Fedcap 2015 Graduation Ceremony Inspires All
On June 11, in an exuberant ceremony at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Fedcap celebrated the accomplishments of its graduating class of 2015.
Over 500 people – graduates, their families and friends, board members, vendors, business partners and staff – gathered for Fedcap’s sixth annual Graduation. The event featured inspiring stories and testimonials about the courage and character of the men and women who have overcome barriers to graduate from Fedcap programs.
Fedcap President and CEO Christine McMahon thanked John Jay College and its president, Jeremy Travis, for hosting the event, and for the valued partnership between John Jay and Fedcap. She then spoke about the extraordinary accomplishments of the graduates and their supporters. “This graduation marks a new beginning for these courageous men and women,” she said “All of us need the help and support of others. I offer heartfelt thanks to the families and friends of our graduates for all they have done to make this moment possible.”
Fedcap Board Chair Mark O’Donoghue described the graduation as “the greatest day of Fedcap’s year,” one that honors both the achievements of the graduates and an underlying belief in the value of hard work and effort. Mark introduced graduate Kevin Conkling, who presented Fedcap’s 2015 Excellence in Vocational Rehabilitation Award to ACCES-VR, a key partner agency that refers individuals with significant disabilities to Fedcap programs. “We work with ACCES-VR to ensure that these motivated individuals have that opportunity to take their place as working members of society,” Mark said.
Before presenting the award Kevin, who is deaf and grew up in foster care, described being stuck in temporary jobs by employers who said they had nothing more to offer him. Recognizing that a full-time job was the way out of his “temporary” life, Kevin sought out ACCES–VR, which led him to Fedcap’s facilities management training program and a living wage job. “An ACCES-VR counselor is the best champion you can have,” he said.
In accepting the award on behalf of all VR counselors in New York State, Joanne Schwartz, ACCES-VR Regional Coordinator, praised the motivation and determination of the graduates, and praised the agency’s partnership with Fedcap, which continues to grow and to serve more people with disabilities.
After a moving speech by Dominique Wyche, a graduate of Fedcap’s Home Health Aide Training Program who is now a valued employee, Board Member Anoop Dhakad introduced Eddie Lucas. Eddie, who is blind, is an Emmy Award-winning sportswriter who has covered the Yankees and the Mets during a celebrated 55-year career. As an individual who never let his blindness get in the way of achieving his childhood dream, Eddie’s comments resonated deeply with everyone in the room. He told his remarkable story about becoming blind at age 12 after being struck by a baseball. Through determination and hard work, and the love and support of family members and the Yankees organization, Eddie never gave up, and never listened to those who told him he could never become a baseball writer. “I chose not to believe in naysayers but to believe in myself,” Eddie told the rapt audience. “People may tell you your dream is impossible to reach, but you must continue to push forward and never give up.”
Zaquan Risher, a graduate of Fedcap’s security training program, presented Fedcap’s prestigious WorkStar Award to Brosnan Risk Consultants, where he is employed. The award is given to socially conscious businesses that provide job opportunities to people with barriers, and Brosnan has indeed hired many Fedcap graduates over the years. Zaquan said that the company respects all of its workers and helps them build careers.
William Martinez, a Brosnan executive who accepted the WorkStar Award on behalf of the company, held back tears as he congratulated the graduates. The Brosnan and Fedcap partnership is a win-win for everyone, he said; the graduates embark on a pathway to sustainable careers, while Brosnan gets motivated, well-trained employees who wear their uniforms proudly and honor their jobs.
Graduate speaker Luis DeJesus, who is formerly court-involved, read a remarkable self-penned poem to the audience that described his struggles and triumphs. “Nothing mattered to me,” he said. “Now I have a job and a paycheck. My kids are proud of me, and when I put on my Fedcap uniform I am proud of myself.”
When the climactic moment arrived, Dr. Roque Gerald, Sr. Vice President of Fedcap’s Educational Practice Area called out the names of graduates, who rose to accept their diplomas, which were presented by Mark O’Donoghue and Aisha Lucas, Vice President, Fedcap Home Care. Quoting Nelson Mandela, Roque reminded the proud graduates, that “education is the most important weapon you can use to change the world.”
In concluding remarks, Joe Giannetto, Fedcap’s Chief Operating Officer, thanked the speakers, honorees, Fedcap’s board of directors and John Jay College. He thanked Fedcap partner agencies NYSID, NYC Department of Probation and HRA, and the New York Yankees organization for providing three tickets to a Yankees game to each graduate, and tickets to Fedcap volunteers who helped make the event such an unforgettable one.
“Today was about second chances and perseverance, and the importance of family and friends,” Joe said. “This has been a great program and a great, great crowd.”