On a hot May afternoon, about 160 candidates walked in person, with their families and loved ones cheering from Edwards Parade. Following the graduates’ procession, Jane Bolgatz, Ph.D., associate dean for academic affairs and associate professor of curriculum and teaching at GSE, introduced Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, for an invocation, and GSE Interim Dean Akane Zusho, Ph.D., who addressed the graduates. Present in the crowd were Virginia Roach, Ed.D., former dean of GSE, and José Luis Alvarado, Ph.D., who will lead the school as dean beginning July 1.
“How we emerge from challenges helps to define who we are as human beings,” Zusho told the crowd, citing not only the COVID-19 pandemic but ongoing conversations around racial justice and education reform. “We need teachers, leaders, counselors, and psychologists who share in the fundamental belief that we can all learn and grow, and who can help their students, teachers, and clients live up to their fullest potential.
“Every student deserves to learn in an environment that encourages them to take risks, ask big questions, and make mistakes. Every student also deserves to know they are in a safe space where there is always a path to redemption through education, free of judgement. And that path begins with you.”
Students graduating across GSE’s degree and certificate programs echoed Zusho’s call for the need to change the world through education.
Brandon LaBella, who received a master’s degree in childhood education and is currently teaching fourth grade at Hillcrest Elementary School in Peekskill, New York, said that the M.S.T. program “made me feel so much more confident as a teacher. It’s incredible to be here surrounded by so many brilliant people, and I think everyone here is going to help make the world a better place.”
Speaking about what it’s been like to teach throughout the pandemic, LaBella added, “It’s been incredible to see the resilience of the students and all the teachers. It just gives me hope for the future that if we can take care of this, we can do anything.”
Darlyn Smith received her master’s in childhood special education through GSE’s online program and is currently teaching first grade at the Pingry School in Short Hills, New Jersey.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, since I was very young,” said Smith. “It’s a great feeling to be here and get to see all the friends that I had online and get to interact and celebrate this wonderful occasion.”
Others reflected on the personal journeys of their years in graduate school. Teddy Reeves received his administration and supervision Ph.D. in GSE’s church and non-public school leadership program, and he said that the research process, while challenging at times, was an essential complement to his work as the curator and co-lead of religion at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
“It has been an amazing, difficult season of writing and researching and finding self,” Reeves reflected. “It’s labor intensive, but it’s a labor of love. It’s been great to mirror the work that I do professionally with the work I got to do at Fordham.”
Magalie Exavier-Alexis, who completed her Ed.D. in educational leadership, administration, and policy while working as a school principal in Brooklyn’s District 13, also noted the challenges of balancing classwork and research with full-time work and a family, but she had no doubt that it was worth the effort.
“I’ve always known that my goal is to cross this finish line,” she said of receiving her doctorate. “I am elated! There are no words to describe my elation and my jubilation.”
Many graduates opted to attend GSE’s virtual ceremony, held on Monday, May 24. View the ceremony below and on YouTube.