A diverse and standing-room-only crowd of CSI students, faculty, and staff gathered last week in the Campus Center Green Dolphin Lounge to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and spotlight the vast contributions of Hispanic members of the College community. The event was presented by the SEEK for Excellence Club and the Organization of Unique Individuals (OUI) Club.

Regarding the preparation for this event, Marybeth Melendez, OUI Club President, said, “It was truly a labor of love. The O.U.I. Club and the SEEK for Excellence Club worked hand-in-hand in conceiving, promoting, and ultimately presenting this event.

“The impetus for the event was to acknowledge the growing presence and achievement of people of Hispanic heritage at the College of Staten Island and to invite the entire College community to share in this joy,” Melendez continued. “Its underlying message was collaboration, diversity, and unity. I was especially proud that the Hillel Club, the Gay-Straight Alliance, International Students Club, Student Government, the ASL [American Sign Language] Club, and the ELP [Emerging Leaders Program],as well as the multicultural student body of CSI all came together and joined us…in this celebration.”

“I have to say that this event exceeded my expectations,” stated Tiffany Grullon, President of the SEEK for Excellence Club. “I was so content with the turnout of the event. Even though this event was done with the purpose of celebrating Hispanic heritage, this event was open to everyone regardless of their nationality or religion. We wanted people to know a little bit of our roots. Also we wanted to encourage the students to never give up and to keep fighting for what they want in life.”

After introductory remarks from Miriam Perez, Advisor to the SEEK for Excellence Club, SEEK Program Director Dr. Gloria Garcia read two poems honoring Hispanic heritage. Performing and Creative Arts Department Chairperson George Sanchez then offered “Hispanic or Latino?” his insightful and humorous thoughts on Hispanic identity.

The awards portion of the event featured a number of presenters, including Margaret Venditti, Advisor to the OUI Club, as well as Grullon and Melendez, among others. The honorees for Outstanding Service to the College Community included CSI President Dr. Tomás Morales; CSI Events Coordinator Manny Gonzales; Dr. Gloria Garcia; Jason Ocasio, Senior Supervisor for the Custodial Staff; Carmen Zuzworsky, Modern Languages; and Christopher Cruz Cullari, Assistant Director for Disability Services, as well as Emy-Luz Encarnacion, Jesus Valdes, and Norma Vicence.

After closing remarks from Fran Fassman, SEEK Program Counselor; Dr. Jane Marcus-Delgado, Chairperson of the Modern Languages Department; and Ralph Pagan, Tutoring Coordinator of the SEEK Program, chairs were cleared from the floor to make room for anyone who wanted to participate in demonstration of Zumba–a dance-driven workout to Latin music that was conducted by Certified Zumba Instructor Claudia Villa Sparncroft. Attendees also enjoyed a traditional meal that included chicken and rice and beans.

In light of the overwhelming success of this celebration, Perez issued a call to action to the entire College community. “We need to take time to encourage and nurture our students, embrace the moment, and replenish your account. Let us widen our collaboration on campus, and share our specialties and wealth with all departments and student clubs. Last but not least, let’s continue to invest in our students.”

L-R: Milton Santiago, Gloria Garcia, Jason Ocasio, Tomás Morales, Chris Cruz Cullari, Manny Gonzales