Meghan Mattei with Lauren DiRago

2022 graduates,
Meghan Mattei and Lauren DiRago

The beginning of summer is always a happy time at AHRC New York City. The beautiful weather allows for more community outings while our Annual Meeting in early June provides perspective on the last year of services. Adding to the joyous feelings are the annual graduation ceremonies for students at the Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program at four campuses of the City University of New York.

Graduates this year include Israel Torres, Wayne Rogers, Daniel Barth, Wilson Wu, Lauren DiRago, Meghan Vincent Carrasquillo, Hillary Jean-Philippe, and Steven Lakhter.

“Pride and Appreciation”

Speakers at the graduations told students that they should reflect on their four years at college with a feeling of fulfillment.

For some of you the most memorable experience of this program will be a class you took or a club you joined, something you learned, or maybe a friend you made,” said Carry Schockley, Directory of Disability Programs at CUNY. “Whatever it is, I hope you’ll be able to look back on your time in college and be glad you did it—and you DID it!

Israel Torres with Wilson Wu

Israel Torres with Wilson Wu

Marco Damiani, CEO of AHRC NYC, said “I hope you have a deep sense of pride and appreciation for what you achieved, and we can’t wait to see what you are going to do next.” Acknowledging the importance of guidance and gratitude, Marco encouraged the graduates to serve as mentors to the next generation of students as they were mentored by their academic peers and staff members.

One of these mentors, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College named Wendy Salas, said, “It’s so easy to start something but difficult to complete it. You showed up every day whether you felt like it or not, and I hope you continue to be the people who show up day in and day out for the things that are worthwhile to you.”

Exuding Positive Energy

The ceremonies saw students demonstrating how they’ve grown over the course of their education through the presentations of their senior projects and speeches from the heart.

Dan Barth holds up one of his paintings, a skill he enhanced while at college.

Graduate, Dan Barth with one of his paintings

I have discovered my love of art and animation through this program,” said Dan Barth. The talented painter and photographer also loves coffee and hopes to fuse his passions in the future.

One of the first things I learned about Dan is we have the same taste in movies, music and we even share the same birthday!” said Jessica Giorgio, Program Director of the Riggio Program at BMCC and the College of Staten Island. “I do not think I have ever seen him without a smile and he has just an all-around positive energy.”

Israel Torres similarly exuded enthusiasm when he spoke about his time at college as a student with autism.

I am one step closer to accomplishing my goal since the start of my college journey. I’ve dedicated myself to putting in the hard work, developing my skills, creativity, and my experiences,” he said. He honored his loved ones for getting him to this point in life. “As I grew up with the help of friends and family, I’ve learned a lot of things that come naturally to most people. Thank you.”