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1,200 graduates bid LaGuardia farewell

Pomp and circumstance paraded through Madison Square Garden last Thursday morning as LaGuardia Community College celebrated its annual commencement exercises.

Students, family, faculty and staff of the Long Island City school packed the WaMu Theater for the ceremony and conferring of associate degrees. CUNY officials and Borough President Helen Marshall were also on hand as more than 1,200 candidates turned their tassels.

“This is the beginning of a wonderful further journey for all of you,” remarked Dr. Peter Kotopes, the college’s vice president for academic affairs.

The candidates walked across the theater’s stage, cradled their diplomas and gleefully announced themselves and their major into a waiting microphone. Some graduates, relishing the center-stage spotlight and the moment, took extra mic time to pepper pockets of cheering family and friends with quick, emphatic phrases ranging from “I love you, Mom!” to “Finally!” to “This is for my kids!”

The two-hour ceremony reflected the borough’s diversity. Dr. Phyliss Van Slyck, an English professor at LaGuardia since 1990, said the CUNY school’s student body is comprised of individuals from 150 different countries.

“[The candidates] have accomplished so much,” Van Slyck gushed. “They work, they have families. They took such initiative to change their lives.”

Jamaican immigrant Balvine Clarke, 48, a finance major from East New York, Brooklyn, lost his job as a chef in 2004 and took the opportunity to resurrect his pursuit for a college degree.

“This is very important,” said the beaming father of seven who is currently attending Baruch College and majoring in accounting. “For so long I wanted to go back to school and didn’t have the chance.”

Chris De Lardge, 24, called last week’s milestone a “very humbling experience” and was looking forward to a career in journalism.

“I hope to be a very successful person, someone that can make my mother proud,” said the South Ozone Park resident.

De Lardge’s mother, Patricia Nunez, said she was relieved after watching her only son graduate.

“I’m very happy, very excited, but it was a rough going,” the Belize native related. “It was worth all the sacrifices.”

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