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“Be Courageous,” BET Networks Chair Urges CNR Graduates at 110th Commencement

May 25, 2017
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New York City’s Beacon Theatre was the venue for a joyous and enthusiastic ceremony as The College of New Rochelle celebrated its 110thAnnual Commencement on May 23, 2017. From the procession of graduates to “Pomp and Circumstance,” to greetings from Interim President Dorothy Escribano, to the empowering words of Debra L. Lee, chairman and CEO of Black Entertainment Television (BET) Networks, the occasion provided countless moments that will be fondly remembered by the 997 members of the Class of 2017. 

“The privilege of education demands the courage to act upon realities of our world in order to secure just outcomes for all individuals,” Escribano said.”CNR graduates have brought about transformative, enduring and profound change and impact to our society and I am confident that the graduates here today will continue to follow in their path.”

During the ceremony, the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters was conferred upon Sister Mary Virginia Orna, O.S.U., Professor Emerita of Chemistry and Scientist in Residence at CNR. Escribano noted, “Her interest in science was sparked at age 10, when her brother received a chemistry set and, according to Sr. Mary Virginia, was subjected to a ‘hostile takeover.’” From that beginning, Sister Mary went on to teach at the College for four decades, from 1966 to 1997. She has lectured and published widely in the areas of color chemistry and archaeological chemistry across the United States and around the world. As a Fulbright Fellow in Israel, Sister Mary Virginia researched ancient Middle-Eastern artifacts in collaboration with the Israel Antiquities Authority. 

Lee, the keynote speaker, also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Her achievements include leading BET’s reinvigorated approach through supporting families, embracing and encouraging their dreams, and focusing on the issues that are important to them. In her address to the graduates, Lee emphasized the necessity of courage in achieving one’s goals. “This world and especially this country could use more courageous leaders, and I believe there are more than 900 of you here today,” she said. “I suspect each of you have your own individual stories of courage and perseverance.” 

Lee recalled leaving her job at a law firm to join a small black-controlled cable company (BET). “I chose me,” she said. “I chose courage to fight through my fear…A healthy dose of fear means you’re alive and about to grow. If it doesn’t scare you, it’s not worth doing…Someone once told me that if you don’t have butterflies in your stomach, you have stopped learning. Life should challenge you.” Move on from mistakes, she advised. “In business, we call it the write-off…You are the executive director, president, COO and CEO of your own life.” 

Graduates found moments amid the festivities to reflect on their time at CNR. “I particularly enjoyed working with people from varied backgrounds,” said Ricardo Benejam GS’17. “We all benefited by learning from each other’s experiences.” Benejam aims to use his Master of Public Administration degree to work for the government in a role helping veterans transition to civilian life. 

Shalux Bradford SNR’17, who earned a master’s degree in liberal studies with a concentration in psychology, studied at the Brooklyn Campus. He stressed the importance of professors in his college journey. “I think my classmates and I found our time at CNR to be enlightening but also challenging,” he reflected. “In the end, we did it!”

Lauren Pirillo SAS’17, a psychology major with certification in childhood education, found CNR’s smaller size to be a bonus. “The bonds I’ve made here with classmates and professors are unbelievable,” she said. “We’ve been through so much and are a really close-knit group.” She named education professors Dr. Diane Quandt and Dr. Diane Ramos-Kelly, as well as psychology professor Dr. Rebecca Lafleur as influential mentors.

“I’m excited. Today has been a long time coming,” said Myrantz Assade SNHP’17. “My wife and three kids are here—I think it’s important for them to see me graduate. The president of the Student Nurses’ Association (SNA) remembered with pride the work he and his fellow SNA members put into creating new opportunities for nursing students. “It wasn’t always easy, but as time went on and I started to make friends and got to know the faculty, I realized what a great place CNR really is.”

Commencement 2017