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York students over the moon at graduation

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A hardworking New Yorker who has helped to explore the Earth and the skies inspired this year’s class of graduates at York College to reach for the stars.

More than 900 graduates from the Jamaica school’s various programs eagerly gathered under the big tent Friday morning to celebrate their years of academic hard work paying off.

York President Marcia Keizs congratulated the students and encouraged them to relish their commencement because their degrees go a long way.

“You know you have been challenged with high intellectual hurdles here at York College,” she said.

Keizs said this year’s class was diverse and included many international students, veterans and older adults who decided to refresh their education. The president said she was proud that many of the students were already succeeding.

She joked that one of the 901 graduates could not attend the ceremony because he had started his first day working for Time Warner. Most students said they were on a similar path.

John Naser-Allah said he would be attending Brooklyn College in the fall to work on his master’s degree.

“I hope to go into teaching,” the 23-year-old said.

Not everyone may be as fortunate, but that did not stop commencement speaker Aprille Ericsson, an engineer for NASA who works as the deputy instrument manager for the agency’s team that manage the ATLAS Instrument space satellite.

The Brooklyn native and MIT graduate said she always dreamed about being an astronaut and thought that her degree in engineering from the prestigious university would help her achieve that dream easily. When she graduated in 1986, however, NASA’s budget was frozen and it was not hiring.

“I struggled my first six months after college,” she said.

Instead of giving up her dreams, Ericsson rethought them and earned her doctorate in mechanical engineering in aerospace and eventually joined NASA and helped to work on several important projects. During her years with the agency, she has worked to launch several satellites, including one that helped to map out the moon.

Ericsson said she would never have made it this far if it were not for the support from friends and family and her iron determination.

“Make sure you are committed and love what you are doing,” she said,

Trudy Rowe, the valedictorian, echoed her sentiment in her speech. The Barbados native said she had a lot of adjusting to do when she moved from a Caribbean nation of nearly 200,000 people to New York for school, but she eventually adapted and did well.

“We faced different challenges to different degrees, but here we are,” the social sciences major said.

Rowe pushed her peers to continue to think outside the box and keep aiming for the best.

Fiormelissa Johnson said she, too, enjoyed her time at York and her most favorite memories were with her friends.

“I’m pretty sure we’ll be friends for life,” the 26-year-old said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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