Hillary Clinton Praises MEC Graduates in Commencement Speech

Hillary Rodham Clinton, on Thursday, praised graduates at MEC’s 46th commencement for their diversity, grit, ambition and innovation and implored them to take up the unfinished battle for equal rights.

“Make your voices heard every single day,” Mrs. Clinton told the Class of 2017 in her keynote address. “And when they even try to dismiss your lived experiences – maybe they’ll call it identity politics – stand up and say your identity is as important and valuable as the identify of anybody else who lives in the United States of America.”

Without ever mentioning President Trump by name, Mrs. Clinton told graduates that the country has recently endured erosions in the areas of voting rights and education, as well as a rise in bias incidents.

The former First Lady, Senator from New York, Secretary of State, and Democratic Party presidential nominee spoke before more than 900 graduates, elected officials, and thousands of proud families and friends. She also received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, in a presentation presided over by MEC President Rudolph F. Crew and CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken. Dozens of journalists filled the arena to capture the occasion.

“This college has been a shining light in Central Brooklyn now for nearly five decades,” Mrs. Clinton told a jubilant audience at Barclays Center. “Part of the CUNY system which is the most remarkable, diverse education system, I think, in the world.”

In a historic reunion, Myrlie Evers Williams, who was the wife of MEC namesake Medgar Wiley Evers, delivered a message to graduates and hailed Mrs. Clinton via a pre-recorded video. From the commencement stage, Reena Evers-Everette and Daniel Evers-Everette – the daughter and the grandson of Medgar Evers – also brought greetings.

Mr. Evers-Everette told graduates to remember that “you are family.” His mother, her eyes shining, said that many children look up to their parents but hers were “giants because of their vision for equality.” She added that Mrs. Clinton “fights continually for us.”

“Seize your moment,” Mrs. Evers-Williams said in her own taped message. She called Mrs. Clinton a long-time friend. Health challenges kept her from attending the ceremony.  “Things seem to be going downhill,” she said of the current political climate, but urged students to keep fighting.  “One of the most distinguished Americans in our history is with us today,” she said in introducing Mrs. Clinton.

For her part, Mrs. Clinton recalled the activism of Mrs. Evers-Williams and of Medgar Evers, which came at the price of violence and threats -- and finally his 1963 murder by a white supremacist. The couple never said good-bye in parting, she said, because they knew death was an ever-present possibility.

 “What a stunning message indeed it was to name this college after Medgar Wiley Evers,” Mrs. Clinton said of the social and political tumult of the period that led to MEC’s 1970 founding. Mrs. Clinton spoke briefly of her own “devastating” loss to Mr. Trump (made worse by who she lost to, she said) but mostly focused on MEC students. She called them “inspiring.”

She mentioned valedictorian Jonathan Arcentales, a first-generation college student; Associate degree scholar Fedora Cox, a single parent who attained the highest GPA of Associate Degree recipients; and Yahya Mused, an immigrant from Yemen who went from working in a deli to MEC.

 “Boy, am I proud of you,” Mrs. Clinton declared.

The day was full of heartfelt advice and declarations. Eric L. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, asked graduates to be emotionally smart as well as book smart. “Leave this place with the understanding that the power of who we are is in our diversity,” he said.

Arcentales, the valedictorian, recalled his struggle to turn around an anemic high school record. “I learned there is no getting out of discomfort,” said Arcentales, already in a graduate program for physician’s assistants at SUNY downstate.

“As young men and women of color we have a responsibility to reach our full potential,” said Asha Edwards-Newton, the SGA president and a nursing student at MEC.

Roderick Hurley, an SGA vice-president, advised fellow graduates to never pass up an opportunity to be thankful. Hurley is entering a prestigious doctoral Psychology program at the CUNY Graduate Center.  He is thankful to MEC, he said, because no one there is ever considered an outsider.