Graduate School of Education Commencement Celebrates the Class of 2023 and Honors Guadalupe Valdés and Ursula Davis

On May 4, Bank Street Graduate School of Education celebrated its annual commencement ceremony in honor of its 2023 graduates. Held at Riverside Church, the ceremony commended the perseverance and accomplishments of the approximately 250 students who earned their master’s degrees and advanced certificates.

Bank Street also awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa to two outstanding leaders: Guadalupe Valdés, whose contributions to the field of bilingual education has changed its landscape, and Ursula Davis, GSE ’74, an outstanding early childhood specialist and tireless advocate for high-quality, equitable, and developmentally appropriate education starting in the early childhood years.

Dr. Valdés devoted her professional career to improving the lives and experience of Latinx and Black students, advocating for inclusive classrooms where the language and cultural practices of all students are considered. Upon receiving her honorary degree, Dr. Valdés congratulated the graduating class for responding to the calling to become educators.

She said, “In this role, you will touch the lives of children in unique ways. Importantly, it is you, the teachers, who connect us to the future by identifying and nurturing talent, by noticing the small sparkle in children’s eyes, by supporting their first steps in learning, by applauding their mastery of what is initially difficult, and sometimes, by challenging undisciplined genius as envisioned by your founder, Lucy Sprague Mitchell, as you strive to give your students, as well as all of us, a better society through education.”

Next to be recognized with an honorary doctorate was Ursula Davis, an educational consultant who earned a master’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education from Bank Street Graduate School of Education in 1974. Dedicated to advancing high-quality early childhood education nationwide, Davis has stayed connected to the Bank Street community, teaching early childhood graduate courses, working with the School for Children, and bringing Bank Street’s resources and pedagogy to public schools, among other endeavors.

Upon receiving her honorary degree, she said, “Maya Angelou once said, ‘Still I rise.’ Today, you rise ready to meet the needs of children. You rise to accept children where they are as you support them to become all that they can be. You rise to explore and discover new and exciting ways to engage children and help them to explore the world around them. And you rise with the understanding that you are an integral part of the communities that you will choose to teach in. You rise to clearly understand that you have the capabilities to help children become lifelong learners. You have the ability to change the world, one child at a time.”

Following the conferral of the honorary degrees, two graduating students—Amanda Rosado and Richard Batista—took the stage to reflect on their experiences at Bank Street and share a few key learnings.

Rosado, a graduate of the Early Childhood Special and General Education Dual Certification Program, reminded her peers that “As educators, the future truly lies in not only our hands, but in the hands of those we teach.” She continued, “Today, I constantly ask myself as an educator, am I ensuring that my classroom is equitable, are my students being given the best education possible every day they walk into my classroom? What will I do with all that I have learned here at Bank Street? I will plant seeds with my students so that future educators may harvest fruit from my labor.

Batista, a graduate of the Leadership in Mathematics Education Program, told his classmates that “being an educator is not an easy endeavor…  For those going into the profession for the first time, take it one day at a time. And remember, your mental health is important, too. I know I am destined to do amazing things in the world of education, and also know that all of us graduating here today are, as well. This I believe.”

The Class of 2023 also heard from Cecelia Traugh, Dean, Bank Street Graduate School of Education, who was honored with the lifelong title of Dean Emerita as she prepares to retire after eight years of service. In her address, Dr. Traugh spoke about the importance of relationships that are mutually beneficial, saying, “Even when a relationship involves an adult and a child, there is the understanding that the two are standing on the same ground, equitable in their humanity, each trying to listen and learn from the other.”

She continued, “Being in right relationship requires ongoing work to get outside oneself, to create understandings of people’s behaviors, beliefs, and objectives that are at first different and unknown to you. An important quest in any educator’s life should be to seek right relationship with children, colleagues, communities, the natural and built environment, and, always, with oneself.”

President Shael Polakow-Suransky, GSE ’00, also took the stage, encouraging the new graduates to channel what they’ve learned at Bank Street to help build a better society, which is a hallmark of the College’s mission.

He said, “You have amazing power and daunting responsibility to shape and influence your students to become active, lifelong learners who embody democratic principles and are committed to the tenets of social justice. We are relying on you to pass along the Bank Street gospel—to observe keenly, reflect deeply, analyze honestly, innovate boldly. Our society is counting on your success.”

Click here to watch a recording of the ceremony and celebration of the exceptional accomplishments of our graduating class.