York College graduates face challenges of the future

Graduates pack York College for the School of Arts and Sciences graduation. Photo by Nat Valentine
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York College valedictorian Katsiaryna Hud revealed the secret to success to her fellow 1,069 graduates at the 44th commencement ceremony of the Jamaica campus.

“Patience and hard work,” she said. “If you do these two things, nothing is impossible.”

And with that, York College celebrated last Friday its largest graduating class with students representing more than 75 countries and speaking more than 50 languages. The CUNY school held three separate commencement exercises.

The journey that ended with Hud placing first in her class began when she was admitted in 2010 as a Percy E. Sutton SEEK scholar, a program that provides students with special assistance.

Hud, 27, a refugee from Belarus, did not speak English when she first enrolled in York’s chemistry department.

She had attended college back in the former Soviet republic, but in the United States she had to begin from scratch.

“On top of having to start over, I faced the language barrier,” the Rego Park resident said.

Like many of her fellow graduates, Hud contended with the competing demands of school, work and family. Her speech ended on an emotional note as she described becoming a mother in January 2013.

“It was a greater challenge,” she said. “You had to do the schoolwork and all the responsibilities that carry being a mom.”

Now with the joy of having her chemistry degree, she plans to go to medical school and specialize either in ophthalmology or dermatology.

“What matters is how high you set your standards and how hard you work to achieve them,” she said.

Like Hud, graduate Ezazul Haque was excited with his degree in environmental health sciences under his arm, but he also felt that the hard-won bachelor’s was insufficient in today’s competing and fragile economy.

“I believe that nowadays one degree doesn’t cut it,” he said after the ceremony was over with his proud father next to him. “There is a lot of competition out there and to tackle that you need to go to graduate schools and do as many internships as possible.”

According to the U.S. Bureau Labor of Statistics, the unemployment rate among people 20 to 24 as of April 2014 was 10.6 percent.

Ezazul, a 23-year-old Jamaica resident, does not want to take any chances.

“I am young, and with the help from my family, I decided to finish first all the education I may need to be as competitive as possible in the future,” he argued.

He is heading to graduate school to earn a master’s degree in public health.

The commencement’s keynote speaker was unemployed at the peak of the economic downturn for four years.

Journalist Julian Phillips, a two-time Emmy Award winner and now a host at the Arise News Network, told the happy crowd to never give up.

“Don’t be discouraged if the road to success is not always up,” he said. “It’s not always an easy road, but it is rewarding.”

Then, the Queens native told the graduates he brought with him a present for all of them: his life experience book “Discovering Your Hidden Power.” The audience cheered.

“It’s not how much money you make, but how many people you help,” he said.

The commencement ceremony began when Marcia Keizs, York College’s president, asked the recent graduates to give a round of applause for families and friends in the audience.

She told the students at a packed and festive Milton G. Bassin Performing Arts Center that “this is your day. Now, go forth and do good things.”

Reach reporter Juan Soto at (718) 260-4564 or by e-mail at

Posted 12:00 am, June 9, 2014
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