Select representatives of the SUNY New Paltz Class of 2015 were inaugurated into the First World New Paltz (FWNP) alumni society during the 41st Annual First World Graduation ceremony on May 16. The event acknowledges the integrity and persistence New Paltz students of underrepresented demographics have shown throughout the College’s history in overcoming obstacles to the education they so strongly desire.
“First World Graduation marks a definitive chapter in the lives of our graduates, and is a wonderful opportunity to bring families together in celebration,” said College President Donald P. Christian on behalf of the administration. “Many of our students here today may be the first college graduates in their families, and we honor and respect the special challenges that many of you have overcome to reach where you are today.”
FWNP’s history is intertwined with that of the College and shares origins with the diversity movement that began on campus in the 1960s and led to the creation of vital institutions such as the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which provides academic and financial support to New York State residents with a high school diploma, or its equivalent, and who do not meet general admission criteria, but have the academic potential to earn a college degree.
“We all see First World Graduation as a tradition and an institution,” said Rita Celariste, assistant director of the EOP. “Men and women of the Class of 2015: You are now a part of this tradition.”
Anisa Arcos ’15 (Black Studies / Communication Studies – Organizational) and Diana Metz ’15 (Sociology – Human Services) were given special recognition for earning the titles of 2015 First World New Paltz Valedictorian and Salutatorian, respectively.
The student address was given by Luana Kay Horry ’15 (Black Studies / English), who took time to thank the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other elders in attendance.
“Because of the sacrifices you made and the challenges you’ve faced, my peers and I are able to sit in front of you today as beautiful first- and second-generation graduates,” Horry said. “This is your day as much as it is ours.”
The event also featured the return to campus of two prominent alumni.
Michael Allen ’98 (Black Studies) has risen from a childhood in an impoverished area in Brooklyn, N.Y. to enjoy a meaningful career in social work following his graduation from SUNY New Paltz, and shared his inspiring story as the 2015 First World Graduation Keynote Speaker.
“I first fell in love with New Paltz in 1985, when I was 12 years old and I came here to visit my cousin,” Allen said. “We all had those older family members we looked up to, who we felt could do no wrong. Today, each of you is someone else’s inspiration – the person a family member or friend in your community looks up to.”
Youssouf Kouyo ’13 (Finance/International Business) ‘14g (Business Administration) has found many successes in the banking and finance industry since leaving the College. He returned to offer words of encouragement to students as they face the prospect of translating their education into professional gain.
“Success is at the end of the road, but the road itself is not going to be a straight line,” Kouyo said. “You’re going to stumble, fall, get up and keep moving forward. New Paltz made all of us strong, but we have to make sure we bring it out into the world. It’s not easy, but at the end of the day I think you will do a wonderful job.”