Hope was in bloom Saturday (May 21) at Vaughn College as a week's worth of storm clouds gave way to bright sunshine, showcasing more than 300 students newly welcomed into the fraternity of college graduates.
The College put on its freshest face for the Class of 2011. Grounds were immaculate, spring plants were on display and even the absence of planes from nearby LaGuardia Airport hinted that something special was happening.
Perhaps it was the influence of commencement speaker J. Randolph "Randy" Babbitt, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. Or perhaps it was the presence of Councilman James Sanders, Jr.
Whatever the reason, it was the College's good fortune to celebrate its 2011 graduates, led by student speaker and honor student Jessenia Diaz, whose 10-minute address summed up the emotions of each newly minted alumni.
"All of us have a passion and drive for what we want to become," an emotional Diaz said. "We will use that in our careers and it will seem like we won't work a day in our lives."
Soon-to-be graduates came from near and far to celebrate Saturday, none from a greater distance than Brent Turton, who flew with his family from Christchurch, New Zealand. Turton, an employee of Pratt & Whitney, earned a bachelor of science degree in aviation maintenance management through Vaughn's distance-learning program.
"We thought it was pretty important that the family come and see their father receive his degree," said the 50-year-old Turton, whose wife and four children made their first visit to New York.
The ceremony, before an enthusiastic crowd, began with a welcome from College President Dr. John Fitzpatrick, who told graduates that "they are entering a new phase in their lives" and to always remember the bond they share with the College.
"Your accomplishments are forever linked to the success of Vaughn," Dr. Fitzpatrick said. "Our success provides you with a strong foundation from which to propel into a successful career and further education."
Sanders, who represents the Queens neighborhoods of Laurelton, Rosedale and the Rockaways on New York's City Council and whose chief of staff, Donovan Richards, graduated from Vaughn Saturday, extended similar congratulations.
"Flight has been the dream of humankind since the first person saw the first bird," the councilman said. "You're about to go touch the sky."
More than a dozen members of Vaughn's board of trustees were on hand, including chair Clyde Kizer, retired president of Airbus North America Customer Services, who helped present an honorary doctor of science degree to Babbitt, the 16th administrator in the FAA's 53-year history.
Babbitt then delivered a 10-minute commencement address that encouraged graduates to test the limits of their potential.
"You are our Next Generation," Babbitt said, referencing the FAA's new air traffic control system NextGen. "We need your professionalism, your initiative and your constant attention to innovation to ensure that our nation continues to be a world leader in aviation and high-tech industries."
The hour-long ceremony continued with presentation of degrees to associate, bachelor's and master's degree students before closing words from Dr. Fitzpatrick, who encouraged graduates to remain a part of the Vaughn community.
Post-ceremony receptions followed for graduates and their families.
"As alumni, we want you to continue to be involved in the life of Vaughn," Dr. Fitzpatrick said. "You are now an ambassador for the College and c an share with others the value of the knowledge you have gained."
VAUGHN COLLEGE 2011 COMMENCEMENT: Clockwise from top left, honors student Jessenia Diaz delivers the student address; J. Randolph "Randy" Babbitt, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and honorary degree recipient, offers words of advice for Vaughn graduates; new graduates celebrate after the ceremony; Kathleen Solomon is all smiles after receiving her diploma.