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The York College Class of 2003 heard some powerful advice from one of their own at graduation last week as the school's first alumni commencement speaker urged them to "never settle."
The downtown Jamaica campus was filled with friends and family eager to congratulate the 700 graduates at Friday's ceremony, where Alonza Cruse, the director of the Food and Drug Administration in Los Angeles and a member of the Class of 1986, gave the commencement address.
"You are a star in that script called life," Cruse told his now fellow alumni. "Do you want to have a supporting role? Do you want to be left on the cutting room floor? Never settle for mediocrity. Now is the time to reach a little higher and think a little deeper."
The ceremony, the 33rd in the City University school's history, gave the faculty a chance to publicly thank Interim President Russell Hotzler for his work over the past year. The CUNY trustees appointed Robert Hampton, a University of Maryland provost, as York's permanent leader just days before the graduation exercises.
"The title of president has not prevented him from rolling up his sleeves and getting the job done," Professor Edvige Coleman said of Hotzler. "His unwavering belief in this college is inspiring. Our new president cannot find a better mentor."
Hotzler accepted the praise as well as the standing ovation that accompanied it and, in turn, thanked the York community - particularly the students - for their support.
"This day is not about me, it is about you," Hotzler said. "As your years on this campus have opened your eyes to new vistas, so has it opened my eyes. It has been a great honor and a great pleasure to share this time with you."
Valedictorian Geetwatie Singh, a Bellerose wife and mother, reminded her classmates to share the knowledge they gained at York College with others. Singh, who earned her bachelor's degree in accounting, also told the graduates to be proud of their CUNY degrees.
"The academic community and the working community will recognize us as York College graduates through our strong sense of commitment, our unwavering determination, our leadership qualities, our ability to work well with others and the strength and resolve we have acquired by juggling the roles of student, parent and employee at the same time," she said.
Like Singh, more than 70 percent of York's 6,000 undergraduate students live in Queens, with another 15 percent commuting from Brooklyn, according to CUNY statistics. About 63 percent of the students are black, 17 percent are Hispanic, 12 percent are Asian and 7 percent are white, according to the statistics.
Cruse, a medical technology student and an intern at the FDA offices in Brooklyn in his days at York, was the first alumnus to serve as commencement speaker, Hotzler said. Cruse urged the students to push themselves beyond their limits.
"Who you are makes a difference," Cruse said. "Stop thinking in terms of limitations and start thinking in terms of possibilities. It is not failure but low aim which is a sin."
Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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