It’s been a little more than 10 years since I left Queens College, when the now late John Lewis spoke at my commencement, calling this school where Andrew Goodman came from “holy ground.” The rain seeped through my clothes but it would take years for me to soak in the significance of this legend talking at my graduation.
Here was the civil rights activist who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. through Selma, whose fight for equality would help make it possible for the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 to pass that almost certainly allowed my family and I to immigrate to the U.S. from the Philippines. Q.C. was strange that way, offering you layered experiences and deep wisdom you’d notice later. That’s especially true in my career as a journalist with my English major from Q.C.
One day I’m studying Native American lore for a class, then years later I’m interviewing a librarian collecting accounts of tribal communities’ struggles in the U.S. One day I’m talking Lord of the Rings with a medievalist in the English Department, later I’m interviewing a radio host who chatted with J.R.R Tolkien while he was alive. One day I’m drafting a paper about comic-book superheroes for a class, later I’m interviewing a former editor at DC Comics about the anniversary of Superman’s introduction and covering N.Y. Comic Con for the Daily News.
I can go on and on about how what I learned from Q.C. has echoes in my life and work after graduating. But none of that work would have existed without the vital support of professors in the English Department who told this self-conscious Filipino immigrant that his voice had value and encouraged him when he was first rejected after applying to a graduate school of journalism.
The rain during my graduation distracted me from that ceremony’s important message: black activists like John Lewis helped make it possible for me to immigrate to the U.S., well-meaning professors like those in Q.C. helped me find a fuller life here. I’m still letting it sink in how lucky I am all these years later.
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