“Everyone knows Hunter is an amazing place,” said the renowned legal journalist and bestselling author Jeffrey Toobin in his address to the graduating Class of 2019. “It’s a big deal to graduate from any college, but especially one as revered as Hunter.”
Just how amazing Hunter is—and how accomplished its students and graduates are—was resoundingly clear throughout the ceremony in Assembly Hall on January 24.
The afternoon began with two demonstrations of the new graduates’ talent and self-confidence: an august opening by Salutatorian Alessandra M. Rosen, and a powerful rendition of the national anthem by Jacqueline Caruanah, a soprano receiving her master’s in vocal performance.
In her welcoming remarks, President Jennifer J. Raab praised the students for all they’d achieved—often under great pressure—as they sought to build a better life for themselves and a better world for all. She also observed that many of the students’ proud relatives had traveled to Hunter’s 218th Commencement from distant countries, and she took a moment to welcome those from Vietnam, Albania, Senegal and Cyprus in their own languages.
CUNY Trustee Sandra Wilkin, who graduated from Hunter in 1979 with a BS in nursing and transitioned to a successful career in the building industry, spoke of the obstacles she’d faced in a business where there was “no seat for women at the table.” She was inspired, she said, by Congresswoman and Hunter alumna Bella Abzug ’42, who urged the women of her time to challenge established norms and think differently. Wilkin then offered her own advice to today’s graduates: “If anybody tells you there’s no room for you at the table, make room!” She also reminded the students that as they pursued their dreams, they would find support in an “illustrious network of faculty and fellow grads.”
An historical overview was provided by Valedictorian Cassidy Kristal-Cohen, a dancer who has participated in dance programs for people released from prison and plans to work for criminal-justice reform. Kristal-Cohen praised Hunter for its long history of leadership in college affordability, and spoke of Hunter students’ long commitment to the unending fight for social equality and opportunity. That commitment, she observed, dates from the early decades of the 20th century and was honored when she and her classmates went to Puerto Rico to help rebuild communities devastated by Hurricane Maria.
After hearing story after story of the remarkable triumphs of the Class of 2019, Jeffrey Toobin called the graduates a “tough act to follow” and added earnestly, “It is nothing less than thrilling to listen to President Raab’s descriptions of your talents and achievements.” He also praised Hunter’s “extraordinary faculty,” and proposed that with the critical-thinking skills they’d honed in Hunter classrooms, the graduates take time to read books and learn continually for the rest of their lives.