City University of New York Graduate Center 2004 Commencement

Time and Place: Thursday, June 3, 2 pm, at the Manhattan Center, 311 West 34th Street.

Graduates: 298 Doctorates and 44 Master’s degrees to be awarded

Speaker: Pioneering CBS News producer Don Hewitt. Hewitt has been a major force in shaping television journalism over the past 50 years. Joining CBS News in 1948, he is the creator of A60 Minutes,@ and with it the television news magazine format itself. Among numerous other landmark programs and specials, he has served as, first, producer-director of ADouglas Edwards with the News@ then executive producer of the ACBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.@

Honorary doctorates: Don Hewitt (see above). Marie Ponsot is a widely published poet. Her 1998 book The Bird Catcher won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and she has taught writing at CUNY's Queens College, NYU, and Columbia University. Bobby Short is the nation's most celebrated cabaret performer. Time Magazine said of him: AIn an increasingly inelegant world, Bobby Short is the very symbol of elegance.@ He has appeared in major theaters and concert halls throughout the country, as well as performing at the White House during four different administrations. The Library of Congress designated him a National Living Legend. Thomas W. Smith is a founding partner of Prescott Investors, and since 1994 has given 370 Thomas W. Smith Fellowships to students in the CUNY Baccalaureate program, which is administered by The Graduate Center.

President's Medal: Louise Mirrer, departing CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and recently appointed President of the New-York Historical Society will be receiving The Graduate Center=s President's Medal in recognition of her contributions to strengthening doctoral education at CUNY

Selected 2004 Doctoral Graduate Student Profiles
The Graduate Center, City University of New York


Fazia Aitel
Ph.D. Comparative Literature
Dissertation: Barbarology: A Study of Exile, Writing and Resistance in Two Algerian Novels

Fazia Aitel's unique upbringing makes her a true embodiment of her scholarly discipline: comparative literature. Born in rural Algeria, Ms. Aitel is Tamazight, one of the indigenous inhabitants of North Africa who are also referred to as Barbars. Pursuing economic opportunities, her family moved to France when she was young. She eventually graduated from the University of Paris, but wanted to continue studying the literature of her native country. She has been studying at The Graduate Center since 1994. Her research examines the representation of the Barbar people in contemporary Algerian fiction. While in New York, Ms. Aitel continued to advocate for the Barbars, twice speaking at the United Nations on their behalf. She will begin her appointment as Assistant Professor of French at the University of Montana in the fall.

Alice Cepeda
Ph.D. Sociology
Dissertation: A Paradox of Autonomy and Risk: Mexican Sexoservidoras (Sex Workers) on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Alice Cepeda was able to combine her scholarly work with a pressing social concern in an effort to affect real change. Before coming to The Graduate Center, she had done five years of federally-funded fieldwork, studying the relationship between drug use and violence among Mexican-American gang members in San Antonio. Studying urban sociology with Graduate Center professors helped establish the theoretical underpinnings for her dissertation, which focused on the downward cycle for Mexican women who enter the sex trade and eventually fall into high-risk drug use. Ms. Cepeda's field work took her into the places where these women worked and lived, a difficult community to gain entry into for obvious reasons. She relied on "gatekeepers" such as community aid workers and social servants to help introduce her to the sex workers and establish connections with them. After completing her dissertation, Ms. Cepeda returned to Texas to pursue further work in her field of expertise. She is now a Senior Researcher and Project Director at the Department of Drug and Social Policy Research housed at the University of Houston.

Kenneth Foster
Ph.D. Psychology (Social Personality)
Dissertation: Relations of Well-Being and Attitudinal and Behavioral Correlates of Three Types of Black Identity: Assimilated, Afrocentric, Multicultural.

Kenneth Foster grew up in a Brooklyn housing project, one of seven children and the only one at this point to complete college. But one degree was not enough for him: he has an A.A.S., B.A., M.A., and now a Ph.D., all from CUNY. Along the way, he has persevered through obstacles, accidents, success, failure... everything life can throw at one, using each hurdle as a challenge rather than a barrier.

He first began college in 1976 at what was then called New York Community College, taking some courses in engineering that helped him into work in construction and drafting. He returned to school in 1986 at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), where he received his A.A.S. in 1990. By then more focused on his goals, he enrolled in the CUNY Baccalaureate Program as a Psychology major, taking most of his courses at Brooklyn College.

By1994, he was attending school while working and supporting six children, two of whom were in college themselves. He received some help in the form of one of the first Thomas W. Smith Fellowships in 1994 and then a Hidalgo Scholarship in 1995. His job, related to his studies, involved such things as researching victims of homelessness, mental illness, and drug addiction. He enjoyed being treated as a colleague, and presented findings at professional conferences and published papers. Still, he was beginning to realize that there was a difference between being a colleague and a peer.

As if things weren=t challenging enough, his life and studies were severely interrupted in 1994 by a driver who ignored a red light and ran into his car. The resulting cognitive and physical injuries severely interrupted both his career and studies. After about eight months of recuperation, just as he was about to return to work and school, he learned that he had been terminated from his job. Rather than giving in to adversity, he took it as a challenge. Realizing that in order to have both the security and impact he desired in his career, he made up his mind at that point to not only finish his B.A. but go on to get a Ph.D. He also fought to get his job back, and won.

In 1995, he graduated from the CUNY Baccalaureate Program and entered the Ph.D. Program in Psychology (Social-Personality concentration) at The Graduate Center that same year. In 1998, along the way to his doctorate, he received an M.A. from Hunter College, where he became a Graduate Teaching Fellow. Although teaching had not been in his plans, he discovered an immediate affinity for the profession. By 2001 he was a Minority Teaching Fellow at BMCC, then a full-time instructor at BMCC in 2003, and was appointed an Assistant Professor in 2004. He graduates this year with a Ph.D. in Psychology (Social-Personality). His dissertation is on ARelations of Well-Being and Attitudinal and Behavioral Correlates of Three Types of Black Identity: Assimilated, Afrocentric, Multicultural.@

Although Dr. Foster's father did not have a college degree, he was very much a tutor, spreading maps on the floor to give the children geography lessons and helping out with homework, particularly math. As a child, Dr. Foster liked to read a lot, and he recalls having fantasies of himself thoughtfully smoking a pipe and being addressed as AProfessor.@ Turns out, the pipe was the only part that was just a dream.

Maj. Les' A. Melnyk
Ph.D. History
Dissertation: A True National Guard: The Development of the National Guard and its Influence on Defense Legislation, 1915-1933


As he himself acknowledges, Les' Melnyk is a product of the New York public school system, having been a part of it from kindergarten through his Ph.D. program at The Graduate Center. His career as a National Guardsman helped Maj. Melnyk decide on his area of focus as a military historian. His dissertation traces the organization through a crucial phase in its history. The progress of Maj. Melnyk's dissertation, however, was stalled by 9/11 and its aftermath. As a native New Yorker, career Guardsman, and historian, he needed to record the Guard's immediate response to the attacks. "For the first time in my career as a military historian," he wrote later, "I got a sense of what it must be like to do post-combat interviews with men who had not yet had the time to 'decompress.'" He currently holds the position of official historian for the National Guard and is stationed in Washington, D.C. True to his calling, Maj. Melnyk will not be attending the graduation ceremony because he will be taking a group of over a hundred guardsmen on a historical tour of the beaches of Normandy.


The Graduate Center is the doctorate-granting institution of The City University of New York. The only consortium of its kind in the nation, The Graduate Center draws its faculty of more than 1,600 members mainly from the CUNY senior colleges and cultural and scientific institutions throughout New York City.

Established in 1961, The Graduate Center has grown to an enrollment of about 3,900 students in 30 doctoral programs and six master's degree programs in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. The Graduate Center also houses 28 research centers and institutes, administers the CUNY Baccalaureate Program, and offers a wide range of continuing education and cultural programs of interest to the general public.

According to the most recent National Research Council report, more than a third of The Graduate Center's rated Ph.D. programs rank among the nation's top 20 at public and private institutions, nearly a quarter are among the top ten when compared to publicly supported institutions alone, and more than half are among the top five programs at publicly supported institutions in the northeast.

Submitted on: MAY 1, 2004

Category: Commencements, Press Room