Student Speaker

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!


Submitted on: MAY 27, 2011