Brooklyn College holds belated commencement for classes of ’20, ’21

'Sacrifices these graduates made was extraordinary'

July 13, 2022 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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A special “Comeback Commencement” for the Brooklyn College Classes of 2020 and 2021, who were unable to enjoy an in-person commencement due to COVID-19 restrictions, was held on Tuesday in the Claire Tow Theater in Whitman Hall.

“The sacrifices these graduates made and the commitment they showed to complete their degrees were extraordinary,” said Brooklyn College President Michelle J. Anderson. “We are thrilled to be able to hold this commencement for the Classes of 2020 and 2021 on our beautiful campus to share their joy as they continue with this next chapter in their lives.”

The event had a distinct theme—recovery, remaining, and resilience—and several special guests were on hand to deliver that message.

The stars of commencement were Roby Daniel, the valedictorian for the Class of 2020, and Asma Awad, the valedictorian for the Class of 2021.

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Awad, who is working as a software engineer at JPMorgan Chase & Co., offered advice based on her experiences doing something she loves: coding.

“None of us are immune to making mistakes. It’s one thing to be perfect and another to be your best, and I think that the latter says more about someone than the former,” Award said. “Problems come our way on a daily basis, and we probably share more of them than we think. It doesn’t take a code review to open up to different perspectives on a single problem.”

Brooklyn College President Michelle Anderson speaks at the belated commencement ceremony for the Classes of 2020 and 2021. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn College

Daniel, who is currently studying medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said while he was proud to deliver his speech online to his fellow graduates in 2020, the in-person event was extra special.

“Class of 2020, I want to remind you that adversity was not new to us, even if it may have taken on a different shape and form,” Daniel said. “We made it through our undergraduate journey and two years of our postgraduate career, all while following Brooklyn College’s motto: nil sine magno labore—nothing without great effort.”

Asma Awad, the valedictorian for the Class of 2021. Photo courtesy of CUNY

Serving as keynote speaker was actor, producer, writer, and prolific podcaster Rachel Strauss-Muniz ’01, who serves on the board of directors of the Brooklyn College Alumni Association and was also a former adjunct lecturer. Now the executive producer and host of the 2021 Webby Award–nominated podcast Latinos Out Loud, she is one of seven selected writers for the National Hispanic Media Coalition’s 2021 LatinX Stream Showcase, where her short film The Swimmers premiered.

Strauss-Muniz brought energy and humor to the event, expressing her deep love for both Brooklyn and Brooklyn College. Comparing the pivots she has made during her eclectic career—particularly during the pandemic—that spanned working in media, marketing, and entertainment, she praised the more than 9,000 total Brooklyn College graduates of the two classes who also had to pivot to earn their degrees.

“You had a choice to plummet or pivot and you did it. You all rose to the occasion. We all made the decision to shift, adapt, and overcome,” Muniz said.

Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Commencement also featured CEO and President of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Randy Peers ’96 as another special guest speaker. Peers told the graduates that, as a Brooklyn native who had to work and take classes, he related and respected the difficult journey the classes of 2020 and 2021 had made.

Comparing his work on the citywide program he helped create to assist 3,000 businesses citywide and 11,000 businesses in Brooklyn over the past difficult few years that leaned on being adaptive and creative, he also marveled at the work that was done by both graduating classes.

“Nothing I experienced at Brooklyn College matches what you went through during your two years navigating the pandemic,” Peers said. “No matter how you were impacted or how you pivoted, here you are.… You should be congratulated for your own resiliency.”

Roby Daniel, the valedictorian for the Class of 2020. Photo courtesy of CUNY

The commencement was led by President Anderson, Vice President for Student Affairs Ronald C. Jackson, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Anne Lopes, and other college faculty and staff. The CUNY extended family was also in attendance, including Denise B. Maybank ’78, CUNY Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs.

State Senator Kevin S. Parker was also in attendance, along with Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. A video greeting from Jumaane Williams ’01, ’05 M.A. was shared.

Williams called Brooklyn College a “special place,” telling the classes of 2020 and 2021: “Your success comes after your hard work, your sacrifice, and your ability to overcome challenges of the two years and throughout your education.…You’re not the leaders of tomorrow, you are the leaders of today, and we are going to need you.”

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