First World Graduation celebrates excellence of New Paltz graduates of color

20160514-1_First World Graduation Ceremony_JB_058Select representatives of the SUNY New Paltz Class of 2016 were inaugurated into the First World New Paltz alumni society during the 42nd annual First World Graduation on May 14. This long-standing, alumni- and student-driven tradition celebrates the accomplishments of students of color at New Paltz.

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“This class has done great service for this community, for the College and for alumni, and lived up to the legacy that we celebrate today,” said Anthony Winn ’92 (Business Administration), special assistant to Black Studies, who offered congratulations on behalf of the faculty. “I hope that you’ve had great experiences, made wonderful friends and found here an institution that supported you, heard your voice and engaged you intellectually and socially. Take a moment to celebrate your accomplishments, both individual and collective, and meditate on the fact that you have completed what so many don’t get the opportunity to do.”

The 2016 First World celebration saw more than 100 students cross the stage before an audience of family and friends, many of whom stayed through the weekend to watch their loved ones walk at the following day’s Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony.

“Tomorrow you will leave New Paltz with a degree and an education,” said President Donald P. Christian. “These will make a great difference in your life moving ahead, creating pathways and presenting options that would not otherwise be available. You will find that the knowledge you developed here will change your relationship with the world in ways you can’t possibly now imagine.”

Keynote remarks were provided by Nia Sanchez-Thomas ’11 (Black Studies, Communication Disorders), who focused on the day’s theme of Black Excellence.

“As you move forward from here you will find that you have to be proactive and intentional about establishing your presence in spite of others’ often misconceived notions,” Sanchez-Thomas said. “Focusing on living an authentic life, and searching for your role in the world, is the work of a lifetime. That is the meaning of Black Excellence: a paradigm that you need to live intentionally.”

For many in attendance, the most powerful moment of the ceremony was delivered by graduate Akeem Samuels ’16 (Psychology), who moved audience members to tears recounting his journey to New Paltz from childhood in Guyana and the Caribbean, the support from friends and classmates that allowed him to overcome barriers to academic success, and his announcement that this year he became a citizen of the United States.

“I stand humbled and honored before all the people who’ve influenced me to become the person I am today, and proudly say, ‘We did it,’” Samuels said. “I can say with confidence that when we walk across the stage tomorrow, we deserve to hold our heads high.”

About First World New Paltz

First World New Paltz’s history is intertwined with that of the College. Its roots can be traced to the diversity movement that began on campus in the 1960s and led to the creation of vital institutions such as Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and the Scholars Mentorship Program (SMP). EOP first held its own graduation ceremony in 1974, and as that annual event was expanded to include general admission students it was renamed.

The First World Graduation includes a reading of the organization’s history, composed by the late Dr. Margaret Wade-Lewis, one of the founders and chairs of the Black Studies Department, and read at this year’s event by Rita Celariste, assistant EOP director.

Today First World New Paltz stands not only as a unique Commencement-weekend event but as an association of College alumni of color, whose activities include the maintenance of a robust professional network and the organization of a First World Reunion on campus every five years.