Valedictorian Lauren McKenna addresses the Class of 2018.

The bright, happy faces of the College of Staten Island’s 3,002 graduates, and their families and supporters, outshined the cloudy and rainy weather at the institution’s 69th Commencement on May 31 on the Great Lawn.

After opening remarks from CSI Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Gary Reichard, who served as Presiding Officer, CSI President Dr. William J. Fritz came to the lectern. In his remarks, Dr. Fritz mentioned the energy being felt at the College. “If you follow social media, catch a glimpse of a subway ad, read the Staten Island Advance, watch New York 1, or simply overhear casual conversation within the community, CSI is omnipresent—with stories being told about student accomplishments, faculty accolades, staff contributions, or institutional honors. This is indeed a remarkable time for all of us.”

Dr. Fritz then explained that this momentum will be sustained through the College’s new Strategic Plan: Opportunity to Ascend, and briefly outlined the Plan’s six Strategic Priorities: Student Success, Global Engagement, Borough Stewardship, Destination Campus, Scholarship-Driven Education, and Resource Management.

This year’s Keynote Speaker was CSI Professor of English Tyehimba Jess, who won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his collection entitled Olio. He is also a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow. In his engaging speech, he talked of the graduates’ accomplishments and struggles to earn a diploma. He also mentioned CSI’s “poetry of transformation,” referencing the Willowbrook State School, which occupied the College’s Willowbrook Campus—“a place of despair transformed into a place of hope, a hope that you embody today as you walk away with diplomas in hand.” Remaining focused on the past as a way to chart the future, he recalled the story of a former student who carried a skeleton key from the Willowbrook State School from his grandfather who used to work there. The story informed his advice to the graduates to “never forget your past, but [look] always to the future. And that’s what that diploma is for you—a reminder of where you come from, a marker of how you have traveled, a passport into the future you want to build for yourself.”

Those assembled also heard from this year’s valedictorian, Lauren McKenna, who received a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema Studies with minors in Dramatic Arts and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and is originally from Moorabin, Australia.

Lauren noted that her time at CSI had many ups and downs, but she recalled the wide variety of experiences that she had as a student here. “I have studied abroad, made numerous films, curated film festivals, worked with international students and incoming freshmen, tutored students in the film lab, and made countless friends.”

She also mentioned that one of the causes that she believes in is “the safety of LGBTQ students and more particularly, transgender students on campus,” adding that “I say this because I know that the Class of 2018 has the ability to use their voices and not settle for injustice. I will continue to do this as I embark on my Master’s degree in Cinema at the CUNY Graduate Center. I plan to return to my Australian roots and focus on the Australian national cinema, but I will not settle for only focusing on my studies. I plan on using my time at The Graduate Center to ensure that every CUNY campus is a safe place for LGBTQ students.”

In closing, Lauren gave her fellow graduates some advice for the future. “We must concentrate on enhancing our futures and setting great examples for those who love us and for those who will follow us. We must be tomorrow’s positive images. Our actions must make a statement and send a clear message: one that says, wherever we come from, whatever we have, or don’t have, whatever our color, gender, sexual orientation, or cultural background, we can be partners in success and we can achieve greatness together.”

Also in attendance to celebrate the Class of 2018 were U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, U.S. Representative Dan Donovan, CUNY Trustee the Honorable Michael Arvanites, and Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost Dr. Vita Carulli Rabinowitz, who assumed the role of Interim CUNY Chancellor on June 1.