Five Towns Grads Talk Acceptance, Diversity, Perseverance

By David Weber

One hundred and thirty-three graduates walked across the stage Saturday as part of Five Towns College’s 43rd commencement ceremony.

After the graduates entered Half Hollow Hills High School East in Dix Hills a haunting rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by Five Towns College acapella group Constant Structure.

It was followed by an invocation by Rev. Zimmer Hicks that was met with a roaring applause.

David Taylor, class of 2017 salutatorian, gave a moving speech about the welcoming nature of the professors and students at the college.

“Growing up in the south, the LGBT community was practically nonexistent,” Taylor said. “If coming to Five Towns College has taught me one thing, it is that the key to success is through acceptance and diversity.”

Constant Structure again took the stage, this time to perform “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” a romantic ballad by Manning Sherwin and Eric Maschwitz.

In his welcome speech, Five Towns President Dr. David Cohen spoke about the challenges students faced during a heavy transition of power at the college, including three different college presidents and multiple renovation projects on the Dix Hills campus.

Using multiple references to the 1971 classic Dr. Seuss book, “The Lorax,” Cohen made perfect comparisons to the determination and patience of the graduating class.

 “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not,” Cohen said.

Honorary doctorates were awarded to Diana J. Cherryholmes, film and cultural affairs director for Suffolk County, and Joseph Carbone, guitarist and professor of music at Five Towns since 1977. Both gave a short speech before being hooded by Cohen and professor Peter Rogine.

After receiving her degree, Cherryholmes spoke on the importance of diversifying, following a passion and getting organized.

“The journey to who I am and where I am now was not linear,” Cherryholmes continued, gesturing the audience with her hands. “Take a leap of faith and be courageous to validate each other.”

Instead of a usual speech, Carbone performed an original guitar duet with Rogine, a nod to his extensive history in the music industry; his words to the graduating class short, yet powerful.

“Things don’t just happen, you have to make them happen,” he said.

Graduate Taliek Hill later took over the podium to recite Maya Angelou’s “Alone,” a poem with underlying themes of loneliness, classism and spirituality.

After awards were presented from the provost for academic honors and distinguished alumni, the final number from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” was performed by graduating students.

Nicole Gregory, class of 2017 valedictorian, gave an emotional speech about her struggle being homeless outside of school and the path it created for her success.

“I don’t have a place to go, I don’t have my own bed, and I can only carry what I could fit in my car,” Gregory said. “It doesn’t matter where you started, but where you go in life. We all are here today because we defeated the odds.”

With the conferring of undergraduate degrees complete and tassels turned, the class was led in a recessional by Peter Rogine, the words of the Lorax guiding them the entire way out.

Cohen said, “But now, now they may hear, the words of the Lorax are perfectly clear.”