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Liu tells diverse QCC his immigrant’s tale

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Queensborough Community College held its 50th commencement Friday and showed once again why Queens continues to be a hub for recent immigrants seeking success.

Students of all races, ethnicities and nationalities were beaming from beneath the black graduation caps. Sometimes parents would wave and take pictures from the crowd. Other times it was the graduates’ kids.

City Comptroller John Liu addressed the class of 2011, and told his own tale of emigrating from Taiwan as a child. He drove home the day’s theme that through education anyone can go on to achieve success.

“It’s a great city,” Liu said to the cheering crowd. “And if an immigrant like myself can get to this point, then the sky’s the limit for every single one of you.”

Alexandra Tarasko from Austria was another immigrant to America, and also went through the CUNY system.

“Like many of you, when I started school I didn’t speak a word of English and my family struggled,” she said. “I was given the opportunity to pursue my dreams at CUNY.”

And many in the audience were the first in their families to graduate from school, said Wellington Chen, a Queens resident who sits on the City University of New York board.

That might have explained the loud cheers as many of the graduates walked across the stage. The number of immigrant and older students who constituted the graduating class is due in part to how CUNY accepts students, according to Eduardo Marti, vice chancellor of community colleges and the former president of Queensborough.

The criteria: Anyone can enroll.

“To some, our admission criteria may seem too lenient,” he said. “To some, admitting everybody equates with lower quality.”

Only one-quarter of the enrolled class actually graduates, according to Marti, but the point is that anybody gets a chance.

“We provide access to anybody who wants to try it, but we maintain the rigor of the program,” he said.

And as proof of the college’s policy, it handed out a certificate in daycare to Sadie Fields, an 85-year-old woman who first graduated from high school in North Carolina.

But after graduating, Fields found that African Americans were not allowed to get a higher education. She moved to New York in 1949 instead and embarked on a long and tough career as a seamstress before putting her own four children through college.

But Fields finally made it to college and studied psychology and sociology as part of her classes to train as a daycare assistant. She even completed a final project that used puppets to explain a baby’s attachment to a blanket.

During the ceremony, Fields was the last to receive her degree and got a standing ovation from her classmates as she danced across the stage.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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