Op-Ed | Despite all, CUNY students continue to shine


By Félix V. Matos Rodríguez

Kingsborough Community College student Jaweria Bakar grew up in Pakistan and moved to Brooklyn with her husband in 2010. Inspired to become a doctor after her father’s recovery from a stroke, the mother of two enrolled at Kingsborough in the fall of 2018, ending a decade-long educational gap. There, she emerged as a campus leader, and an honors biology student.

This spring, Bakar was one of three high-achieving CUNY community college students to win a highly competitive Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, joining an elite group of 50 students selected from among 1,500 applicants from more than 300 community colleges. The scholarship, worth up to $40,000 per year, will help Bakar to continue pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Yale.

She is one of dozens of current CUNY students and recent grads who have garnered prestigious honors during this academic awards season. In addition to the Cooke winners, CUNY counted one Soros winner, 16 Fulbright scholars, two Goldwater scholars, one National Institutes of Health’s Oxford-Cambridge Scholar, seven National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows, and the list goes on.

Even as our attention remains focused on the medical, economic and emotional hardships that have been wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, our students continue to shine. It is their resiliency, determination and drive that make CUNY, a transformative engine for thousands of families with roots in every corner of the world, a beacon of opportunity that will be even more vital in the unsteady times ahead.

It is important, then, that we take stock of our students’ outstanding accomplishments, and extend the congratulations and recognition that they richly deserve.

This year’s cadre of standouts includes Haiti-born poet Joel Francois, a recent Brooklyn College grad whose family immigrated to Brooklyn when he was 5, who was honored with the renowned Soros Fellowship for New Americans.

Lehman College senior Jasmine Euyoque, the child of Mexican immigrants and the first in her family to attend college, won a Fulbright U.S. Student Scholarship.

Euyoque excelled in the highly selective Lehman Scholars Program, cultivating an interest in computer science. She plans to spend her Fulbright year teaching English in Uruguay, where she seeks to expose youngsters to opportunities in tech.

Her successes, along with those of Francois, Bakar and the others, reinforce the values of our University.

Jaweria Bakar

Feting our Grads

The conclusion of the semester also means it’s time to honor our graduates. For more than 30,000 members of CUNY’s Class of 2020, the last leg of the college journey took an abrupt and unimaginable turn. These grads had their final semester altered in unprecedented fashion, but they still made it to the finish.

Now, despite the requirement to physically distance in response to the coronavirus, it is crucial that we give them a fitting sendoff.

In lieu of in-person ceremonies, which most of our colleges still plan to hold when circumstances allow, CUNY schools have already started holding virtual festivities that feature speakers from the worlds of government, philanthropy and the sciences.

They include New York State Attorney General Letitia (Tish) James; Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; marine biologist and environmental advocate Ayana Elizabeth Johnson; two-time CUNY graduate and immigration advocate Antonio Alarcon; and philanthropist Judith K. Dimon.

I am participating in many of these virtual celebrations and have already addressed the graduates of several schools, including the history-making first graduating class of CUNY’s School of Medicine. Those brave students concluded their studies ahead of schedule so they could join the frontline battle against the pandemic.

As I’ve told many of our students, the Class of 2020 has demonstrated a resilience and resolve that inspires me. They stayed strong, adapted and pulled together, even as their campus life ended abruptly. 

I am incredibly proud of them, and despite the uncertain times ahead I’m as optimistic and excited as ever about their futures.  

Please join me in congratulating them. ​