More than 4,300 students received their degrees this year. Of those students, over 3,200 earned bachelor degrees, the highest number awarded in over five years.
“You have a special place in my heart, particularly those of you who began here four years ago like I did,” said Queens College President Felix V. Matos Rodriguez to the graduates on the Campus Quad. “The world is yearning for progress, but change can be slow. So you, class of 2018, must become agents of progress.”
This year’s graduating class were joined by alumni from 1968, 1958, 1948 and one member of the class of 1943.
Valedictorian Josephine Cooke was one of 43 students nationwide to receive a 2018 Marshall Scholarship from the British government. She is the third student from Queens College to be named a Marshall Scholar.
A neuroscience and psychology double major, Cooke graduated summa cum laude and will continue her postgraduate studies at Imperial College in London. She plans to pursue a PhD focusing on how dance therapy can be used to rehabilitate neurological disorders.
The Seattle native admitted that she came to the city to pursue her dream of dancing professionally, and started at Fordham University in a collaborative program with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
But due to an injury and issues with finances, Cooke moved on from Fordham and was welcomed by the Queens College Transfer Honors Program.
“I was immediately blown away by the rich network of advisors, mentors and professors who form the backbone of the Queens College community, which I now proudly consider a second home,” Cooke said. “Part of which makes Queens College so great is that students are pushed to not only pursue all provided opportunities, but to create their own as well.
“It is your creativity, your ability to think critically, your determination and your ambition that will drive you to your goals,” Cooke added. “As my grandmother often tells me, it’s your attitude that will determine your altitude.”
Commencement speaker Cristina Jimenez Moreta reflected on her time spent at Queens College.
As a graduate of the 2007 class, some of her best memories came from learning to dance to soca music with the Caribbean Student Association, putting together events with the political science club, and sneaking food into the Benjamin Rosenthal Library.
Jimenez Moreta is the cofounder of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country. She was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2018 and was a 2017 MacArthur Genius Grant recipient.
As an undocumented immigrant, it was a challenge for her to even apply to college, a dream she had worked her entire high school career toward. But once she made it to Queens College, the community, especially the political science department, supported and encouraged her.
“Knowing where we come from is more important than ever because we’re in a moment when, as a country, we’re hearing from leaders that immigrants and people of color, and people of different faiths are a threat to our country,” said the Ecuador native. “My story is no different than many of your stories. You and your families face adversity, but you know what? You made it.”
Alan Schoenfeld, the Elizabeth and Edward Conner Chair in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California and a Queens College alum, was given an honorary Doctor of Science degree.
Another alum, former Mattel CEO and philanthropist Jill Barad, received an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters.
After graduating from Queens College in 1973, Barad moved her way up from selling cosmetics at a store counter to becoming the company’s brand manager before moving to Los Angeles and joining Mattel.
Though her first job with Mattel was less than ideal and a failed game she managed eventually caused a debacle, Barad took high risk moves and got promoted.
“Don’t be afraid of failure, take risks,” she told the crowd.
Barad is credited with later developing the Barbie brand from a $200 million enterprise in 1981 into one of the most recognizable toy brands of all time, with sales of $2 billion by 2000.
With her direction, the Barbie doll started featuring various occupations, such as doctor, astronaut and presidential candidate. It was also her idea to introduce She-Ra, a sister action-figure to the popular He-Man character.
“The best part about changing the perception of Barbie was the campaign line that we developed and which I live by to this day, for the women in the audience, I want you to do the same, it’s ‘we girls can do anything,’” Barad said. “Men, women, every one of you, don’t let gender, color, bias or anything take anything away from who you are and go for it.”
Senator Chuck Schumer, an alum of Queens College, said this graduating class is better equipped to overcome obstacles and seek better opportunities that the new world presents.
“Technology is to your generation as water is to a fish, you instinctively know how to swim in it,” he added. “You’re better equipped than any other generation to pursue your passions.”