‘You, Our Graduates, Inspire Hope’: Commencement Recap

The Graduate Center celebrated its Fifty-Second Commencement on Friday, June 3, awarding 424 doctoral degrees and 115 master’s degrees at New York’s iconic Lincoln Center. 

[Read more about this year's doctoral dissertations/theses.]

“I need not remind anyone here that graduate education is neither obvious nor easy,” President Chase F. Robinson told a near-capacity audience. “But no one is better qualified to counter what most imperils us — inequality, environmental risk, willful disregard for truth — than you, our graduates.”

The two-hour ceremony also saw honorary degrees awarded to writer, art expert, and philanthropist Reba White Williams and digital media pioneer Curtis Wong. Renowned artist and honorary degree recipient Lorna Simpson was unable to attend. 

Dennis C. Liotta (Ph.D. Chemistry, 1974) (left), the chemist who developed life-saving drugs for HIV and AIDS, received the 2016 President’s Distinguished Alumni Medal. It is estimated that more than 90 percent of Americans with HIV have taken a drug of Liotta's invention.

Following a performance of the national anthem by student H. Roz Woll (Music), leaders from the City University of New York’s senior administration — Board member Barry Schwartz and Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost Vita C. Rabinowitz — brought greetings.

Rabinowitz spoke of the Bronx Community College ceremony she had attended just hours earlier, and the “inspiration” of seeing CUNY’s extraordinary cross section.

“You have done this — you have reached the finish line,” she told the graduates, who represent 36 countries and more than 30 GC programs in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Ph.D. graduate Eero Laine (Theatre) (right), speaking on behalf of the students, delivered rousing remarks that underscored the collective strength of his peers as scholars, teachers, and advocates.

“The City University of New York is intertwined with the city — it is the public,” Laine said. “But public education, it seems, is a radical idea again. And it’s a radical idea worth fighting for because the profound promise of public education is at the very foundation of CUNY.”

Also drawing applause were this year’s honorands, whose remarkable achievements were summarized in citations read by President Robinson.

“In allowing us to celebrate you, you honor the genuinely noble project that is public education,” he said.

The theme echoed in the address by Distinguished Professor Joan Richardson (English/Comparative Literature), who drew on passages from William James, Walt Whitman, and Wallace Stevens while urging graduates to “go out there and fight for what you believe will make things better for us all, for this world of ours.”      

In his closing remarks, President Robinson highlighted the “shared tenacity” exemplified by the GC’s many teachers and mentors, among them the late Professor Jerry Watts and faculty who will retire in the next year.

He also referenced the current “Age of Ignorance,” as coined by Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, and drew sharp distinctions between the modern political and cultural climate and that which the graduates seek to give rise.

“This is a curious era … one clouded by alienation, exaggerations, and falsehoods — and where fear, for some, has become the currency of persuasion and politics,” President Robinson said. “Yours is real disciplined knowledge, transmitted and multiplied through your proven expertise and intellectual honesty. You, our graduates, inspire hope. It has never mattered more.”


Submitted on: JUN 8, 2016

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