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Wagner College's 2016 commencement speaker this Friday will be Brandon Stanton, creator of the “Humans of New York” Facebook page and author of the HONY book series.

Also being honored at Commencement 2016 will be Wagner College alumna Nadia Lopez ’98, principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, and Romi Cohn, a Holocaust survivor who will be working with Wagner College to develop a Holocaust center in our new academic building.

Stanton, Lopez and Cohn will be awarded honorary doctor of humane letters degrees at the May 20 commencement program, where recent commencement speakers have included Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, civil rights leaders Myrlie Evers-Williams and Julian Bond, and author Wes Moore.

Brandon Stanton

In the summer of 2010, Brandon Stanton began an ambitious project: to single-handedly create a photographic census of New York City. The photos he took, and the accompanying interviews, became the “Humans of New York” blog. In its first 3 years, HONY’s audience steadily grew from a few hundred to over one million, aided by a 2012 Wall Street Journal story. (At last count, the HONY Facebook page had more than 16 million followers.)

Watch this video version of the 2012 WSJ story about Brandon Stanton:

In 2013, Stanton’s first book, “Humans of New York,” debuted at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. It was followed by two more HONY books, “Little Humans” (2014) and “Humans of New York: Stories” (Oct. 2015).

Vidal Chastanet HONY
Vidal Chastanet photo from "Humans of New York"

Early this year, one of Brandon Stanton’s photographic subjects was 13-year-old Vidal Chastanet, a student at Mott Hall Bridges Academy. Chastanet told Stanton about the tough life he’d lived so far — and he also talked about the educator who had changed his world.

“Who’s influenced you the most in your life?”

“My principal, Ms. Lopez.”

“How has she influenced you?”

“When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

That conversation led Stanton to visit Chastanet’s middle school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy, where he met founder and principal Nadia Lopez.

“They talked about what the school wanted to do for its students, many of whom have never known anything other than the housing projects and gangs of Brownsville,” a New York Times article explained. “Mott Hall Bridges was already in the habit of taking students to visit local colleges, but they decided that a visit to Harvard might show the students that no college was beyond their reach.”

An online fundraising campaign, spearheaded by Stanton, sought to raise $100,000 to cover the Harvard trip for a Mott Hall Bridges class. The campaign succeeded far beyond their expectations, raising more than $1.4 million.

You can read about the Harvard trip, and watch a video, on the Harvard Gazette online.

Nadia Lopez '99
Nadia Lopez

Wagner College will give Mott Hall Bridges Academy Principal Nadia Lopez ’98 an honorary doctor of humane letters degree at its Commencement 2016 exercise on May 20.

Lopez was the subject of a Wagner Magazine “Uncommon Lives” alumna profile this summer.

“What I love is sharing the possibilities that tomorrow has to offer,” she told Wagner Magazine. “What I love is being the example of a Brooklyn girl whose parents are immigrants, whose parents separated when she was in middle school. I think I exemplify a lot of those things that may be considered a struggle in life but still I was able to succeed.”

Wagner College will also honor Romi Cohn, a Holocaust survivor, with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree at its Commencement 2016 exercise on May 20. Cohn was just 10 years old when the Germans invaded his home country of Czechoslovakia. He and his family stayed there until they decided it was too dangerous, and Cohn was sent to Hungary. After being arrested for possession of false Christian documents, Cohn made an escape and joined the partisans. He retold his story in his autobiography, “The Youngest Partisan.” Today, he is a New York City real estate developer and a mohel, administering circumcision rites to newborn boys. Cohn will be working with Wagner College to develop a Holocaust center in our new academic building.

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