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Heavy hearts at York College commencement address

Zilefa Grace Rajendra is the valedictorian of York College’s graduating class.
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York College held an emotional 47th commencement ceremony outside the university’s gymnasium Friday with 1,200 graduates collecting their hard-won degrees and Snapchatting the event for their followers to see.

Timothy Paglione, the chairman of the Earth and Science Department, was the master of ceremonies, while York College President Marcia Keizs congratulated the graduates and wished them luck in their endeavors. The commencement speaker was New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado.

“You deserve to be proud,” Rosada said. “Your degree is a passport to success. It represents the great investment that you decided to make in yourself, and each of you will grow into leaders of tomorrow. You will be the voice of the next generation.”

Zilefa Grace Rajendra, the valedictorian and married mother of four who came back from a yearlong maternity leave to get her degree, is one of those voices. Paglione introduced Rajendra, who was raised Muslim, Hindu, and Christian in Guyana.

“Mrs. Rajendra’s goal in pursuing a math degree was quote ‘to be eligible to teach in the New York Public School system’,” Paglione said. “Rajendra started her master’s degree in education to teach mathematics from grade 7 to 12 yesterday at Hunter College.”

Rajendra highlighted the struggles and determination that she and many students faced to receive their diploma.

“I want to thank God Almighty for bestowing his blessings on each of us,” Rajendra said. “College was always out of my reach because of financial restraints.”

Rajendra came to New York in 2006 and applied to York College three times. She was admitted on a mathematics scholarship.

“While it was not an easy journey for me, I believe it was a more difficult journey for you that worked two or three jobs to make ends meet,” Rajendra said. “Many of you are single parents or children helping your parents. I don’t know how you did it, but I stand in awe of you.”

Elected officials at the event included Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Schumer, who arrived during the procession, gave a short speech before the students with degrees in Arts & Sciences could receive their degrees.

“My class gift,” Schumer said “is a law that says if you or your parents paid for college, you can take a full tax credit of $2,500 off of federal taxes for every year of college and every year of graduate school, provided that your family income is below $250,000 a year.”

Despite the audience wanting to hear his longer commencement speech after he arrived during the ceremony, he decided to rip it up and let the remaining students walk the stage.

Accepting a degree on behalf of his sister was Michael Raghubar. Two months earlier, police officer Neville Smith alledgedly crashed his vehicle into the car of psychology student Vanessa Raghubar, 22. Smith was charged with negligent homicide and operating a vehicle under the influence, the DA said.

“She was an amazing and caring person,” said Michael Raghubar, wearing a white hoodie with his sister’s face emblazoned on it. “She would just be there for you and have your back at all times.”

Closing out the ceremony was Randy Houston, a Theater Arts and Speech Communications graduate, who sang York College’s school song:

“Though the road was often rough, we worked hours late and long, when the going seemed too tough we strove harder to be strong.”

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

Posted 12:00 am, June 13, 2017
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