The roaring sound of a plane soaring overhead from LaGuardia Airport echoed as people rushed past vendors selling flowers outside of the Public Safety office. They then flooded through the main gates of Queens College on Kissena Boulevard, hoping to get through the chaos. The campus was consumed by a palpable feeling of excitement as an electric atmosphere of anticipation filled the air. Students dressed in their caps and gowns were lining up as their friends and families filled in the seemingly endless rows of foldable white chairs engulfing the entirety of the Quad.
At 9:00am, the collective eagerness of the thousands of attendees were broken by the opening notes of the band. This beginning marked the end of the Class of 2023’s long and rewarding academic journey.
On Thursday, June 1st, Queens College held its 99th Commencement ceremony. Approximately 8,000 students, faculty, alumni, and their families members gathered on the Quad to celebrate the collective achievements of the Class of 2023 and the larger Queens College community.
Queens College President Frank H. Wu presided over Queens College’s 99th Commencement, which conferred degrees to the graduating Class of 2023 and featured speeches from QC alumni and other notable figures in the wider New York City community.
Perhaps most notable of which is, actor, writer, director, producer, and Queens College alumnus Jon Favreau who received an honorary doctorate of fine arts, Honorio Causa. The college also awarded the Queens College Presidential Medal to New York State Lieutenant Governor and Antonio Delgado and posthumously to Judith Heumann, which her brother, Rick Heumann, accepted on her behalf.
Queens College’s 99th Commencement ceremony Queens College awarded approximately 5,100 undergraduate and graduate degrees this year to students from Summer and Fall 2022, and Winter and Spring 2023.
The Class of 2023 has now entered into an esteemed community of alumni that is more than 181,000 members strong, a community which includes alumni from the classes of 1953, 1963, and 1973 who attended the ceremony and celebrated their 70th, 60th, and 50th class anniversary.
Making the Most of a Unique Challenge
Like the previous graduating classes that came before them, the graduating Class of 2023 had to work hard to overcome the multitude of challenges they faced to get to this point. However, they were forced to navigate through a series of unique challenges which were posed on them by the COVID-19 pandemic; something of which has never been seen before.
Student Association President Sristhi Bhatia had already completed a semester at Queens College when in the spring semester of her freshman year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the college campus to close for two years. As classes shifted from in-person to online, so did the trajectory of her college experience.
“From class to career goals to our relationship with each other, COVID-19 changed it all. With all the ups and downs we faced and all the challenges we overcame, our experience here at Queens College was not one of the traditional routes,” Bhatia said in her speech on behalf of the students.
As Bhatia lays out, the Class of 2023 witnessed and withstood the full extent of the pandemic. They watched the college campus close for two years, they witnessed the college’s gradual recovery from online classes to a hybrid format, and were finally able to graduate as fully in-person students. “Our class became resilient, adaptable, and resourceful qualities that will serve us well in our future endeavors,” Bhatia said.
Jon Favreau Receives Honorary Doctorate
Bhatia is joining another alumnus that had an untraditional path to where they are now — the aforementioned Jon Favreau. The immensely successful Hollywood mogul, Favreau, is best known for his work on the Marvel and Star Wars cinematic franchises, was awarded a degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, Honoris Causa at the commencement. Favreau has worked on projects such as The Mandalorian, Iron Man , The Lion King, Elf, Friends, and much more.
Raised in a middle class family in Flushing, Favreau followed in his father’s footsteps and attended Queens College from 1984 to 1987. He then dropped out to work at The Bear Stearns Companies, Inc. — an defunct investment bank — before returning to campus in 1988 before dropping out for good.
“If there’s one piece of advice I could give is pay attention to your curiosity… At the time it feels like you’re just bouncing around and distracted and trying things that have no meaning and don’t and you’re interesting seem to meander, but when you get to be my age and look back you realize that your curiosity has actually guided you like a compass through life,” Favreau said at the 99th Commencement. “It’s like a guide dog that had an agenda for you that’s being led and that’s your way of seeing deep down what you want and what you could excel at.”
Although Favreau never completed his degree at Queens College, he credited his time at the school as a formative period that curated his curiosity and guided him down his life path.
“My curiosity was fostered on this campus because I took an eclectic set of classes. I’d never declared a major when I was here,” he said. “Looking back all those things impacted my life in a huge way because I had teachers here and other students that fostered my interest in things that were just curiosities for me. But they led down a path that allowed me to have a very unique road that I went down.”
Marry Anne Haefner Lang graduated with a degree in education back in 1963, and was one of the alumni who were recognized as part of the 99th Commencement ceremony. Haefner Lang also attended to watch her grandson Jonathan Manashko graduate with a Bachelors in Science in Fitness and Exercise Science. A lot has changed at Queens College since 1963 Haefner Lang said.
“It was great, it was free all we paid for was books and a small student fee and we were very, very happy and grateful that we were provided a free college education and we all worked tried to pay that back,” she said.
However some aspects of the Queens College experience have not changed. When asked what she remembers the most fondly about her time at Queens College she simply told The Knight News, “My friends. I saw a few of them today.”
That sentiment that was shared by recent Queens College graduate Rolanda Brown, who was the first person in her family to receive a college degree when she received her Bachelors of Arts in Theater Studies at the commencement. When asked what she will miss the most about her time at Queens College she told The Knight News:
“Campus life, literally. I made so many friends here including the professors, so many supportive people you know that worked here and helped us along. That’s what I will miss most about the school.”
Although the graduating Class of 2023 faced many challenges that were out of their control they successfully overcame the odds and made the best of their Queens College experience.
Editor’s Note: Good luck to the graduating class of 2023 in your future endeavors and remember the Queens College moto — Discimus ut serviamus: We learn so that we may serve.