Queens College graduates urged to stay positive on road of life

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The more than 2,000 Queens College students who celebrated their graduation last week are stepping into a world where they must fight uncertainty and injustice with hope and humanity, said the commencement speaker and Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian doctor committed to reconciliation between Israel and Palestine, urged the graduates to funnel their efforts into positive change, even in life’s darkest moments — which he has experienced when his wife died of cancer in 2008 and three of his daughters died when an Israeli tank fired on his house in Gaza last year.

“After that, someone may ask me to blame or hate or be angry, but hatred is a disease, is a poison, is a blindness,” Abuelaish said. “I don’t want to feel burned by the fire of hatred. We need to think of the things that connect us — humanity and hope.”

The approximate 13,000 people in the audience at Queens College gave Abuelaish a standing ovation during last Thursday’s ceremony, during which graduate Sharon Tran, 21, praised students for making it through many an all-nighter studying for countless exams.

Tran, who will attend a doctorate program at the University of California, Los Angeles, this fall encouraged students to pursue their dreams, even if they have not yet decided what to do post-graduation.

“Think of yourselves as freshmen in life,” she said. “You will find your calling.”

City Councilman Leroy Comrie’s (D-St. Albans) wife, Marcia Moxam Comrie, said she was thrilled to graduate with a master’s in English literature last week.

“I wanted to set an example for my kids,” she said. “You should keep going with your education.”

Her children — Liana Comrie, 16, and Benjamin Comrie, 13 — and Leroy Comrie said they were proud of their mother and wife.

Marcia Moxam Comrie, a journalist whose favorite authors include Zora Neal Hurston and William Wordsworth, said she is now working on writing books.

Amitav Ghosh, a former Queens College comparative literature professor whose novel “Sea of Poppies” was nominated for a Man Booker prize in 2008 received an honorary doctorate of humane letters at the event. He told students the fact they attended a college in the most diverse county in the nation will bode well for them in the future.

“You’re going into a world that’s profoundly uncertain,” Ghosh said. “But in a sea of uncertainty, you can be sure of one thing. The world you step into will be increasingly diverse, increasingly multicultural. Queens is the capital of multiculturalism. As you step into an uncertain world, I want to remind you of a line from Hamlet that says, ‘readiness is all.’ You can be sure you became ready for it here, at the epicenter of our quickly changing world.”

Queens College President James Muyskens urged students to explore and serve a world so that by the end of their lives they may say they gave their all.

“Do not be sidetracked by the trendy or by hollow promises of wealth and fame,” Muyskens said. “And do not be frightened of challenges or of failing. Keep your eyes and mind open and you will succeed.”

Daniel Muchnick, a graduate and president of the Queens College Student Association, praised the students for their hard work.

“You’ve sacrificed and persevered to emerge as future leaders,” he said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 5:46 pm, October 10, 2011
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