Image of three Hostos nursing students

On Friday, May 28, 2021, Eugenio María de Hostos Community College held its 51st commencement ceremony over the College’s YouTube channel. Though security protocols over the global pandemic dictated a digital ceremony, Hostos registered 1225 candidates for graduation, marking a milestone in a year of great uncertainty.

Inspired by the tenacity of the students and faculty, Interim President Daisy Cocco De Filippis noted the ways in which COVID-19 complicated the journey to commencement. “Like last year, we are celebrating digitally; the health and safety of the Hostos family is our paramount concern, and it is still too soon to risk large in-person gatherings such as commencement. It is my fervent hope that in Academic Year 2021-2022 we will once again meet face-to-face in this and so many other activities and events, inside and outside of the classroom. But make no mistake: this is a day to celebrate. Today’s graduates have faced challenges and triumphed over obstacles few other graduating classes have ever had to deal with – a sure sign of their abilities and their dedication.”

Cheering on the candidates of the 51st Commencement were CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, Senator Charles Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, Congressman Richie Torres, Assemblymember Amanda Septimo, and Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr.

For the College and Interim President Cocco De Filippis it was an honor to welcome this year’s Keynote Speaker Julissa Reynoso Pantaleón, Chief of Staff to First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, and former United States Ambassador to Uruguay.

Ms. Pantaleón remarked: “Like many of you, I’m an immigrant, and I grew up in the Bronx, so I’m especially excited to be with you here today and encourage you by sharing this vibrant moment with you. Today as you enter your new lives and continue your careers remember what year we have lived as families, communities, as a country, as a world. We need you because we need to build back better than ever. Be present with the joy that you have graduated during the period that has tested us all and be present with the knowledge and insight that this education gives you.”

Commitment to the community and the students matter to Interim President Cocco De Filippis, who presented an Associate of Humane Letters degree to former Congressman José E. Serrano for his many years of extraordinary service to Hostos Community College and the South Bronx.

Serrano remarked, “An honorary degree from Hostos College is very special to me, and I mean that sincerely. I remember when it was a dream to form Hostos College. I also know who the student body is and know it hasn’t been easy for many of you, but you are graduating today, and I join you in an honorary fashion. Congratulations.”
Students like the 2021 Class Valedictorian Ishrat Zahan and Salutatorian Taisiia Smekalenkova are some of the profiles of hard work and success Hostos prides itself in nurturing with an educational start. Zahan gave an impassioned speech about the importance of empowering diverse student populations and how Hostos anchored her educational journey.

“My time at Hostos taught me that a new world where we all uplift one another is possible. I saw my fellow community college students not as competitions but as my companions. This award would be that much more meaningful if I could share this title with my fellow Valedictorian nominees. I believe that Hostos has not produced a single leader but rather a generation of leaders from the South Bronx.” Zahan, was an ASAP student at Hostos and is now enrolled at Hunter College majoring in sociology and triple minoring in womens and gender studies, public policy, and Asian American studies. She was awarded her first public Humanities research grant to conduct original research and dreams of moving forward towards a doctoral degree that will positively impact disenfranchised communities across the nation.

Interim President Cocco De Filippis also presented Presidential Medals to five members of the Hostos Community College family for their exemplary work and service to the College during the 2020-2021 Academic Year: graduating student Maya Abdoussala; Chief Administrative Superintendent of Campus Operations Frank Virone; Medical Director, Associate in Internal Medicine New York-Presbyterian/CUMC Dr. Rafael Lantigua; and the Co-Chairs of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education accreditation process Associate Professor of Chemistry and Unit Coordinator in the Natural Sciences Department Nelson Nuñez-Rodríguez and Associate Professor of Psychology in the Behavioral and Social Sciences Kate Wolfe.

Presiding over the 51st Commencement Exercises as Mistress of Ceremonies was Professor Natasha Lorca Yannacañedo, and Professor Yoel Rodríguez was Grand Marshal.
If 2021 ends the season of virtual Commencement ceremonies, then this year’s ceremony concluded on a high note as Hostos can now claim two consecutive years of speakers who currently serve in The White House. In 2020, the Hostos Commencement Ceremony Keynote speaker was Karine Jean-Pierre, who presently serves as Deputy Press Secretary for President Joe Biden’s Administration.
Hostos Community College continues to be an example of equity and inclusion as it welcomes and uplifts students from almost 50 different countries around the globe. This glorious diversity of cultures, languages, and experiences enlivens the College, the Bronx, and New York City as a whole.
You may watch the 51st Hostos Commencement Ceremony here.