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City Tech’s 2011 Commencement at MCU Park Hits Home Run

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Commencement speaker Lisa Jackson with City Tech President Russell Hotzler.

Valedictorian Theresa Evans delivering her address.

The day dawned sunny with low humidity, perfect for commencement outdoors. At Municipal Credit Union (MCU) Park in Coney Island, blue and gold flags – the colors of New York City City Tech and, coincidentally, of the home team Brooklyn Cyclones – formed a circle around the infield, waving in the breeze.

The Parachute Jump stood watch just beyond the outfield as 2,000 City Tech students received their degrees at the College’s 71st commencement exercises. Starting off the festivities, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz brought greetings. “After years of having its commencement in the outer borough of Manhattan, welcome home, City Tech, to the republic of Brooklyn!” he exclaimed, to wild applause.

City Tech’s commencement speaker Lisa P. Jackson, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, pointed out how the goals of her agency and City Tech intersect. “We count on innovations [in science and technology] to help sustain our mission to protect our health and environment,” she said. “These are the kinds of things some of you know from your work doing bio-math mapping of the Hudson River and Gowanus Canal or learning how to build wind power in urban environments,” referring to summer internships and courses offered to City Tech students.

Citing study results indicating a significant trend towards narcissism and hostility in the lyrics of popular songs from the past 30 years, she quickly moved to the heart of her talk: What does the pursuit of happiness really mean?

“If the path you take is only focused on ‘I’ and ‘me,’ you will lose the happiness of serving other people,” she said. She related how her father, a postal deliveryman, took pride in helping people and set an example for her. “He would ring the bell if your Social Security check had come in the mail, to make sure you got it in your hands,” she said. She added that her federal job also enables her to serve people, too, and play a role in their lives.

Jackson also pointed out that focusing on others in addition to oneself gives one the opportunity to be part of a community. She gave another example from her life to illustrate this. When her family home in New Orleans was destroyed by Katrina, she wished she could build her mother a new house. She considered leaving public service for the more lucrative private sector.

“But I stayed in public service, and I went to work in a new direction,” she explained. “I saw that the environmental challenges of Katrina hit hardest in the poor and minority communities in New Orleans. I saw this same challenge all over the country, and I felt an urgent need to broaden the conversation.” And so she did.

A result? “On the site where my mother’s home once stood, they’re not just putting up one single new home – like I would have done if I’d had the money. Instead, the entire area has been slated for redevelopment as part of a sustainable, green neighborhood. That has happened because people came together as a community – and I am happy to be a part of it.”

Jackson remarked that when floods, oil spills and other disasters strike, or a neighbor has a problem or a community is struggling, people’s inclination is to ask “How can I help?” and not “Will this look good on my résumé?”

“My challenge to you, Class of 2011, is to continue that legacy, to understand the value of serving others and being part of a community,” she said. “Recognize that the real world is not full of hostile opponents, but people who want to know, ‘How can I help?’ Live up to the history of this nation, in which the right we have to individual liberty is best exercised by choosing to work together.”

Fittingly, after delivering her speech, Jackson received the City Tech President’s Award for service. (Click here for the text of EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s entire speech.)

City Tech’s 2011 valedictorian, 29-year-old Theresa Evans, who is from Hays, Kansas (population 20,000), marveled that she was speaking to an audience of graduates and their family and friends that was one-quarter the size of her hometown. She then referenced The Wizard of Oz. “Dorothy told her little dog, ‘Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore … I realize that I am the girl from over the rainbow,” she said. Evans’ journey, like Dorothy’s, wasn’t an easy one.

“Like many college students who are unsure of what to be when they grow up, it took me many years to realize which road to follow,” she said. “My biggest hurdle was my lack of direction. I tried various majors, such as public relations and graphic design. At one point, I dropped out of college and took a series of jobs in Kansas and Florida – entry-level positions in a fast food restaurant, scooped ice cream at Walt Disney World, and tended bar at the Hard Rock Café.” 

These jobs taught Evans, who received a BTech degree in hospitality management, summa cum laude, to do what she loves, “which is to work with food and people.  In retrospect, I see that the road was leading me, bit by bit, to the hospitality industry, and to New York City.”

She asked her fellow graduates to carry with them a quote from Harriet Tubman that has inspired her over the years: "Every great dream begins with a dreamer.  Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

In closing, Evans advised the graduates, when taking their next step in life, to consider “what a lion once said to a girl from Kansas just like me. “What makes a king out of a slave?  Courage!  What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk?  Courage!” (Click here for the text of Theresa Evan’s entire speech.)

City Tech President Russell K. Hotzler also acknowledged the College’s 2011 salutatorian Ryan Jaipaul, 25, who received a BTech degree in computer systems technology, also summa cum laude. An Honors Scholar and Black Male Initiative student, Jaipaul will soon start a full-time job at Goldman Sachs’ Equities Trading Division as an application developer, which resulted from an internship.

The commencement included greetings brought by U.S. Senator Chuck Shumer, CUNY Board of Trustee Member Sandi E. Cooper, CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor and COO Allan H. Dobrin, City Tech Alumni Association President Yvonne Riley-Tepie ’92 and City Tech Student Government Association President Terel Watson, who was a member of the Class of 2011.


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