Op-Ed | Cheering CUNY’s Class of ’24 For Perseverance, Talent & Grit

Graduate taking selfie while confetti falls at the 2023 Hunter College commencement held at the Barclays Center, Brooklyn.

CUNY’s impact on New York is never more visible than during commencement season, when we celebrate the achievements of some 50,000 students who earn degrees at our 25 campuses each year. Behind each one of those graduates is a story of aspiration and perseverance, and together they tell the interconnected story of CUNY and New York.

This year’s graduates, like generations before them, embody CUNY’s promise of opportunity for all. They have overcome barriers to complete their degrees — sometimes years or even decades after starting them.

Take Pamela Rider, who will receive her diploma from York College this month. Pamela took her first CUNY class in 1977, attending for three years before starting her career with the U.S. Postal Service. She returned to CUNY after retiring, and this spring, at age 64, she completed a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Her philosophy:  “Don’t ever stop believing in you. If there’s something you really want, and you’re persistent, then nothing’s going to stop you.”

That’s a message that resonates with the roughly 250 members of CUNY’s Class of 2024 who are over 60. But it’s also one that is embraced by so many of our students, whatever their age, background or personal history.

Jaegger Pendoley enrolled in New York City College of Technology’s dental hygiene program after the pandemic left him without a job. When he receives his associate degree next month, there to congratulate him will be a first-year student in the program: his mother.

“My son’s resilience motivated me to go to college at an age where many would believe it’s too late to pursue education and a new career,” said Jaegger’s mother, Betty Mounteney. Jaegger plans to continue at City Tech toward a bachelor’s in Health Sciences Administration. His mother has plans of her own: She hopes to give free dental cleanings in underserved neighborhoods.

The CUNY Class of 2024 includes the poignant story of Melquain Jatelle Anderson, a student who was working toward a sociology degree at John Jay College when he was tragically killed in 2017. He is receiving a posthumous degree after a successful campaign by his mother, Michelle Barnes-Anderson, a John Jay alumna, for a new state law allowing CUNY and SUNY colleges to amend policies for awarding posthumous degrees. Melquain’s dedication to education and his determination to achieve his dreams exemplified the ideals of CUNY.

Celebrating those ideals is what CUNY commencement season is all about.

Five years ago this month, I had the great honor of becoming Chancellor. And the thing I most look forward to doing each May, as the academic year comes to a close, is acknowledging and cheering the perseverance and accomplishments of our graduates. Their talent and grit add up to something truly special.

Félix V. Matos Rodríguez is the chancellor of The City University of New York (CUNY), the largest urban public university system in the United States.