Thursday, June 27, 2013 (New York, NY) - On June 25, Hostos President Félix V. Matos Rodríguez recounted the true story of Fernando “Ponce” Laspina and his heroic journey during his keynote address at East Harlem River Academy of the Department of Correction at Rikers Island.

While addressing a group of 74 students ages 17 to 49, approximately 95% of the class was African American and Hispanic, President Matos Rodríguez explained how Laspina obtained his GED at Rikers Island. After being released he went to Hostos and earned an associate’s degree; then he went on to Lehman College, where he earned his bachelor’s degree; and from there to Buffalo State University for a master’s degree in Latin American Studies.

The Rikers Island graduation had special meaning to Hostos given its current collaboration with The College Initiative, The Fortune Society, New York Justice Corps, and CUNY Transition programs to offer a 10 week summer “boot camp” evening program for formerly incarcerated individuals who have applied to CUNY colleges.  The program’s goal is to enable the participants to pass at least one level of the required math and reading and writing tests. It also focuses on developing study skills and providing a general orientation to college life.

“This program is important to Hostos. We are an educational agent for change, that transforms and improves people’s lives,” indicated Matos Rodríguez.

“Just as a high school graduation is a very important ceremony, a high school diploma is a very valuable document. It’s more than an affirmation that a person has passed all the required courses; it’s an acknowledgement that the graduate is ready to advance to a higher level of educational achievement. All of you who are graduating from the East River Academy today have listened and learned, read and written, and done everything it took to earn your diploma.”

“To the 2013 graduates of the East River Academy, in addition to my congratulations, I’d like to leave you with words of encouragement hoping that you continue your education.  It will be a great investment of your time and energy while you spend time “indoors” and it will undoubtedly pay big time when you come out.  You will be making yourselves and your loved ones a very big favor by continuing your education and maximizing your time “indoors”.  Please know that they are many of us, “outside” eager to have your back, eager to support your road to personal and professional success.  On the days you are down, on the days you have doubts about the road ahead, remember Fernando Laspina’s story …. I’m honored to have been able to talk to you today and I wish you the very best on the road ahead…a few simple words of advice that I hope will serve you well in the years ahead: Show up. Work hard. Be kind. Always take the high road,” said Matos Rodríguez.

About Hostos Community College
Hostos Community College is an educational agent for change, transforming and improving the quality of life in the South Bronx and neighboring communities since 1968.  Hostos serves as a gateway to intellectual growth and socioeconomic mobility, and a point of departure for lifelong learning, success in professional careers, and transfer to advanced higher education programs.  The College’s unique "student success coach" program, which partners students with individualized guidance, is emblematic of the premier emphasis on student support and services.

Hostos offers 29 associate degree programs and 5 certificate programs that facilitate easy transfer to The City University of New York (CUNY) four-year colleges or baccalaureate studies at other institutions. The College has an award-winning Division of Continuing Education & Workforce Development that offers professional development courses and certificate-bearing workforce training programs. The Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture (HCAC) is one of the pre-eminent Latino arts centers of the northeast. The HCAC has distinguished itself for showcasing traditional art forms as well as emerging and internationally renowned artists. Hostos Community College is part of CUNY, the nation’s leading urban public university serving more than 480,000 students at 24 colleges.