stage to be presented with special awards, one was a Christian from Venezuela, another was an Iranian-born Muslim, and a third was an Uzbekistan-born Jew whose parents immigrated to Israel.
Maher said she hoped sharing experiences and forming friendships with students from many different backgrounds would help shape a future where people from all over the world would live in peace.
"You have an opportunity to help shape a world where riches are shared and poverty is reduced, a world where people are free to live their lives according to their beliefs, without fear," Maher said. "We need you to care about what happens to one another. Take care of one another, and I shall miss you."
Roweena Prashad, 20, who graduated with the second highest GPA in her class, said she chose to attend Queensborough because she heard the college had small classes and an excellent faculty.
Prashad came to Queens from Guyana in October 1998. She studied business administration at Queensborough, receiving all A's, except for one A- in a class on business organization and management. She plans to study accounting at Baruch College in the fall.
"My family came here three years ago in pursuit of the American dream," Prashad said. "My experience at Queensborough is exactly what the school promised in its logo: It has been a bridge to a better future."
Councilmen David Weprin (D-Hollis) and John Liu (D-Flushing) and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) praised Queensborough as a first-rate college with affordable tuition.
"I just hope that when you are accepting your Nobel Prizes, you remember to thank your professors," Weiner said. "As of today, you can say, 'I went to one of the finest community colleges in the U.S.,' and you take a back seat to no one."
Jabassum Ali, 22, who left his family in Pakistan to come to the United States to study accounting, said he hoped to make his parents proud by graduating.
"I can still see my father's face when I was departing from the country," Ali said. "I'm feeling extraordinarily excellent about graduating, and I just want to wipe those tears from his face."
Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.
©2003 Community News Group
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