York grads turn backs on trustee

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When trustee Alfred Curtis Jr.,...

By Betsy Scheinbart

More than half the 823 York College graduates literally turned their backs on a member of CUNY board of trustees at their graduation ceremony last Friday in the presence of U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York).

When trustee Alfred Curtis Jr., addressed the crowd, the majority of the York College community stood up and turned their backs on him in protest of his vote against remedial education and open admissions.

Many college professors joined the graduates in protest of the City University of New York Board of Trustees’ recent vote, which will discontinue remedial education and open admissions at city universities, including York, starting this fall.

“Some of our best graduates had remedial education and it worked,” said Professor Arleen Schreiner. “Why should we change something that is working?”

Schreiner and other members of the Professional Staff Congress, a union of college professors, wore large circular stickers stating: “Education is a right.”

In contrast, Clinton was warmly received at the school’s 31st commencement exercises.

“Queens is the center of the world,” Clinton said. “There is no more diverse place anywhere … I want the world to come to Queens.”

This year’s graduates of York are as diverse as the borough, where most of them live. More than half of them are black and many are immigrants, like the valedictorian, Roland Tewari, whose family recently came to Queens Village from Guyana.

In his address, Tewari noted the diversity at York. “You find out what it is like to learn alongside people of different cultures,” he said.

Continuing the theme, York President Charles Kidd cited the range in age among the student body —— the oldest graduate, Mary Rivera, is 62 years young, he said.

The crowd cheered wildly when U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) introduced Clinton, who he said was an example of someone who has changed the world.

“I think it was a good graduation speech,” Professor Marie Carrese-Araoz said of Clinton’s address. “She had a lot of enthusiasm and generated energy in the crowd.”

Clinton emphasized the importance of support of family and friends, and said the new graduates should act as examples for the next generation. She asked the graduates to do four things: be grateful, register to vote and vote, dare to compete and do not forget where you came from.

New graduate Alvin Marquis Jr. said he was glad to have Clinton at his commencement.

“What she said about higher education was true,” he said, referring to Clinton’s comment that a college degree is a passport to the world. “We now have to make sure we give back.”

Many of York’s graduates are parents, and some of them brought their small children on stage as they accepted their diplomas.

“It took a lot of years to get to this point,” said new graduate Natalie Biggs, a single mom of a 17-year-old daughter.

Safiia Buklari also raised a child while attending York. She started college in 1967 and finished in 2001. “I’m ecstatic,” she said of her graduation.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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