Commencement Speaker Robin Roberts Tells CNR Class of 2016 to “Dream Big and Focus Small”
May 26, 2016
Jubilant cheers and applause echoed throughout the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan time and again as The College of New Rochelle held its 109th Annual Commencement on May 24, 2016. From a rousing national anthem by Dominique Smith SAS’18, to words of wisdom and inspiration by the Commencement speaker Robin Roberts, to the sight of more than 900 graduates receiving their diplomas from President Judith Huntington, there was ample reason for all present to celebrate.
In her remarks, Huntington reminded the audience of the College’s emphasis of social justice. “A CNR education will attune our students to global concerns, the dignity of people, the value of integrity, and promotion of the common good,” she said. “Thus, the privilege of education demands the courage to act upon realities of our world in order to secure just outcomes for all individuals.”
During the ceremony, the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters was conferred upon Elizabeth Bell LeVaca, retiring chair of the College’s Board of Trustees and a member of the board since 2001. Huntington noted her long and generous service to the College, carrying on the legacy of her mother Mary Fischer Bell SAS’34, as well as her dedication to the practice of nursing. “In the divine spirit of Serviam,” she said. “Elizabeth is a past board member for the AIDS/HIV Services Group in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Hospice of D.C., and the Martha Jefferson Foundation. She is the founder of the Ralph & Mary Fischer Bell Foundation that provides scholarships to numerous schools and organizations.”
Roberts, anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Huntington praised Roberts’ courageous decision to share her personal battles with cancer and MDS, which inspired thousands of potential bone marrow donors to register. “A social justice icon, Robin uses her powerful voice as a catalyst for change, advocating strongly for equality of race, gender, and sexual orientation, as well as other civil liberties,” Huntington said.
Addressing the graduates, Roberts advised them to “never forget the feeling you have right now!” She went on to offer advice gleaned from her own experiences as a student athlete and aspiring sports journalist. “Proximity is power,” she stated. “You can wish, hope and pray all you want, but you have to put yourself in a position for good things to happen to you. And you have done that…Dream big and focus small. Identify the problem but focus on the solution.”
Graduates were unanimous in their jubilation. Leslie Franco GS’16 plans to use her master’s degree in public administration to create a teenage recreation center in Mount Vernon, NY, and start a nonprofit agency for preventing teenage pregnancy. “I came back to school at an older age,” she said. “I was fearful at first. But the faculty and staff helped me see that I could do it. When I was going through a difficult time in my life, everyone at CNR rallied around me, and campus ministry prayed with me. And I did it! I’m overwhelmed at the progress that I made.”
Derrick Owens SNR’16 is using his degree in liberal arts from the School of New Resources, earned at the John Cardinal O’Connor Campus, as the first step in his dream to stand at the front of the classroom. “My mission is to teach,” he said. “With this degree, I’ve on my way to achieving that mission.” Owens noted that SNR’s focus on adult learners helped him persist through the program. “Instead of being in class with 18 year olds, I was in class with people who work and have families just like I do,” he said. “We could relate to each other. When it was tempting to give up because things were hard, I took inspiration from my classmates and professors who walked the same path.”
Undoubtedly many of the graduates left with Roberts’ closing words in mind: “We are just a little bit stronger than we think we are…There might be times when you’re facing challenges, when you feel that you don’t see God’s hand, but never question or doubt God’s plan for you.”