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CNR Celebrates the Academic Journey at 111th Commencement

May 23, 2018

New York City’s Beacon Theatre was the site for an enthusiastic and historic ceremony as The College of New Rochelle celebrated its 111th Annual Commencement on May 22, 2018.  From the procession of graduates to “Pomp and Circumstance,” to greetings from the College’s newly elected President, Dr. William Latimer, to the inspiring words of Keynote Speaker Taren Sterry, the occasion provided countless moments that will be long remembered by the 900 members of the Class of 2018 – including the first two male graduates from the School of Arts & Sciences, which became coeducational in 2016 after more than a century as an all-women’s school.

CNr Honorary DegreesGwen Adolph, Chair of the College’s Board of Trustees, officially opened the ceremony and introduced Dr. Latimer who took the opportunity to personally recognize and thank his predecessor Interim President Dr. Dorothy Escribano for her leadership and support.

Befitting the concert hall venue, the president then serenaded the audience with a few bars of “People Get Ready,” a 1953 classic that talks about faith, hope, community, traveling together on a journey to something great, and giving thanks for that journey.

“Because their stories, for me, are of hope, community, family, giving thanks, and faith,” Dr. Latimer then went on to recognize four graduates from the Class of 2018:

Tasia Smith-Simon SNR’18, who worked full-time while raising her son and attending classes, is the first woman in her family to earn a degree. Saying that college was an opportunity to “finally embark on a personal, beneficial, and most fulfilling journey that I could and would actually complete,“ Smith-Simon, who graduated magna cum laude, is an inspiration to others, including her husband and teenage son, both of whom plan to pursue degrees.

Marisa Porgpraputson SNHP’18, a first generation Thai-American, was born at Bronx Lebanon Hospital where her mother worked as a pediatric nurse. Inspired to enroll at CNR by her mother’s fellow nurses, many of whom were CNR alumni, Porgpraputson recently passed the NCLEX licensure exam on the first try and graduated magna cum laude.

Fabiola Padillo Rios SAS’18 is a native of Puerto Rico who learned about CNR during volleyball showcase there. Her parents, who went to college in Puerto Rico, instilled in her the desire for higher education. Padillo Rios, who describes the College as “home,” credits the opportunities she was afforded at CNR – ministry, athletics, study abroad and campus leadership – for opening her mind and strengthening her Catholic faith. The recipient of an honors diploma, she graduated magna cum laude and is currently enrolled in CNR’s Graduate School. 

Xiomara Zapata, SNR’18 dropped out of school at the age of 14 as a result of a collection of life challenges. She was working as a direct care provider/behavioral health associate on an acute inpatient psychiatric unit when she realized tCNR Commencement 2018he necessity of education and value of life experience in working toward a career in social work. Graduating summa cum laude from CNR, this fall, Zapata will continue her education at Columbia University School of Social Work.

Dr. Latimer also recognized two School of Arts & Sciences alumnae from earlier graduating classes:

Jane Canner SAS’72, one of five daughters from a large Irish Catholic family in Brooklyn, didn’t know anyone who had gone to college though her mother made sure her daughters knew that they would. After graduation, Canner became an elementary school teacher, and then went on to earn a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology.

Marlene Tutera SAS’71, also a first-generation college graduate and one of three daughters born to working class parents, attended CNR on a full art scholarship. Crediting CNR for making her the person she is today – a better person, wife, mother, neighbor and friend – Tutera now dedicates her time to her alma mater ensuring that education be affordable to more students each year and serving as president of the Alumnae/i Association and a member of the Board of Trustees.

Following the president’s remarks,the College conferred an honorary degree upon distinguished alumna Aulana Pharis Peters ’63. The first African-American woman to serve as Commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Peters broke through many barriers on her journey to success. In the awarding of the honorary degree, Peters was recognized as “an extraordinary example of what a woman can achieve through education, exploration, and a belief that success is realized through hard work, honesty and determination.” A staunch supporter of her alma mater, Peters has served on the College’s Board of Trustees and is a recipient of its Ursula Laurus Citation and Women of Achievement Award.   

Keynote speaker Taren Sterry, a 2002 alumna of CNR’s Graduate School who holds a master’s degree in Gerontology and an advanced certificate in Thanatology, and founder of Big Time, an internationally certified coaching and training company with an impressive roster of corporate and non-profit clients, delivered an inspirational address that was punctuated often by laughter and applause from the audience.

Sterry CNr Honorary Degreesopened her address by saying that no conversation about wisdom for life can take place without a conversation about the wisdom of death. She then shared what she experienced during the 15 years she spent working with terminally-ill hospice patients and the important life lessons she learned from them.

“First, ‘to thine own self be true.’ Graduates, follow your dreams! Create the highest, most beautiful impossible vision for your life and then develop a plan to make it a reality. Your dreams are your futures waiting to come true. Listen to that inner voice.  It is yours alone and it is wise.” Urging the graduates to “choose a career that is an extension of who you already are,” she assured them, “If you do this, you won’t work a day in your life, because your work will feel like play.

“Finally, let yourself be happy. Your happiness and your great life is a choice. A life well lived is achieved one day at a time. So live today! Celebrate today! Love big today, and laugh big today! We are all headed to the same destination, and my advice to you today is to make your journey a memorable one.”

Tasia Smith-Simon summed up her feelings about walking the stage to receive her degree.  “It was a life changing experience. This day was a long time coming, and I tried to absorb every minute of it. We’re all so proud of ourselves and of each other. There is a real sense of family here. We’ve taken a long journey together and to finish with the same people we started with is wonderful.”