New citizens, other adult learners shine at end-of-year recognition

Ceremony at St. Gabriel's in New Rochelle highlights the achievements of students across programs and locations

The final recognition ceremony on the Southern Westchester BOCES calendar was a special celebration of adult learners who took risks, including betting on themselves, to improve their lives and those of their loved ones.

The Center for Adult & Community Services End-of-Year Recognition at St. Gabriel's in New Rochelle saw cap-and-gown clad student pack the old church auditorium with family members of all ages looking on. Balloons, flowers and hand-written messages were carried by many. Cell phone cameras were held high, and applause rippled throughout the evening's program.

The numbers tell the story: 39 students earned their GED; 33 newly sworn U.S. citizens were honored; and 19 more were awarded certificates for completing the English for Speakers of Other Languages program. The Center provided instruction this year to 1,700 people in 17 locations across the Southern Westchester region.
“Today we honor you,” said guest speaker Martha Lopez-Hanratty. “I say to you all, you make us proud.”

Director of Adult & Community Services Tracy Racicot and Adult Literacy Program Supervisor Maria Guerrero emceed the ceremony.

"To the students here tonight, I would like to say, you have very much to be proud of this evening," Ms. Racicot told the assembly. "Learning is the one essential thing you must keep doing."

Ms. Hanratty-Lopez, Director of Minority and Women-Owned Business Development, was joined by Lorraine Campanelli, Director of Cabrini Immigrant Services. Things were very much the same now in terms of issues of the time and challenges faced as they were when she first came to the U.S. at the age of 15, some 50 years ago, Ms. Hanratty-Lopez said. She lauded SWBOCES, saying its programs had "prepared your students on the path to empowerment."

Many students tell her of coming to this country without much money but with big dreams. SWBOCES has provided a second family to them, and has opened a door for them as well.

"Now it's up to you to how far that door is going to open," she said.

Ms. Campanelli described the partnership between her organization and SWBOCES and expressed thanks for allowing them to be part of the family. To the students, she offered them encouragement for the path that lies ahead.

"I hope and pray that you will always reach for the stars," she said. "But remember, it takes a lot of stars to light up the sky so be that light for others."

Superintendent Harold Coles presented one student with a $500 scholarship from the Southern Westchester BOCES Education Foundation. Deputy Superintendent Brendan Lyons, Assistant Superintendent James Gratto, and Board of Education members John Filiberti, Sheryl Brady and Nilesh Jain were on hand to join Dr. Coles in congratulating students completing adult education programs.

Student presentations included a tribute by ESOL students to their teachers and addresses by Citizenship Exam Preparation student Paul Lucien Kulka and High School Equivalency Exam Preparation student Mari Garcia.

"This experience has taught me that it's never too late to believe in yourself and fight for your dreams," said Ms. Garcia, who told her story of being a single mom and high school dropout who made the decision to return to her education. She thanked her teacher, Hector Castillo, and dedicated her achievement to her children, "to demonstrate that with hard work and perseverance, you can accomplish anything in your life."