• Commencement Speakers

  • Portrait Shot of President Kenneth Adams

    President Kenneth Adams,
    LaGuardia Community College President

    Kenneth Adams was appointed president of LaGuardia Community College by the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York on June 29, 2020. He assumed the role on August 17, 2020.

    Previously, he was dean of workforce and economic development at Bronx Community College (BCC) from 2016–2020—leading the departments of Adult and Continuing Education, Workforce Development, Career Services, Community and Economic Development, and the Center for Sustainable Energy.

    At BCC, Mr. Adams created career pathways to lead students into high-growth sectors of the city’s economy. Robust partnerships with employers, including unions and industry associations were fundamental to his work. Mr. Adams secured more than $1.7 million in grants and contracts for BCC. He and his team increased enrollment in their programs by 45%.

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    Prior to joining CUNY, Mr. Adams was the Acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. From 2011 until 2015, he served as President and CEO of Empire State Development and Commissioner of the NYS Department of Economic Development. Before joining state government, Mr. Adams led The Business Council of New York State and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. As Executive Director of  New York Cares he created the Annual New York Cares Coat Drive and based it in the Falchi Building adjacent to LaGuardia Community College.

    After earning his BA and MA degrees from Middlebury College, Mr. Adams began his career as a high school teacher and youth services coordinator. He grew up in Brooklyn, where he lives with his family.

    Mr. Adams currently serves as Chairman of the Boards of Directors of New York State’s affordable housing agencies, including the Housing Finance Agency, the State of New York Mortgage Agency, and the Housing Trust Fund Corporation. He is a member of the Boards of Directors of the Long Island City Partnership, the NYC Employment and Training Coalition, the Queens Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and the Bronx Charter School for Excellence, and is a director of Opportunity America.

    Mr. Adams is the fourth president of LaGuardia Community College. His predecessors include Gail O. Mellow, PhD (2000–2019), Raymond C. Bowen, PhD (1989–1999), and the late Joseph Shenker, EdD (1970–1988).

  • Portrait Shot of Chancellor Felix V. Matos

    Dr. Félix V. Matos Rodríguez,
    Chancellor, The City University of New York

    Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez’s distinguished career spans both academia and the public sector: He is a scholar, teacher, administrator and former Cabinet secretary for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

    Dr. Matos Rodríguez is a dedicated champion of accessibility, inclusion and excellence in higher education. He built a diverse team of tested leaders to serve on his cabinet, and as administrators. During his first year in office, he appointed pioneering leaders such as Dr. S. David Wu, as president of Baruch College, who became the first Asian-American to serve as a college president at CUNY starting in July 2020. In keeping with his ambition to grow access for traditionally underrepresented firms to CUNY, he unveiled a comprehensive plan to bolster business opportunities for firms owned by women, minorities and service-disabled veterans.

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    Responding to the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, Dr. Matos Rodríguez oversaw within a week the transition of nearly all of CUNY’s 50,000 course sections to distance education. To ensure the success of CUNY students who lacked the resources to participate in distance modalities, the University quickly purchased thousands of laptops and tablets, and paused classes on most campuses to safely distribute the devices to those who needed them.

    In April 2020, the University announced the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund to provide urgent support to students facing financial hardship amid the pandemic. Launched with $3.25 million in initial donations, the fund has provided grants of $500 each to thousands of CUNY students, including undocumented students who were excluded from financial relief by the federal government.

    Prior to his appointment as Chancellor, Dr. Matos Rodríguez was president of CUNY’s Queens College from 2014 to 2019 and of CUNY’s Eugenio María de Hostos Community College in the Bronx from 2009 to 2014, making him one of a select few U.S. educators who has led both a baccalaureate and a community college.

    While at Queens College, Matos Rodríguez introduced “QC in 4,” an initiative that helps students complete their bachelor’s degrees within four years; he significantly increased the college’s endowment; and he created accelerated graduate programs that allow students to save time and money as they work toward master’s degrees.

    At Hostos, Matos Rodríguez and his leadership team were responsible for dramatically improving the college’s retention and graduation rates and doubling its fundraising. These accomplishments made Hostos one of the finalists for the prestigious Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in 2014.

    From 2006 to 2008, Matos Rodríguez served as Puerto Rico’s Cabinet secretary of the Department of Family Services. In this position, he formulated public policy and administered service delivery in such programs as Child Support Enforcement, Adoption and Foster Care, and Child and Elderly Protection. He oversaw a $2.3 billion budget and over 11,000 employees. Earlier, he had been Senior Social Welfare and Health Advisor to the Governor of Puerto Rico.

    A cum laude graduate in Latin American Studies from Yale University, Matos Rodríguez received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. He has taught at Yale, Northeastern University, Boston College, the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, City College and Hunter College, and was affiliated with the History department at the CUNY Graduate Center. At Hunter, he also directed the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, one of the largest and most important Latino research centers in the United States.

    Dr. Matos Rodríguez has used his extensive regional and national networks and board memberships to advance the visibility and recognition of CUNY. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Chancellor sits on the governing board of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). In 2021, he joined the board of the Association for a Better New York (ABNY) and was named co-chair of the New York City Regional Economic Development Council (NYCREDC). He also serves on the boards of Phipps Houses and the United Way of New York City, and he is a member of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools steering committee. In 2020, the Chancellor was named by the American Council on Education (ACE) to a national task force focused on improving transfer of credit practices and to New York City’s Education Sector Advisory Council, which is to guide the reopening of schools and other aspects of the city’s pandemic response.

    Dr. Matos Rodríguez has an extensive publication record in the fields of Women’s, Puerto Rican, Caribbean and Latino Studies, and Migration. He is the author of “Women and Urban Change in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1820-1868”; co-author of “Pioneros: Puerto Ricans in New York City, 1896-1948”; editor of “A Nation of Women: An Early Feminist Speaks Out / Mi opinión sobre las libertades, derechos y deberes de la mujer by Luisa Capetillo”; co-editor of “Puerto Rican Women’s History: New Perspectives”; co-editor of Blackwell Reader on the Americas; and co-editor of “Boricuas in Gotham: Puerto Ricans in the Making of Modern New York City.”

    The Chancellor received the Albert J. Beveridge Award of the American Historical Association and his work has been published in such peer-reviewed journals as the Journal of Urban History, The Public Historian, Latin American Research Review, Centro Journal, Revista de Ciencias Sociales, and the Boletín de la Asociación de Demografía Histórica, in addition to having chapters in several anthologies. He was the founding editor of the series New Directions in Puerto Rican Studies, published by the University Press of Florida.

    He is married to Dr. Liliana M. Arabía, a dentist, and they have two sons.

  • Portrait Shot of Mayra Linares-Garcia

    Mayra Linares-Garcia,
    Board of Trustees of The City University of New York

    Mayra Linares-Garcia was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo as a member of the Board of Trustees of The City University of New York on June 15, 2016 and reappointed in June 2021 for a term to expire June 30, 2027.

    Mayra Linares-Garcia is a skilled public affairs and communications strategist with more than 15 years of experience across all levels of government.

    As the Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications for Liberty Coca-Cola Beverages, she is proud to be a leading voice that bridges communities and their leaders with one of the world’s most recognizable brands. Mayra is responsible for enhancing relationships and generating results among local organizations, business owners and elected officials – all to help the public better understand Liberty Coca-Cola Beverages’ commitment to the community.

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    Mayra is a current Trustee of The City University of New York’s (CUNY) Board, where she is committed to making CUNY a college system accessible to all New Yorkers. Along with her colleagues in early 2019, she assisted in appointing the first Latin-American CUNY Chancellor.

    In 2011, Mayra was appointed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo as the Director of Latino Affairs where she advocated for issues that impacted Latinos from access to education, affordable housing and health and employment. In this role, she helped established the New York State Office of Trade and Tourism in Puerto Rico.

    Mayra was also the Founder and CEO-president of the MayLin Group. Inc., a public affairs & community relations firm that specialized in corporate and community partnerships. She also served as a Democratic District Leader for the 72nd Assembly District from 2001 until 2011.

    Mayra graduated from Marymount Manhattan College with a B.A. in Political Science and Community Leadership. She is a Latina of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent originally from Washington Heights and currently lives in the Marble Hill neighborhood of the Bronx with her husband and three children, her greatest inspiration.

    Ms. Linares-Garcia is a member of the Board’s Committee on Facilities, Planning and Management and the Committee on Student Affairs and Special Programs.

  • Portrait Shot of Donovan Richards

    Honorable Donovan Richards
    President, Borough of Queens

    Donovan Richards Jr., a lifelong resident of Southeast Queens, was elected as Borough President in November of 2020.

    Growing up he lived in Jamaica, St. Albans, Hollis, and Rosedale, with frequent visits to grandparents who lived in the Rockaways. He attended Jamaica High School and Redemption Christian Academy before studying communications, radio, and TV at Nyack College. He later received a degree in Aviation Management from Vaughn College.

    Donovan got his start in politics after the tragic killing of a close friend inspired him to get more involved in his community and join the fight to end gun violence. He worked in numerous positions within the City Council where he connected with the community and developed a hands on approach to helping constituents. This knowledge was crucial in getting him elected to the city council in 2013.

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    As a fighter for affordable housing, he was proud to serve as the Chair of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises during his first City Council term. He used this position to fight for rezoning in the Rockaways to increase residential availability as well as commercial and community space, including a new library. He also served as Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection following Super Storm Sandy. Through his position he was able to help secure funding for flood protection to protect Rockaway communities.

    He has been a steadfast advocate for criminal justice reform, most recently acting as Chair of the Committee on Public Safety. In that position he has held numerous hearings on NYPD protocols surrounding protests, cannabis, and the Special Victims Division. In the City Council he has been a proponent of closing Rikers Island and legalizing adult-use cannabis.

    As Queens Borough President, Donovan is leading the efforts to revitalize our great borough and make it one which works for all of its residents and workers.

  • Portrait Shot of Talha Islam

    Talha Islam,
    2022 Class Representative

    Talha Islam, age 19 of Jamaica, Queens, is graduating from LaGuardia Community College with his Associate in Science (AS) degree in Business Administration. This fall he will start classes at Cornell University, towards a bachelor’s degree in Applied Economics with concentrations in marketing and entrepreneurship. He was a semifinalist for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship for community college students across the United States.

    At LaGuardia, he was elected to the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society, a member of the Honors Student Advisory Committee (HSAC), and a President’s Society Ambassador.

    Talha came to the United States with his parents from Bangladesh at age of 11, seeking asylum from political persecution. With his immigration status, Talha’s options for federal or state financial aid were extremely limited. Thankfully, the LaGuardia Community College Foundation provided him with scholarships and grants that enabled him to pay his tuition. He also found work at LaGuardia as a Student Success Mentor, helping new-to-college students successfully transition to college and learn about the many opportunities and resources available to them through the college. He also served as a voluntary peer panelist for new student orientation.

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    During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Talha took action when he saw his fellow students struggling to make ends meet. Remembering his family’s struggles to pay for groceries upon arriving in New York City, he looked for ways to alleviate this stress point for students who lost income during the pandemic. He initiated a student-led drive, in partnership with LaGuardia’s Student Government Association (SGA), to support LaGuardia’s food pantry, which helps put meals on the table for LaGuardia students and their household members. The food drive raised $3,400 and brought in dozens of canned goods for LaGuardia CARES, which runs the pantry.

    Wanting to help people beyond LaGuardia, he became a volunteer with Rescue Leftover Cuisine, working on weekends to deliver leftover restaurant food to local shelters.

    Talha’s career aspiration is to start a nonprofit helping immigrants acclimate to their new communities and overcome food insecurity.

  • Portrait Shot of Lely Nourmania

    Lely Nourmania,
    Alumni Speaker for LaGuardia Community College’s 2022 Commencement

    Lely Nourmania is a proud graduate of LAGCC’s class of 2017. Her transformational journey began when she was brought to New York from Indonesia in domestic servitude 14 years ago. After many years of abuse and degradation, she mustered the courage to escape her enslavement.

    Lely struggled for a couple of years with no English language skills, education, legal identity, permanent home, family, or financial support. She started life over by finding part-time jobs, fighting to reclaim her legal identity and passport, and seeking support from social service agencies. She eventually became a mentor to other human trafficking survivors and was inspired to pursue higher education and lead an independent life with more choices.

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    At first Lely enrolled in the ESL program at LaGuardia Community College, then matriculated into the college where she faced many obstacles. She had no understanding of the U.S. educational system or what the business world would look like. She had to learn from scratch how to be a student and how to balance work with academics. This included learning how to use technology, register for classes, and access resources such as financial aid, academic advising, mental health support, and community services. More importantly she had to learn how to be a social human being again; to cultivate relationships with faculty and administrators and even make friends.

    LaGuardia Community College was a turning point in Lely’s life, giving her confidence in herself and in a future with hope and purpose. She was selected as a President’s Society Ambassador which gave her an ongoing opportunity to engage with business leaders, donors and mentor other students to help facilitate their success. LaGuardia gave her a sense of communal belonging and taught her many life-lessons that define the person she is today.

    After receiving an associate in arts degree, Lely went on to pursue a CUNY Baccalaureate in Anthropology, Children & Youth Studies, and Public Affairs. To make ends meet she worked 2 to 3 part-time jobs while attending classes across three different CUNY colleges and earning a 3.5 GPA to maintain scholarship eligibility. She graduated magna cum laude from CUNY’s BA program in the spring of 2020 and is currently pursuing a Master’s in International Affairs at Baruch College.

    Lely has made it her life’s mission to pursue a career serving and advocating for children who are either in foster care, juvenile detention, or have refugee status. She wants to ensure that children who are lost like she once was can get the help they need. She wants to empower them and give them the message that they are not alone, that it’s possible to rebuild their lives for the better and recognize their full potential. Most recently, Lely landed her dream job at Sheltering Arms as Executive Administrative Assistant to the CEO. For nearly 200 years Sheltering Arms has been delivering innovative programs and compassionate services that enhance the education, well-being, and development of children, their families, and communities in the New York metropolitan area. She is thrilled to pay it forward for all that she has received to these youth and families.

  • Portrait Shot of Paul Arcario

    Paul Arcario,
    Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs

    As an academic leader and faculty member at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY (“LaGuardia”) for more than 33 years, Dr. Paul Arcario’s commitment to student success, and understanding of the vital role faculty play in educating and inspiring students, mark his tenure at LaGuardia.

    He was dubbed an “Undercover Boss” type administrator(opens in a new window) by the Queens Chronicle for his on-the-ground, first-hand research to help faculty address challenges in the classroom—e.g., enrolling in developmental math to learn why the course was often a roadblock for students. Read more on Dr. Arcario’s approach.

    From August 2019–August 2020, Dr. Arcario served as LaGuardia’s Interim President—appointed by CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez.

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    He was appointed as Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs in 2012. In this role, he manages the Academic Division’s $40 million annual budget, leads faculty recruitment and development, oversees day-to-day management of key academic initiatives; and supervises the Student Affairs Division, which serves the college’s nearly 20,000/yr. students pursuing associate degrees. Dr. Arcario returned to the positions of Provost and Senior Vice President in August 2020 when President Kenneth Adams joined LaGuardia Community College.

    As Provost, Dr. Arcario has advocated for more professional development for college faculty, as a means of improving student outcomes. Noting that doctoral programs typically don’t include teaching curricula, Dr. Arcario secured a major grant from the U.S. Department of Education to establish the college’s faculty development program, the Center for Teaching and Learning, which today is among the largest and most robust CTLs at New York metropolitan area colleges.

    Additional major grants secured to date under his leadership have totaled more than $34 million. From the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education. He’s also helped secure grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation(opens in a new window) , the Henry Luce Foundation(opens in a new window) , and other leading philanthropies that support higher education. He previously served as a consultant for a national Gates Foundation-funded project to improve pedagogy and outcomes in developmental education.

    Among his numerous academic achievements and honors include his selection for the 2019 Distinguished College Administrator Award(opens in a new window) from the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society (PTK), and being named “Outstanding First-Year Student Advocate” (2007) from the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience.

    Dr. Arcario joined LaGuardia in 1988 as an ESL faculty member in the Education and Language Acquisition Department, and became chairperson of the Academic ESL Program in 1994. He joined the college’s academic leadership team in 1998 as Assistant Dean.

    Dr. Arcario earned his Ed.D. and M.Ed. in TESOL from Columbia University Teachers College, and his B.A. (magna cum laude) and M.A. in English from New York University.

    Dr. Arcario was born and raised in Ozone Park, Queens.

    Read more about Dr. Arcario’s leadership. (opens in a new window)

  • Portrait Shot of Fay Maureen Butler

    Fay Maureen Butler, Ed.D,
    Interim Associate Dean for Student Success

    Dr. Fay Maureen Butler has spent the past 36 years working in higher education, 30 of which have been spent in various positions at The City University of New York. She is currently the Interim Associate Dean for Student Success at LaGuardia Community College. Dr. Butler is highly regarded by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, having been invited to serve as an evaluator seven times. She has also presented workshops for NACAC, The College Board, NCBAA and the League for Innovation. Dr. Butler does missions work every year in east or southeast Africa, especially focusing on clean water initiatives. In February 2020, Dr. Butler Hiked Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to bring greater attention to clean water initiatives.

  • Portrait Shot of Dr. Guillermo Linares

    Dr. Guillermo Linares,
    President, Higher Education Services Corporation

    Guillermo Linares, Ed.D has the historic distinction of being the first Dominican born elected to public office in the United States in 1991. He served from 1992 to 2001 in the New York City Council, where he advocated for quality education, vital health services, affordable housing and immigrant rights.

    Dr. Linares was elected in 2010 as a member of the New York State Assembly, 72nd District, representing Washington Heights, Inwood and Marble Hill in Northern Manhattan in 2011 and 2012. He was elected once again for the same Assembly District in 2014 and served from 2015 to 2016.

    Dr. Linares served as Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (2004-2009) with the mission of strengthening bridges between New York City Government and immigrant communities resulting in greater access to City services and information and establishing new citywide policies on Language Access and Immigrant Heritage. He shares the experiences and aspirations of immigrant New Yorkers, having left his native Dominican Republic and arrived in the Bronx in 1966. Then, Dr. Linares drove a taxi for long hours to support his family and at the same time pursued a higher education.

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    For the past 40 years, Dr. Linares has remained committed to improving public education and championing immigrant issues. His advocacy started in Washington Heights, where he worked as a school teacher. Witnessing the need for active involvement, he ran for membership of the local school board and served there for three terms. In the 1980s, Dr. Linares and others were responsible for the building of desperately-needed public schools for the growing immigrant community in Washington Heights.

    With other activists and leaders, Dr. Linares helped to establish the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans, the Puerto Rican/Latino Education Round Table and the Parents Coalition for Education in New York City. Dr. Linares was also instrumental in the founding of the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute at City College, the Audubon Partnership for Economic Development and the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center.

    Dr. Linares’ work has garnered him city, state and national respect. In 1998, the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus of the NYC Council elected then Council Member Linares as its Co-President. Dr. Linares was tapped in 1995 to serve in a national capacity as a member of the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. President William Clinton appointed him in 1999 as Chair of this Initiative. Dr. Linares served for six years as a board member of the National Council of La Raza. He was co-convener of Encuentro 2000 and Beyond, a national Latino leadership group.

    Dr. Linares received a Bachelor of Arts and Master’s of Science degree from City College and a Professional Diploma in Administration and Supervision from Fordham University. He recently achieved his Doctorate in Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Linares is married to a public school principal, has two children, two granddaughters and two grandsons. His family has been critical to his accomplishments as a community activist, an elected and appointed government official and academic.