Using acceptance, tolerance and compromise – values instilled at St. Joseph’s College — to make the world a better place is a duty that’s incumbent upon graduates of the institution, SJC Brooklyn valedictorian Adnan Hoq said during his commencement speech Sunday.
“In this time of massive polarization and division, the values of acceptance, tolerance, and compromise that we learned at St. Joseph’s can help us build a peaceful and promising future,” Hoq told the campus’ 100th graduating class at the ceremony in the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge.
St. Joseph’s President Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D., conferred degrees on more than 300 graduating students at the ceremony.
“St. Joseph’s is more than a College — much more. St. Joseph’s is a family, and now you are a part of it,” Dr. Boomgaarden told the College’s century class, which included 216 undergraduate degree recipients and 108 students earning graduate degrees.
“We have very different backgrounds: some of us came from Brooklyn or Queens, some moved from California and Massachusetts, and some immigrated from the Dominican Republic or Senegal,” Hoq, a native of Bangladesh, continued. “Our ambitions were as eclectic as our native lands … yet we became connected by our shared experiences and values.”
What’s next for the valedictorian? He will participate in the highly competitive Microsoft Research Data Science Summer Program. On Sunday, he was joined by his aunt, Shireen Islam, and cousin-in-law Mohammed Khan.
Coming all the way from Germany for the ceremony was the grandma, parents and younger brother of Matthias Spiegel, a captain of SJC Brooklyn’s soccer team who earned a bachelor’s in business administration.
“This day means the world to me,” said Spiegel, 22, who is looking to return to Europe and go back to school for a master’s degree. “I’m so thankful to my parents for making it possible. I’ve grown so much as a person here.”
First Nursing Cohort Graduates
Among the Class of 2019 is the nursing department’s first cohort of students to receive their bachelor of science degrees in nursing.
“I’m expecting to be crying a lot today,” said 34-year-old nursing graduate Christine Pomijalski of Fresh Meadows, Queens. “I had a good time at this school and I made a lot of friends, so I’m sad to see everybody go.”
Pomijalski’s decorated graduation cap had the words, “I did it for you,” along with a photo of Pomijalski and her teenage son Nathaniel. “It’s been an emotional three days,” she added, noting that her son turned 13 on Friday and that she took part in the campus’ pinning ceremony for the nursing cohort on Saturday.
Sisters Finish Together
Nursing graduate Haichatou Deguene Sall, 23, of Jamaica, Queens, graduated together with her younger sister Khadidiatou Koubra Sall, 20, who received a bachelor’s in computer science. The fifth and sixth of six children, the Salls moved to New York from Senegal with their families in 2011.
“I’m excited, happy and proud of myself and my classmates,” said Haichatou Deguene Sall, who hopes to be a pediatric nurse. “Without my classmates, I wouldn’t have been able to make it. Going to nursing school requires a lot of support.”
Her sister has a data science internship lined up for this summer at Girls Who Code in New York City. “I’m excited and ready for the next adventure,” said Khadidiatou Koubra Sall.
Dr. Boomgaarden encouraged the graduates to remain ambitious.
“Take action. There is no time like now. Don’t hesitate and wait for the right moment — just go ahead and do it now,” he said. “When you hesitate, it freezes your fear and anxiety, and all of a sudden, it becomes a part of you.”
Manhattan resident Maria Guanga, who moved as a teen with her family to New York from Ecuador, had a special message atop her graduation cap: “They migrated, so I graduated.” Guanga earned a bachelor’s in biology. She plans to travel the world and conduct research in ecology.
Inspired By Their Mothers
Classmates and friends Wendy Marrero, 51, of Kensington, Brooklyn, and Daphne Lewis, 52, of the Bronx were both inspired by their mothers to pursue their master’s degrees. Marrero’s mother passed away a year ago, and Lewis said her mom died “many years ago.”
“This is something I promised my mother that I would eventually do,” said Lewis, who earned a master’s degree in organizational management and currently works as a health care administrator. “She always told me, ‘If you do nothing else, you have to finish school (get a master’s degree).’ She said, “No one can take your education away from you.’”
Marrero, a human resources and quality manager in health care, said her successful pursuit of an executive MBA and a masters in organizational management was fueled by her mother’s encouragement to “believe in girl power.”
“I want to move up in my organization and become more of a decision maker,” Marrero said. “I want to influence change in health care to provide quality care for all.”
Inside the auditorium, family and friends of the graduates were buzzing with excitement.
Uhuru Abdul-Saleem, 25, and two other family members were waving around sticks with blown-up headshots of his sister Uliimah Abdul-Saleem, 24, who received a bachelor of science degree.
“I’m so proud of her for all of the hard work that I’ve witnessed over the years,” he said of his little sister.
The ceremony kicked off with a powerful rendition of the National Anthem by Christian Branch ’11, assistant for campus events and technical services. Near the end of the commencement event, Branch and Interim Executive Dean Michael Hanophy, Ph.D., paired to sing a beautiful duet of “This Is the Moment.”