On May 10, the Bank Street Graduate School of Education awarded Frances Lucerna, GSE ’96, the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa during its annual commencement ceremony at Riverside Church in New York City.
Lucerna, a former professional dancer and Graduate School Educational Leadership alumna, was recognized for her role in connecting community arts with education to help empower young students and support the local communities in which they live. As co-founder of El Puente, a nationally recognized community/youth development organization nurturing holistic leadership for peace and social justice, Lucerna has played a powerful role as a vocal human rights activist in New York City and across the country for more than three decades.
“Ms. Lucerna understood from the beginning that you can’t reach a young person if you don’t celebrate who they are, where they come from, and what experiences they have had,” said Cecelia Traugh, Dean of the Graduate School of Education, in her conferral of the honorary degree. “[Her] work is grounded in a commitment to bringing together every aspect of life that impacts a young person’s development—including health, education, and the arts—with a focus on activism and community empowerment. In this way… [she] aims to encourage each student to find their own voice, to look inward before looking outward, and to act with intentionality.”
After Lucerna shared a few words on the importance of human expression for student growth and the power of community, student speakers Elise Hebel, Alexandra Renee Martinez, and Carolina Soto Bonds each took to the podium to share reflections on her time at Bank Street and her visions for the next chapter in her life as an educator.
“As we have spent the last two years together, listening and reflecting, the strands of our stories have become interwoven,” said Hebel, a graduate of the Child Life program. “We have become scholars, creators, playmakers, and advocates. We have learned not only how to engage with and learn from our own stories, but also how to create platforms where others can feel empowered to do the same… As we commence here in Riverside Church, let us continue to listen to and reflect upon the stories we tell and the stories we are told, continuing to nurture tolerance, understanding, and appreciation for the many differences and similarities that unite us.”
A commitment to embracing and engaging with the “whole student” was echoed throughout the ceremony. President Shael-Polakow Suransky, GSE ’00, spoke about the power of relationships and an emerging body of research demonstrating how the brain development of young children is directly connected to their environment.
“Learning is social, emotional, and academic,” he said. “Studies reveal that the different parts of the brain that control social, emotional, and cognitive processes work together like the strands of a rope. … By building relationships…you can intertwine the social, emotional, and cognitive processes—and you can change lives. On your graduation day, I want to commend you for choosing this path. The step you are about to embark on is of vital importance to society. I believe there is no more important work.”
After the ceremony, students, families, friends, and faculty celebrated the class of 2018 with a reception in the South Hall at Riverside Church.