Graduates of LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City traditionally face more challenges and hardships than your average student, but this year the coronavirus outbreak created even more hurdles for the 3,253 members of its graduating class this year.
Class speaker Felipe Maysonet, 36, earned his associate of arts in communications studies with a concentration on public relations and alluded to the pandemic in his remarks to fellow graduates during a viral commencement last week.
“Hold your head up high for we have not been defeated,” Maysonet said. “I mean, come on, between classes, work and life, these few months and this semester, was no walk in the park. I mean literally, we can’t even walk in the park. Thanks, COVID-19.”
In his speech, Maysonet described growing up in New York City as “poor, gay and Latino,” while also appreciating its diversity and beauty. Raised by a single mother, his family experienced homelessness and lived in shelters before moving into a Brooklyn apartment.
When he was 16, his mother, whom Maysonet describes as “indomitable, nurturing and the person who sparked my passion for activism,” died from AIDS. This led to several years of “couch-surfing” with friends and family while trying to get his life on track.
Despite trying to navigate through the hardships and disparities, Maysonet has given his time and heart in HIV/AIDS activism. In 2011, he enrolled at LaGuardia but left soon after to care for his ailing father, with whom he had reconnected with. Later that year, his father died due to complications from diabetes. Not ready to return to college, Maysonet found work as a video production assistant and nightclub promoter and volunteered for LGBTQIA+ rights, HIV/AIDS awareness, disability rights and social justice reform.
Maysonet returned to LaGuardia in 2018 and got involved in college activities that enabled him to shine a light on social issues, including the annual Black Lives Matter Summit. For his dedication and scholarly achievement, he received several awards and scholarships for high-achieving students including being named LaGuardia’s 2020 ASAP Scholar Valedictorian, and induction into the Delta Alpha Pi International Honor Society.
Maysonet has received a scholarship to complete his bachelor’s at NYU, where he’ll major in film and communications. His long-term goal is to start a nonprofit foundation, “The House of Maysonet,” to give scholarship and other support to marginalized young people.
“I want to see all people represented fairly and equally, so that inclusion is no longer an issue,” Maysonet said.
Immigrant rights activist Antonio Alarcón gave the keynote address. The 2015 LaGuardia graduate was a co-plaintiff in the landmark DACA case at the Supreme Court, which was upheld on June 18.
“If we all speak up and tell our stories, then we cannot be ignored,” Alarcón said. “So, I’m asking you to use your voice. Use the education you gained at LaGuardia to change minds, open hearts and eliminate violence and prejudice against immigrants, and other injustices in the world.”
Alarcón’s words resonated with the 3,253 members of LaGuardia’s Class of 2020 which is made up of 45 percent who self-identify as Hispanic; 22 percent as Asian; 16 percent as Black; and 11 percent as white.
“Not only is Antonio Alarcón a LaGuardia graduate and an immigrant rights activist, but he bravery shares his story of being a young child coming to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant. With so many of our students from immigrant families, his story is their story,” LaGuardia Community College Interim President Paul Arcario said. “As we’re facing a future impacted by a global pandemic and social unrest over the killings of Black fathers, daughters and more at the hands of police, he encouraged our graduates to use the knowledge and skills they’ve accumulated in their lives, and at LaGuardia, to adapt and shape our future.”
Applications are now being accepted for Fall 2020, and with new Fast Track Admissions, you’ll get a quick decision. Visit here for more information.
This story first appeared on qns.com.