“To be a college graduate is a wonderful thing. To be a Hunter graduate – that is something to shout from the rooftops!”
The voice of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton rang with admiration and conviction in her remarks to the Spring Class of 2019. Attended by 2,500 graduates and 10,000 cheering family members and friends, the May 29 Commencement was held for the first time in Madison Square Garden’s main arena.
In addition to being the featured Commencement speaker, Secretary Clinton was also the first recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Distinguished Leadership Award, which was created to celebrate those who reflect Roosevelt’s spirit as a champion for human rights and an advocate for the underrepresented. Six students had the privilege of co-presenting the award, each representing one of the values or experiences associated with Secretary Clinton that made her such a worthy recipient. After graciously accepting the award, Secretary Clinton quickly turned the spotlight back on the graduating students.
“All of you are the inheritors of a remarkable legacy and a radical idea,” she said. The radical idea of Thomas Hunter and a few other wise New Yorkers, she said, was that educating women who were the daughters of immigrants, factory workers and former slaves could change everything. And sure enough, “The women of Hunter became the teachers of New York. They shaped generations of students and transformed the city – and with it, the world.”
Earlier in the ceremony, Hunter President Jennifer J. Raab had spoken of the extraordinary struggles and triumphs of individual graduates as they overcame poverty, illness, family tragedies and other immense obstacles. It was obvious that Secretary Clinton was deeply moved by what she’d heard.
“The spirit you’ve shown fills me with hope,” she said. “The big-hearted, hardworking, expectations-defying spirit that earned you these diplomas is exactly what our country needs right now.” After chronicling some of the worst threats the country now faces, she proclaimed, “As Hunter graduates, you have the tools and skills to be eloquent voices on behalf of truth, integrity and democracy.”
President Raab also highlighted the wonderful diversity of Hunter’s study body, with more than 150 countries represented in the College’s classrooms. Also remarkable, she said, were the distances families had traveled to attend Commencement.
“We have families from six continents representing many nations,” she noted before welcoming relatives from Burma, Zimbabwe, Kazakhstan, Greece, and Abu Dhabi in their own languages. She also hailed the Dreamers, immigrants who had come to the U.S. as children and, Hunter degrees in hand, were now headed to careers in medicine, social work, theater, and other distinguished professions.
Representing the many students receiving degrees from Hunter’s famed graduate schools was film and spokesmodel veteran Isabella Rossellini, whose candid speech acknowledged the career difficulties even famous actresses face past a certain age. In the end, she said, she dealt with those roadblocks by detouring to Hunter. She pursued her interest in animal behavior and conservation, ultimately earning her master’s degree, and she advised her fellow graduates, “When you encounter a dip in life . . . follow your curiosities,” as she had done.
“Back at school, my life lighted up again and became once more interesting and exciting,” she said.
The undergraduate members of the Class of 2019 had three valedictorians this spring: Maayan Beeber, Joseph Mayer, and the one all three had decided would speak on their behalf, Monica Fainshtein. She spoke of the responsibility she and her classmates now face of becoming “the creators of our own syllabi.” As they plot their futures, she said, “I hope we can learn to follow the advice of Robert Frost to take the road less traveled by, because it will make all the difference.”
Whatever roads Hunter’s graduates now take, they will be fortified by some parting words from Secretary Clinton:
“Class of 2019: Your stories are the story of America in the 21st century. Many of you are the first in your families to go to college. You are immigrants and the children of immigrants. You are workers and parents, activists and organizers. You are strivers and seekers, lifting up yourselves, your families, and your communities. Your success is a testament to the persistence and power of the American Dream.”