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MMC Honors the Class of 2024 at Commencement

MMC sent off 228 new graduates at its 75th commencement on May 20 with a ceremony that paid homage to their extraordinary resilience during the pandemic and encouraged them to use their grounding in the liberal and performing arts to make a difference.

The event took place at the historic United Palace theatre in Washington Heights, drawing nearly 2,000 family members and friends. (Watch the video!) It was the first of three MMC commencements held this spring: On May 30, the College also conferred degrees on 38 students in its college programs at the Bedford Hills and Taconic correctional facilities for women.

All told, the new grads span a range of generations, with the youngest just 19 years old and the oldest 53. Like many MMC classes who’ve come before them, they also reflect both the College’s regional and global diversity and rigorous academic expectations. The students hail from 33 states and 11 countries, including Mexico and Norway, and more than half graduated with honors.

Interim President Peter Naccarato expressed pride in their accomplishments while acknowledging that, because of COVID-19, their college experiences differed greatly from previous generations and from what TV and film typically depict. Indeed, the pandemic not only forced most members of the Class of 2024 to miss out on traditional high school milestones like prom and graduation but also meant that their first year of college unfolded largely over Zoom.

Still, Interim President Naccarato said, they excelled despite the challenges and emerged all the stronger for it. “You are resilient. You are tenacious. You’re utterly committed to achieving your goals no matter what obstacles are put in your way,” he said. “While it was not always easy, your journey to this moment provides you with a strength that will serve you well for the rest of your lives.”

Senior class speaker Jessica Watkins, ’24, a BFA Dance and Business major, echoed those themes in her own speech. “Our transition is unique, shaped by the profound impact of the events of 2020, which disrupted our traditional passage from high school to college,” she said. Watkins urged classmates to pause and reflect on all that they’d achieved. Still, she said, even as they celebrated how far they’d come and prepared to write their next chapters, “Let us not forget the privilege we hold in receiving this education and the responsibility it entails to make a positive impact on the world.”

During the ceremony, MMC celebrated a historic first, recognizing its largest group of co-valedictorians: BFA Musical Theatre majors Haley Jane Massey, Claire Martine Thomure, and Margarita Jane Gamarnik; Film and Media Studies major Melanie Espinal; and Politics and Human Rights major Gianna Mancuso.

The College also recognized six recipients of its Awards of Distinction, which are given to graduating seniors who’ve made exceptional contributions in the areas of educational achievement, leadership, service, and spirit. This year’s winners included two students from MMC’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP): Janet Castillo ’24, who received MMC’s Rowley Founder’s Medal, named for MMC founder Mother Rita Rowley, and Emely Abrigo Barrera ’24, who received the Eilene Bertsch Award. Bertsch ’59 was MMC’s longest-serving chief academic officer and helped the College become a founding charter member of New York State’s HEOP program.

“Like many of our HEOP students who are first-gen—and whose journeys to college started with many questions and challenges—Janet and Emely defied the odds and stood determined to achieve the highest levels in their academic endeavors,” said HEOP Executive Director Tseday Alehegn. “We celebrate their accomplishments and are equally proud that their leadership and service to the HEOP community and beyond throughout their four years were recognized by the College.”

MMC typically bestows honorary degrees upon one or more individuals at commencement in recognition of their remarkable accomplishments. This year, it conferred an honorary degree on Mahogany L. Browne, a Brooklyn-based writer, playwright, organizer, and educator.

Founder of the diverse lit initiative Woke Baby Book Fair, Browne is the 2024 Paterson Poetry Prize winner, the inaugural poet-in-residence at the Lincoln Center, and a Kennedy Center’s Next 50 fellow.

Encouraging students to use art as a catalyst for social change, she expressed admiration for the graduates. “Yall have made it through one of our generation’s most incredibly scary and painful times,” she said. “It is a heavy feat to survive the pandemic and write research papers.”

View photos from the event below.

Published: June 12, 2024