Members of the Class of 2015, after 4 challenging years, your special day of recognition has arrived. On behalf of the entire college community, we extend our congratulations and our admiration for all of your achievements, your leadership and your service to the campus, to New York City and to the nation.
You are an accomplished and engaged class, one of the very best in Wagner’s history. Your individual profiles illustrate a composite personality for the Class of 2015; one marked by strong academic achievement, remarkable leadership and a sustained commitment to public service and civic engagement. Many of you are recognized for your scholarly research, presentations, performances and civic leadership. Many of you are celebrated for exceptional athletic accomplishments. And all of you survived two historic hurricanes and one earthquake, demonstrating outstanding civic commitment to our neighbors by extending many helping hands to those Staten Islanders and New Yorkers who were badly hurt by Hurricane Sandy. All of us celebrate this glorious day with much joy for your accomplishments.
You came to Wagner from different roads and for varied reasons. You represent 31 states and eight countries. Most of you come from the traditional route of high school to college, seeking a welcoming place, an engaged campus, a caring faculty and New York City. But some arrived from a different road, such as Thomas Goodheart, from Staten Island. Before coming to Wagner, Thomas served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa, Japan in the Marine Helicopter Squadron 262 (known as the Flying Tigers), where he provided search and rescue support for a Philippine helicopter crash in 2009 and later provided relief from the Tsunami that hit mainland Japan. Today, Thomas graduates with a double major in economics and finance. After commencement he intends a career in big data and as a certified financial analyst.
Sandra Minchala is a first-generation American. Her family emigrated from Ecuador. While at Wagner, Sandra maintained a 4-year GPA of 3.95 in chemistry while completing scientific field work at the Mayo Clinic and publishing abstracts as a primary author at professional conferences such as the American Geological Society.
Abeer Mishal is another first-generation American, whose parents emigrated from Palestine. She truly became a global leader while at Wagner, where her intelligence and grit are present across the various cultures that populate Wagner and New York City. At Wagner, she became an Impact scholar, president of the Muslim Students Association, a democracy coach with Generation Citizen working with high school students, a volunteer tutor with Mexican immigrants on Staten Island at El Centro del Inmigrante. She received many special scholarships, not the least of which was from the Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women. She graduates today, and she will begin her next global assignment with teaching English and American culture in Madrid, Spain.
And Christian Grotewold, who came to us from Guatemala in some small way because he loved Harry Potter novels and films. When his Guatemalan high school counselor showed him the Wagner website, Main Hall reminded him of Hogwarts. At Wagner he has been an excellent student in art administration and as a leader in our Center for Intercultural Advancement, helping other international students transition to Wagner and New York City.
Here is a smattering of notable examples of your class’s academic achievements. Alexandria Sethares, a business administration major from East Falmouth, Massachusetts and a piccolo player in the Wagner Marching Band, was a awarded the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Award to South Korea as an English Teaching Assistant. Alexandria also participated in Wagner’s neighborhood partnership with our local Mexican immigrant community, serving as a literacy tutor.
Eden Stark, microbiology major, will attend Cornell University School of Veterinary School of Medicine, and Maria Papaioannou, a biology major with a minor in chemistry, will attend Veterinary School at Ohio State University. Samantha DeStefano will attend medical school at Virginia Tech, while Kari Rezac, a chemistry major from Wichita, Kansas, will pursue her degree in osteopathic medicine.
Several graduates will attend dental school. Caitlin Donovan, a math major, will matriculate at New York University. Mayar Mussa will attend Pharos University in Alexandria, Egypt, and Lynn Tay will attend the University of California at San Francisco. All Lynn did in her spare time was star on Wagner’s superb Division I swimming team, serve as an international study abroad ambassador, work with Operation Smile and maintain a 3.63 GPA while majoring in chemistry and minoring in biology.
Leobardo Dominguez loves physics. A double major in physics and mathematics, he did remarkable research on ice formations and surface pressure of airplane wings. While accumulating a 3.8 GPA, Leobardo found the time to tutor teenagers with learning disabilities at New Dorp High School on Staten Island. After a year off, he will pursue the Ph.D. in physics. Another physics and mathematics major, Candyce Day from Imperial Beach, California, will pursue her graduate work in aerospace engineering at San Diego State University. Candyce was a member of Wagner’s track and field team and a democracy coach for Generation Citizen, teaching high school students how to responsibly engage the current issues of our day.
Others of you will attend law school: Ian Bertschausen at the University of Miami, Audriana Mekula-Hansen at the University of New Hampshire and Kimberly Madden at Villanova. Monika Khaltsev, an English major from Troy, Michigan, will study for her law degree at Washington & Lee University. Monika wrote a fascinating honors thesis treating the integration of literature, opera and film.
A number of you will enter Ph.D. programs. Kaitlyn Gallagher, a double major in psychology and sociology from Mystic, Connecticut, will attend DePaul University, studying industrial organization. Ryan Gambino from Staten Island, an English and Spanish major, will pursue the doctorate in educational administration at New York University. Matt Kane, a psychology major, will enroll at Seton Hall, and Vicky Sun will enroll in the doctoral program at American University in U.S. foreign policy. Cynthia Shaw, a psychology major and English minor with a 3.94 GPA who volunteered at the African Refuge Center on Staten Island and Make the Road New York, will seek the Ph.D. at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
Michelle Greenough from Davis, California, a chemistry major with minors in math and biology and a 3.6 GPA, is a Division I athlete and the only Wagner student athlete to be a member of championship teams in two sports, swimming and water polo. She co-authored a scientific paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and completed internships with the National Science Foundation. Michelle also volunteered as a Special Olympics swim coach. Next year, Michelle will pursue her doctorate in molecular biology at Clemson University.
A small army of you will pursue master’s programs, too many to chronicle here. Some examples: Allison Cooper from New Jersey, a psychology major with minors in math and biology, will enroll in a biostatistics program at Rutgers, and Gianna Bruno will pursue the masters in social work at Columbia University. She will be joined at Columbia by Stephanie Pagano. Laurie Fogelstrom, an honors student and psychology major, will enroll at the New School and later pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
A large number of our business administration majors have acquired professional positions. They are exemplified by students like Andrew Dunn, an accounting major who will begin his career at J.P. Morgan Chase; he will be joined there by Rachel Jurgielewicz, who graduates as a 4-year member and senior captain of Wagner’s women’s tennis team. Rachel served as a key member of Wagner Cares, the student community service organization that moved so quickly to help local families who suffered so acutely from the destruction of Hurricane Sandy.
And there is Bryan Malley, a business major and a member of Wagner’s football team. He will begin his career in his home state of Alaska with British Petroleum. Bryan was a member of Wagner’s highly competitive team in an international business simulation competition, which was cited in the Economist magazine for its outstanding performance.
Some of you are heading in different directions. Anabella Cockerell from Blacklick, Ohio, a double major in Spanish and elementary education, has been accepted into the Peace Corps with a placement in Kosovo. At Wagner, Bella studied abroad in Costa Rica, volunteered for Alternative Spring Break in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and was an important member of Wagner’s neighborhood partnership in Port Richmond, working with our Mexican immigrant neighbors at El Centro del Inmigrante. Carolyn Hagerty, an economics and public policy major from Chapin, South Carolina, also was accepted to the Peace Corps. She has been interning at the New York City Office of Management and Budget as a liaison to 59 separate community districts. She served as vice president for community service for the Student Government Association and president of Wagner Cares.
Some of you are starting your professional lives in the public arts and entertainment. Anna Huddle, an art history and French major from Fort Worth, Texas, will begin her post-commencement journey researching European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan before moving on to Grenoble, France to assist in English classes, while VyVy Tran from Orange County, California, a theater performance major, will set sail with Disney Cruise Line’s entertainment company.
Our Evelyn L. Spiro School of Nursing is one of only 17 programs out over 1,000 nationwide that are ranked by the National League of Nursing as Schools of Excellence. Today, we graduate a number of students from our undergraduate, second-degree and master’s nursing cohorts. They represent the best in leadership and professionalism within healthcare. They are best exemplified by Giacomina Ruggiero, who will join New York Presbyterian, and Lucia Cuttone, a second-degree graduate who trained at Julliard and performed for 10 years in musical theater before returning to school to serve others in a different way at Richmond University Hospital in our Port Richmond community. Our nurses have completed critical service missions in rural areas of Mexico and locally as part of our Port Richmond Partnership on Staten Island, serving our underserved neighbors suffering from inadequate health care and chronic issues with diabetes, stress and cancer.
Our physician assistants are a remarkable group of talented health professionals who have completed important medical missions of their own to Belize and Guatemala, led by students like Rick Leung and Jacqueline Simonson. Many of our graduating PAs have accepted outstanding starts to their health careers, like Nereus Mogaria, Zlatko Vurmo and Karoline Escobedo, all heading to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, and Kylie Tanabe, who will start a post-graduate surgical residency at Yale.
Our theater program, ranked # 1 in the nation by the Princeton Review, today graduates many highly talented students and young artists. To succeed in this program, students must develop self-discipline, strong commitment to the work, and layers of resiliency. This cohort of theater graduates is exemplified by students like Lisa Ann Peterson from Milwaukie, Oregon, and Danielle James, from Sicklerville, New Jersey, who were both awarded the department’s award for excellence in performance, and by Dana Gough from Schenectady, New York, a remarkable dancer who completed an engaging honors project, and James Sheehan from Boston, Massachusetts, who designed over 24 programs during his 4 years at Wagner and served as president of the college choir. He produced two benefit concerts for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. And in our closely allied arts administration program, we graduate wonderful student leaders like Dominga Noe from Sacramento, California who, apart from her theater work and as a resident assistant, founded the Heart & Sole Project where she hand painted custom shoes to advocate and raise funds to combat Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes heart defects, spinal cord disorders and defects to the hard palate.
Not to be outdone, many of you have excelled on the courts and fields and in the pool as superb NCAA Division I athletes who have performed with excellence in the classroom and as civic leaders on campus and in service to others. Wagner College athletes who complete 4 years graduate at a rate of 92% with a cumulative GPA of 3.24.
Our Wagner Seahawks men’s basketball team includes graduates Marcus Burton from Charlotte, North Carolina, and Hugo Naurais from Nimes, France. They have given us many spectacular moments on the court, holding themselves up as high-performing athletes, fine students and campus leaders.
The Wagner College football team won two Northeast Conference championships in 3 years, marked by the excellence of graduates like Jarrett Dieudonne. Their civic leadership is characterized by Anthony Carrington and Jarrid Williams, who developed MOVE — Motivate, Overcome, Value and Excel — to work with minority youth who are living in the shadows of poverty and removed from the menu of opportunities that would lead them to lives of achievement and fulfillment. Through their mentorships and belief in others, just maybe those children will make a road for themselves. And nationally, Phil Faccone, who graduates with a sociology major and criminal justice concentration and a 3.8 GPA, represented the overall civic leadership of this team by his selection as a member of the AFCA’s Good Works Team, which was honored at halftime at the nationally televised Sugar Bowl.
Our water polo team won two conference championships in 2 consecutive years, exemplified by teammates like Jessica Burdge, a superb competitor and three-time all-conference and two-time all-academic conference performer.
Our women’s lacrosse team played in the conference championship tournament the last 2 years. Its overall excellence is characterized by Chantal Agnew, a biology major with a 3.85 GPA. And our baseball team is fighting for a conference championship this year, led by Trey Nicosia, an international affairs and business double major with a 3.86 GPA.
All of these teams have found ways to be civically engaged as well as responsible to their teammates and to their sport.
Wow! Sharing with you all of the accomplishments of our senior class over the past few moments makes it clear that its members leave an indelible mark on this campus. You set the Wagner College standard for civic leadership. You have a strong commitment to addressing the deep issues of inequity and opportunity that are lodged within local and global educational and health disparities. Your class reached out to those in our society who are marginalized and often “invisible.” Your work on Staten Island with neighborhood communities in Port Richmond, St. George and Park Hill is critically important to the lives of those all too often left behind. Your commitments in Haiti, Belize, Mexico, Bangladesh, and many other global sites have paved the way to everyday solutions to what are often perceived as intractable challenges of poverty, ethnic and racial injustice and environmental crises. And you have worked in non-partisan collaboration against all the ways you could be divided as you focused on solutions and chose not to settle for simplistic critiques or skepticism.
You find the values of your class in the work of students such as Kerri Alexander and Heather Wolf, who will be introduced later in this ceremony. Let me leave you, then, with the stories of three students who are living the Wagner Plan and furthering the ideals and values that are so important to all of us.
PatriciaAnn McCaffrey, a double major in history and education and minors in city studies and Spanish, graduates with a 3.7 GPA. She will join Teach for America in Boston after commencement. PattiAnn spent this past year coordinating a partnership program with Deutsche Bank and local anti-poverty agencies Project Hospitality and El Centro del Inmigrante at P.S. 20 in the Port Richmond neighborhood. She coordinated the Anchoring Achievement Mexican Communities Initiative, which improves the long-term educational and economic well-being of children, youth and families of Mexican and Mexican-American origin. Patti would show up every day at 7 a.m. to ensure that these children arrived at their elementary school, and then she would put in a full day at Wagner as well as her student teaching and internships, only to return to the school every day at 4 p.m. to start tutoring students and their parents in English proficiency.
Rachel Walker from Canton, Massachusetts, and Leo Schuchert from Lloyd, New York, both psychology majors, pioneered a highly unique program at Wagner College, the Port Richmond Leadership Academy for high school students. Working with the our remarkable staff in the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement and alongside the principal of Port Richmond High School, Tim Gannon — who we will recognize today with an honorary doctorate — Leo and Rachel provided excellent on-the-ground leadership in mentoring twelve Port Richmond High School students who are not currently on track for college and come from families without college-bound experience. They provided an intensive summer academic and civic residency at Wagner as well as supporting these high school students throughout this past year. Their commitment to standing by those youngsters and families illuminates the untapped creativity and achievement that lies within them. Rachel, Leo and Patty realize that vibrant and inclusive democratic societies can and must nurture and support those youngsters who have so much to discover within themselves and so much they, too, can give back to their neighbors, families, communities as well as our nation. They show that “dreams do not have to be deferred” and that, indeed, “all lives do matter.”
You face a time of great challenges — in our global economy, in our environment, in issues of justice and opportunity, and in issues of war and peace. Because I and the faculty and staff of this community know who you are, and what you have done, as well as what you are capable of accomplishing, we have confidence that your commitment to learning and your compassion for others will thaw the chill of these global problems and set all of us on a path to a better world. In an age too often marked by hatred, terrorism, severe environmental stress, widening gulfs of wealth, literacy, and access to basic healthcare, your generation is destined to usher in a new type of leadership where knowledge and empathy are joined to social responsibility and effective action. Don’t shirk from this moment. It is your time to make this global community more open, more innovative and more just. At Wagner you have been prepared to meet the challenges of your time. Your personal biographies are intimately tied to the contours of this historical era. Your values and your commitment are our treasures.
You have my deepest affection and best wishes. Congratulations to each and every one of you on this grand day!