The power of mentorship and giving back were center stage at Brooklyn College’s 2023 commencement as the achievements of 3,809 graduates were celebrated at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. College President Michelle J. Anderson, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Anne Lopes, and Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Ron Jackson, helped lead the conferring of degrees in the college’s School of Natural and Behavioral Sciences, School of Visual, Media and Performing Arts, Murray Koppleman School of Business, School of Education, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies. Welcoming the special guests, as well as the families and friends of the graduates, President Anderson congratulated the Class of 2023, while thanking the strong faculty and classmates who helped get the graduates to the finish line. “These students worked hard to get here,” President Anderson said. “They tackled rigorous academic work, research projects, internships, jobs, and numerous assignments. Today, they are not the same people who graduated from high school and came to our doors. As a result, they evolved. They explored new ideas about life and what is possible within it, about our history and what makes us human, and ideas that have shaped and changed them for the better, as a college education is designed to do.” Professor Emerita and Pulitzer and Kennedy Center award-winner Tania León served as the keynote speaker and was given an honorary degree. León, who taught at Brooklyn College for 35 years until her retirement in 2019, was director of music composition at the school’s Conservatory of Music. She is the first faculty member in any of the City University of New York (CUNY) schools to receive the prestigious Kennedy Center award. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for her work “Stride” in 2021. Having grown up in a lower-income family in Cuba, León told the Class of 2023 she always dreamed of earning a college degree and that what her family lacked in material wealth they made up in spirit, encouragement, and support. A twist of fate landed her in the United States in her early 20s, and what followed was an incredible career as one of the world’s preeminent composers, conductors, and educators. “My life in Brooklyn College, where I taught for 33 years in the Music Department, eventually becoming a distinguished professor, has been the source of enriching experiences, personal growth, and many talented students and personal friends, which have become members of my extended family,” León said. “Many of these colleagues and students have been inspirational through their passion and their contributions to society. To see students graduate is a joyful moment for all the professors involved in their journey, including myself. … As you continue on your journey and give service to our societies with your unique talents, you, in turn, will offer your support, encouragement, and powerful spirit that will help others realize their dreams.” Following León’s commencement speech, Brooklyn College Foundation Trustee Leonard Tow ’50, founder and chairman of The Tow Foundation, surprised the audience by announcing that the foundation would be providing support toward the establishment of the Tania León Chair of Music—the first-ever named chair in the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College. “The Tania León Chair will forever recognize and honor your unmatched legacy at Brooklyn College and in the larger world,” Tow said. Brooklyn College President Michelle J. Anderson presents Leonard Tow ‘50, Brooklyn College Foundation Trustee and founder and chairman of The Tow Foundation, with a birthday cake as Evan Silverstein ‘76 (left) and Tania León look on. President Anderson thanked Tow for his continued support, as the crowd helped him celebrate his recent 95th birthday by singing “Happy Birthday” led by Joe Damon Chappel ’23 M.M., singer from the Brooklyn College Brass Ensemble. Silverstein, ’76, Brooklyn College Foundation Board of Trustees Chair was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor. Silverstein has served as a Trustee since 2009. He has led the Foundation’s efforts to secure vital support for students. Silverstein was a lead supporter of the effort to raise emergency funds for students during the pandemic and established the Renee and Evan Silverstein Internship Fund at Brooklyn College. Brooklyn College President Michelle J. Anderson awards Evan Silverstein, ‘76, Brooklyn College Foundation Board of Trustees Chair, with the Presidential Medal of Honor. Silverstein dedicated his award to Brooklyn College students past, present, and future. “To me, my years at Brooklyn College were not just academic,” Silverstein said. “The growth, maturity, and awareness that I experienced made me aware of a much bigger world that I never knew. I grew up at Brooklyn College. I, my fellow board members, and many others do what we do because we feel we owe it to Brooklyn College to give back and enhance the opportunity for students any which way we can. The fact that you are committed to earning a college degree says a lot about you and bodes well for your future.” The valedictorian of the Class of 2023 was Chaim Janani, who received his bachelor’s degree in honors for chemistry. Janani congratulated his fellow graduates and credited his academic success to the support and mentorship he received at Brooklyn College, which helped him to fulfill his dream of becoming a physician. Following commencement, he will pursue medical school in the fall at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. The salutatorian, Lisa Leopold- Chaparro, a Guttman Transfer Scholar, and co-teacher at a private preschool in Manhattan, received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Early Childhood. Leopold- Chaparro will continue her studies at Brooklyn College and attend the early childhood education graduate program. She plans to work with at-risk students in public schools. (Left to right) Class of 2023 Salutatorian Lisa Leopold- Chaparro, Brooklyn College President Michelle J. Anderson, and the valedictorian Chaim Janani. Other special guests who addressed the Class of 2023 and offered congratulations were U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams ’01, ’05 M.A., and Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. The CUNY family was also well-represented, including CUNY Trustee Kevin Kim, who addressed the Class of 2023. Officially, Brooklyn College conferred 2,871 students who have received baccalaureate degrees, 850 who earned master’s degrees, and 88 students who will receive advanced certificates. The Class of 2023 celebrates commencement at Barclays Center. Watch the entire 2023 Brooklyn College commencement. Watch coverage from NY-1 News.