Graduate Center Commencement 2011

Time and Place

11 a.m., Friday, May 27, 2011, Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza (Columbus Avenue & 65th Street).


490 doctorates and 89 master’s degrees awarded

Honorary Degrees

Doctor of Humane Letters to Ina Caro, author, historian, scholar, and expert researcher for the biographer Robert Caro, her husband

Doctor of Humane Letters to Robert Caro, two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer for his monumental studies of Robert Moses and President Lyndon B. Johnson

Doctor of Humane Letters to John Harrison Streicker, Graduate Center Foundation Board member, instrumental in developing a new residential facility for students and faculty

Student Speaker

Andrew David Newman, Ph.D. in Anthropology, assistant professor at Wayne State University beginning in the fall of 2011.

Commencement Address

Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Urban Education, Liberal Studies, and Women’s Studies, CUNY Graduate Center: A specialist in the field of social-personality psychology, Michelle Fine is a founding member of the Graduate Center Participatory Action Research Collective. She uses critical feminist theory and method in her research, which focuses on youth in schools, communities, and prisons. Before coming to the Graduate Center in 1990, she taught at the University of Pennsylvania for over a decade. Her many books include Revolutionizing Education: Youth Participatory Action Research in Motion (with J. Cammorata, 2008); Muslim American Youth: Understanding Hyphenated Identities through Multiple Methods (with S. Sirin, 2008); and Beyond Silenced Voices: Class, Race, and Gender in United States Schools (with L. Weis, 2005, winner of the Critics Choice Award of the American Educational Studies Association). She earned her Ph.D. at Columbia University.

Closing Remarks

President William P. Kelly

Citation for Ina Caro — Doctor of Humane Letters

As an historian, you are a deeply learned authority on medieval and modern France. As a writer, you are the author of two elegant books that bring to life the rich past of France for travelers of today. As a scholar, you are renowned as one of the world’s great archival detectives: the sole researcher for your biographer husband’s magisterial studies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson. Your peerless gift for identifying the telling detail undergirds the rich texture and commanding authenticity of those biographies.

Your best-selling The Road from the Past: Traveling through History in France leads your readers from the imperial Roman sites of Provence, past the fortified keeps of Languedoc and the castles that bound the Dordogne, through Chinon and the Loire Valley, and on to the Paris of Napoleon. At every turn, your sparkling prose brings history to life. Richly layering past and present, you rescue the consequential from the encrustations of time. Your perspective is comprehensive; your erudition vast. In the words of our great and beloved colleague, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., “For all who love France and its history, The Road from the Past is the essential traveling companion.”

Your new book, Paris to the Past, builds on that earlier achievement. There you take us on twenty-five one-day trips from Paris. Each carries us into the past and brings us back informed, enriched, and delighted. Collectively these journeys stretch across eight centuries of French history, ranging from the twelfth-century construction of the Cathedral of Saint-Denis through the nineteenth-century restoration at Chantilly. We visit Chartres, Rouen, and Sainte-Chapelle; we encounter Joan of Arc, Monet, Francis I, and Henry IV, and we relive the siege of La Rochelle and the turmoil of the French Revolution. In these accounts, you draw in equal parts on your skill as a researcher and your talent as a stylist. A tour-de-force of engaged historiography, Paris to the Past is a great gift to your readers and a major contribution to the literature of travel.

With gratitude for the pleasure and the knowledge you share unstintingly with us, for your scholarship and profound understanding of France past and present, for your consummate archival skills, and for your invaluable contributions to our understanding of the careers of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York is proud to confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

Citation for Robert Caro — Doctor of Humane Letters

Ours is an era rich in biographers, among whom none better exemplifies the marriage of scholarship and style that is the defining virtue of your art. None more passionately pursues truth, strives to capture the texture of a life as it was lived, or records more scrupulously the impact your subjects have upon the lives of others.

You have been richly and rightly honored for your efforts. Twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize, you also twice received the National Book Critics Circle Award for the Best Nonfiction Book of the Year, and you count among your many other honors the National Book Award, the Society of American Historians’ Francis Parkman Prize, and the Gold Medal in Biography of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Presenting you with a National Humanities Medal last year, President Obama recalled reading your biography of Robert Moses when he was 22, noting, “I’m sure it helped to shape how I think about politics.”

You began work on The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York in 1967, ten years after graduation from Princeton, following a six-year stretch as an investigative reporter for Newsday and a year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. Published in 1974, the widely acclaimed work was lauded by David Halberstam as “Surely, the greatest book ever written about a city,” and was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the hundred greatest nonfiction books of the twentieth century.

The extraordinary lengths to which you went in compiling research for The Power Broker have been more than matched by the efforts to uncover details of our 36th President’s life in the three published volumes of your Years of Lyndon Johnson. To give the first volume, The Path to Power, what you call “a sense of place,” you and your wife moved from Manhattan to Johnson City, Texas, population 372. Citing “Caro’s evocation of the Texas Hill Country, his elaboration of Johnson’s unsleeping ambition, his understanding of how politics actually works,” The Washington Post found The Path to Power “of radiant excellence” and “proof that we live in a great age of biography.”

No less praised have been the volumes that followed, Means of Ascent and Master of the Senate. You have, wrote Nicholas von Hoffman, “changed the art of political history.” Indeed you have, for the depth of your research and the pleasure of your prose make you an outstanding exemplar for our graduates, and it is a privilege for the Graduate Center of the City University of New York to confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

Citation for John Harrison Streicker — Doctor of Humane Letters

Driving force of a worldwide real estate corporation and gifted philanthropist, you personify a style of wide-ranging social responsibility that willingly assumes obligations and generously seeks to serve the many communities of which you are a part.

A graduate of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Yale Law School, you early left the field of law for the world of investment and joined Sentinel Real Estate Corporation in 1976. Under your leadership, as president and CEO and now as board chairman, Sentinel has grown and thrived and today manages more than $5 billion in real estate assets, including some sixty thousand apartments and nine million square feet of commercial properties.

Quick to take on community responsibilities, you chaired Manhattan’s Community Board 5, the citizen’s advisory group for much of midtown. In Washington, you served on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 2001 to 2005. You have taught at Yale University’s School of Organization and Management and serve on the Board of the Yale Law School Fund, as well as the boards of New York’s Temple Emanu-El and the Graduate Center Foundation.

You are not only a member of the Australia Wildlife Foundation’s board, but you are credited with having founded this U.S.-based international charitable organization. Supporting its mission of conservation and research, you have helped acquire land in Australia to preserve that continent’s threatened ecosystems and unique wildlife.

As a philanthropist, you exercise rare judgment and commitment to the projects you support. Your gift to Princeton of a pedestrian bridge that spans a road dividing the campus has both symbolic and practical value. It provides safe and easy passage for pedestrians, and, as that University’s president says, “It will stand as a symbol of connection among the various disciplines on campus.”

Here at the Graduate Center, you were the chief champion of affordable housing for students and faculty. When the first occupants move into the new Graduate Center Apartments on CUNY’S East Harlem campus this fall they will have you to thank, not only for your significant financial support but also for the many hours you spent advancing the project over the nine years it took to make our residence hall a reality.

In gratitude for your rare brand of public spirit, the wisdom you bring to your philanthropy, and the energy with which you pursue projects that enrich the lives of others, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York is pleased to confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

Speech by Andrew David Newman

Ph.D. in Anthropology, representing the graduates

Good morning members of the platform party and fellow graduates! This is a proud day for us, our families and friends, our advisers, and the Graduate Center as a whole. Each one of us has completed a great undertaking, and now is the moment to savor our accomplishment.

I’m humbled to be the student speaker today. I’m in awe of the diversity and variety of minds and talents gathered here in fields ranging from biochemistry to theatre. But I have to admit, I wonder sometimes: what is it that we, across the arts and sciences and everything in between, have in common, other than years of practice debating the lunch options in midtown Manhattan?

I think there might be at least two important things that make being a Graduate Center student a unique and shared experience. First, there is our involvement in nearly every part of the CUNY system. More than anyone else in the university, Graduate Center students (as part of our training) traverse the full spectrum of higher education because CUNY’s unique mission encompasses everything from advanced research to remedial undergraduate courses and even college prep in the city’s public high schools. In other words, a Graduate Center student in biology might shuttle between a lab at City College (where they conduct their own research while helping undergraduates learn lab skills), to a teaching position in Hostos Community College where they help students with basic study skills (sometimes, all in the same day). So, even though our graduate training makes us experts, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that we are somehow aloof or different. Indeed we keep our own training relevant only insofar as we contribute to the education of others, directly or indirectly.

The second point of common ground is that, in working across CUNY, we don’t just traverse the halls of the various campuses; we inhabit the neighborhoods and boroughs of a city that is a great center of global confluences, a conductor of energy from people and cultures around the world. While all of the universities in New York feed from and contribute to this dynamism, CUNY is alone in the degree to which it engages with the often underappreciated cosmopolitanism of the outer boroughs, and the city’s complicated patchwork of working-class, immigrant neighborhoods that make it one of the great global cities of our era. It is this “total” New York that CUNY traverses, encompasses, feeds from, and fosters.

Many of us will stay in New York, and wherever we choose to work, we should always remember this experience as a unique part of our training that can be had nowhere else, and that makes us qualified to contribute to New York City like no one else. But for those of us who leave, this experience is just as important. By remembering this aspect of our CUNY training, we can take this experience—this piece of New York’s dynamism—with us wherever we go, making it a part of whatever type of artistic, scholarly, or scientific contribution we make. So, whatever our training or discipline is, it is this intellectual, cultural, and creative relationship with the city that bonds us together as alumni from this point forward. Thank you and congratulations!

Commencement Address by Michelle Fine

Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Urban Education, Liberal Studies, and Women’s Studies, CUNY Graduate Center

Good morning President Kelly, honorees Ina Caro, Robert Caro, and John Streicker, President Emerita Frances Degen Horowitz, Trustee Berry, Vice Chancellor Dobrin, honored guests on the platform from the Graduate Center Foundation Board, members of the Graduate Center cabinet, faculty, and, most important, the graduating class of 2011, family, and friends . . .

CONFESSION: I am not Tony Kushner.

This week, like all weeks, we have had our share of political and environmental disasters but also great moments of hope. First, there was no rapture; it would have been a great, if tragic, irony after all those years of writing your dissertation. . . . The U.S. Supreme Court ordered the State of California to reduce its inmate population by 32,000 to “correct longstanding violations of inmates’ rights.” The New Jersey Supreme Court has instructed Governor Chris Christie to provide equitable school funding for the most resource-deprived districts in the state. Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi placed a restraining order on Wisconsin’s recent collective bargaining law. In a few days Tony Kushner will be getting his much deserved honorary degree, and last evening was a stunning memorial to the great public intellectual Manning Marable.

Today, 334 of you will graduate from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, representing forty-one countries including China, Romania, Burma, Congo, and Colombia, and also the Bronx, Florida, Puerto Rico, Illinois, and of course Staten Island. As I understand it, from reviewing the transcripts of the graduating class, most of you were raised in homes that did not originally speak Foucault. Some of you have earned a Ph.D. after ten, twelve, seventeen years.

A double Mazel Tov to you for persistence.

Before you are hooded, I have one more assignment for you. Consider it a lifetime comprehensive exam. As you know, we are in a political, fiscal, ideological, and intellectual custody battle for the soul of the public. You—the brilliant, diverse, and deserving graduates of a, perhaps the, thriving, democratic, critical public institution for doctoral education—know intimately the joys of a stunning public higher education. Thus in gratitude to the taxpayers of New York and with love for the children of generations to come, I ask you today to consider how, not if, you will engage in the struggle to defend and reclaim public education, as vital to our collective lives in a multiracial democracy.

One might ask, when did public become a four-letter word? In the spring of 2011, we have witnessed a dramatic fiscal and ideological makeover of the public sphere, a grotesque shredding of budgets for public education and social services while millionaires and corporations enjoy tax breaks. Across the country, public officials have chosen to transfer the economic pain onto the already burdened poor and working class, in drag as austerity, as if the economic crisis were natural and inevitable; as if we were truly engaged in shared sacrifice. On every measure of social life, inequality gaps are swelling. British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Bloomsbury Press, 2009) document how these gaps jeopardize our collective human security in terms of health, infant mortality, crime, fear, violence, civic participation, voting, and sense of shared fates. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich keeps reminding us that the wealthiest 1 percent own at least 25 percent of privately held wealth (, 2001), while law professor and scholar Michelle Alexander, in her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2010) tells us that there are more black men in prison today than were enslaved in 1850, and the Chronicle of Higher Education continues to report that financial assistance to higher education is in jeopardy for low-income youth and shamefully unavailable to students who are considered undocumented. On the front of educational policy for democracy, we have indeed lost our way. Fear not, for the drumbeats of organizing for educational justice can be heard across the country. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At the dawn of the 1900s, W. E. B. DuBois published The Crisis, a magazine committed to chronicling the ongoing exploitation of the African American community. Brilliant man, he understood that our country would not likely attend or respond to the cumulative structural neglect and miseducation of black children until a profit could be made or until the people would revolt (see The Souls of Black Folk, A.C. McClurg & Co.; University Press John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, MA, 1903;, 1999). One hundred years later, the perverse braiding of poor people’s pain with corporate profit is now becoming an American tradition, evident in predatory lending, housing foreclosures, the proliferation of for-profit charters, and the money being made from the prison industrial complex.

As my ninety-six-year-old mother would say, from DuBois’s mouth to your ears, now we hear there’s a crisis! The media circulates caricatures of K–12 educators, especially those with tenure and experience, by distributing popular images of rubber rooms, incompetence, greed, and educators with criminal records. Some conservative media tried—unsuccessfully—to unsettle the reputation of our own brilliant Frances Fox Piven and other critical scholars of participatory democracy and labor studies. Periodic twitters bemoan fat pensions and the “tragedy” of public universities. These media stories occlude the sustained conditions of poverty and discrimination, highlight public sector “failure,” selectively report “data” on privatized success, and serve as ideological lubricant for aggressive budget cuts, policies of privatization, and relentless power (and land) grabs.

Enter a new regime of power brokers—thank you Robert Caro—subsidizing this reconfigured “common sense.” As the logic goes, the public sector is inefficient, corrupt, greedy, and in need of radical reform, takeover, and salvation. Leeching onto the pain of cumulative structural disinvestment in poor communities, this message resonates for some with justified outrage over generations of miseducation in low-income communities. But while corporations and market logic promise to save poor people from the inefficiency of the public, crucial political questions of participatory democracy, racial and ethnic justice, schools and universities as a resource in community life, the autonomy of knowledge, questions of community/youth/educator power, and accountability (to whom?) gently slip off the policy table and media headlines, into a neoliberal wastebasket.

But this was Spring 2011—your Spring, Arab Spring. We have witnessed a virtual human chain of educational struggles unleashed across the United States, stretching from the University of Puerto Rico and Madison, Wisconsin, to Newark, New Jersey, and Detroit, Michigan, where 5,466 teachers—all of them—were given pink slips. Students, staff, and faculty are organizing against the privatization of the University of California system, and of course at the City University of New York, students, staff, and faculty, with scholars, artists, and activists around the globe, organized a stunning and victorious campaign insisting that our Board of Trustees respect intellectual integrity and faculty governance and shaming their moments of silence.

These eruptive moments for educational justice have provoked funny little opportunities for new allies. In my brief remaining time, let me offer a quick story of surprising solidarity. When busloads of Professional Staff Congress (PSC) members traveled to Albany on March 23, 2011, to protest the budget cuts to CUNY, a small group of faculty, students, and Higher Education Officers (HEOs) agreed to engage in civil disobedience and be arrested, to demonstrate the breadth and depth of this fiscal injustice. As the state troopers gently placed handcuffs on the aging PSC 33, a few whispered, “Thanks for doing this for public workers. You know, we can’t.” In Albany as in Madison we witness the emergence of a stunning, tentative, but swelling alliance among college students and educators and police officers, firefighters, housing activists, K–12 educators, social service advocates, public health workers, and other public employees. Indeed, Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police, not someone I quote often, spoke for his colleagues in Madison, asking, “Who are these evil teachers who teach your children, these evil policemen who protect them, these evil firemen who pull them from burning buildings? When did we all become evil?”

So you may decide to take up your third comprehensive exam in critical scholarship and/or activism in these struggles against the gentrification of public education. But before I end, I’d like to complicate this work a bit. Let’s be honest. We don’t want to fight to keep lousy institutions open just because they are public. Engaged struggles for public financial support and democratic governance are necessary but not sufficient. Our vision must be bolder. We need your wisdom, scholarship, and chutzpa to reclaim and restore the wide-open intellectual culture, participatory passions, and radical imagination of public institutions, to protect their vibrancy and to build a deep recognition of our profound interdependence. (I see some of you confused by the word chutzpa—if you don’t know what chutzpa is, you can’t really say you have a Ph.D. from CUNY! Ask a friend!)

Let me borrow an image from biology writer Janine M. Beynus (Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, HarperCollins, 1997) who has lectured around the globe on mighty oak trees that survive natural disaster. Beynus pulls social problems up by their roots and asks, “How would nature solve this?” (Stephen A. Goldsmith and Elizabeth Lynne, What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs, New Village Press, 2010). Standing tall, almost unbowed, she tells us, oak trees grow in communities, expansive, bold, and comfortably taking up lots of space. While they appear autonomous and freestanding, the truth is that they are held up by a thick, entwined maze of roots, deep and wide. These intimate underground snuggles lean on each other for strength, even and especially in times of natural disaster.

Because you have had the privilege of being educated at the Graduate Center and have probably taught throughout the CUNY system, networked by subways and email systems equally likely to fail at just the wrong moment, you know the thrill and terror of shared fates, the sweet comfort and knotty entanglements of entwined roots, and you know in your belly the intimate pain of inequality gaps sketched into the faces of your students. You know that we are weakened by segregated neighborhoods and schools, with some of us locked in gated communities, others behind bars, and increasing numbers deported. And you know how jazzed we can get in our wildly diverse CUNY classrooms as students or faculty, when we meet strangers in pulsating public spaces like parks, libraries, basketball courts, and subways; as we listen to National Public Radio, bike in Prospect and Central Parks, visit the Bronx Zoo and Botanical Gardens; as we breathe in the luscious sounds and visions of museums and public concerts.

These spaces constitute productive sites of public possibility, provoking what John Dewey, in his “Aesthetic Experience as a Primary Phase and as an Artistic Development” (Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 9 (1), 1950, 56–58), called “aesthetic” experiences, which inspire sensual imagination for what might be, which he contrasted with “anesthetic” experiences that deaden “heart, mind, and soul.”

Public education may be a deeply flawed highly uneven system, a work in progress. It is, however, our only chance for participatory collective sustainability. And so it is our work to deepen the roots and resurrect the aesthetic, provocative possibilities of public life, even, and especially, in hard times.

So, our collective project is nothing short of resuscitating diverse, critical, democratic spaces of serious scholarship for social transformation. Toward that end I want to honor our Angels of America working at the Graduate Center including the security officers working under Sergeant Cheryl Holder and with Stan Miller and the administrators, HEOs, the PSC, and the adjuncts who stitch together the CUNY community so we don’t really know how precarious it all is. I know that naming names is dangerous business, but I want us to give a shout out to three unsung heroes at the Graduate Center, who care intimately and always for your three basic needs—your heart, Vice President for Student Affairs Matt Schoengood; your wallet and fellowships, Associate Director of Graduate Assistant Programs Anne Ellis; and your IRB application, the irreplaceable IRB administrator Kay Powell. Matt, Anne, and Kay are just a few of the administrators who ride the elevator thinking about how to resolve your crises; wholly attentive to students’ financial, academic, and human needs, they can be found emailing quietly into the night.

And finally to our much beloved groundskeeper, President Bill Kelly, who has sculpted the Graduate Center as a spa for intellectual engagement, critique, dialogue, and labor. Over half a decade, Bill has not only protected our fiscal health and overseen our magnificent growth, but he has also nurtured the intellect, heart, ethics, and deeply rooted public vision of the Graduate Center. Nationally and globally the Graduate Center is now one of the most highly desirable salons for public intellectuals committed to scholarship for social transformation and rekindling the public imagination. This is of course a stunning achievement in fiscally hard times, and you, the graduates, are evidence of Bill’s success. 

So this is public; this is why we pay taxes.

I leave you with a thought from the political theorist Hannah Arendt (1958), from the Human Condition (University of Chicago Press, 1958), where she argues for the vita activa. Arendt takes the position that public is not simply a noun or an adjective. At its most compelling, public is a verb: a set of commitments, your commitments, activities, labors, solidarities, disappointments, and desires. Public grows deep and wide so we can all lean upon each other in good times and even more so in trying times. Public captures the dreams of the parents and grandparents sitting in the balcony of Avery Fisher Hall, reflecting your blood, sweat, and tears, so that your babies could sit here, in the orchestra, with caps and gowns.

In closing, a mighty oak grows on Fifth. The Graduate Center stands strong and sturdy, public and democratic, diverse and intellectually provocative. But these are precarious times, financially, politically, ideologically, and intellectually. Unless we redress the unregulated rush to privatize and reclaim the soul of the public, you could be the pruned generation, among the last to enjoy the sweet roots of public support. And so, to the gorgeous, brilliant, and diverse graduating diaspora of the Graduate Center 2011, I wish you lives of meaning, justice, friendship, outrage, joy, long walks, sweet dreams, thrilling scholarship, and laughter.

Give money to the Graduate Center, remember your roots, and go public—everywhere you can.

Closing Remarks by President William P. Kelly

The final words are mine and they will be brief.

Education, my friends, is about transit—from its Latin root educere—a leading out, a progress from darkness to light.

In undergraduate teaching that journey involves the opening of doors, the suggestion of possibility. As with the raising of children, it is concerned primarily with fitting wings and encouraging flight. We measure its success in terms of departure.

Doctoral education is something entirely different. The relation between student and mentor is far more intimate. The connection formed is enduring—its gestation lengthy; its maturation marked by advice and counsel, by continually updated letters of reference, by the exquisite pleasure taken in a student’s professional success.

As the relationship between student and mentor develops it assumes the true form of scholarly practice. That is to say it becomes a genealogical undertaking. We are the heirs of others’ work, we make our contribution, we pass the torch.

Personality is necessarily subsumed in that process. We train our students to exceed our grasp, to render our work obsolete.

But our intent is not self-erasure. Scholars live beyond their time in the work of their students. Children may transmit our genetic codes; students extend the life of our minds.

So when we gather at commencement, we don’t celebrate your departure or take pleasure in your capacity for flight. Rather, we rejoice in the promise of a connection unbound by time. In short, my colleagues, you’ve given us a great gift for which we are profoundly grateful. Do good work and embrace the joy so deeply embedded in a life of research, teaching, and scholarship.

Well done! Congratulations!

Submitted on: MAY 27, 2011

Category: Commencements