The ninety-fifth commencement exercises at Queens College last week recognized three distinguished alumni with honorary doctorates in front of hundreds of students and their families.

CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, at left, presided over his final commencement as president of Queens College on Thursday, May 30, 2019. Three distinguished alumni were recognized with honorary doctorates of humane letters, l. to r.: Pioneering opera singer Reri Grist ’54—a lyric and coloratura soprano sought out by renowned composers, conductors, and opera houses—who was the first African American woman to become a permanent member of the Zürich Opera. A native New Yorker and child of Caribbean immigrants, she has performed worldwide with such leading conductors as Igor Stravinsky, Kurt Herbert Adler, Nadia Boulanger, and Pierre Boulez; Dina N. Axelrad Perry ’67 and ’71, who has enjoyed a long and successful career in the financial sector, working for Chase Investors Management Corporation, Neuberger and Berman, and—for the past 26 years—Capital Group, one of the world’s oldest investment management organizations; and Matthew Higgins ‘98, Miami Dolphins executive, and CEO of the private investment firm RSE Ventures, who debuted as a “guest shark” on the ABC-TV reality show “Shark Tank” in 2018. Higgins supports parents who are taking classes at the college through the Linda Higgins Empowerment Scholarship​, which he established in honor of his late mother Linda Higgins, also a QC alumna. Photo credit: Andy Poon.

CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez presided over his final commencement as Queens College president on Thursday, May 30, 2019. Approximately 3,000 degree candidates and their families attended the college’s ninety-fifth ceremony where the audience approached 10,000. Four thousand five hundred candidates from summer and fall 2018, and winter and spring 2019 earned undergraduate and graduate degrees this year. Photo credit: Andy Poon.

Matthew Higgins ’98 is vice chairman of the Miami Dolphins, cofounder and CEO of the private investment firm RSE Ventures, and he was among the 2018 “guest sharks” on the ABC-TV reality show “Shark Tank,” but he couldn’t have foreseen any of this growing up in dire poverty as one of four children of a struggling single mother. As a testament to his mother—whom he watched “…raise four boys while working, battling chronic health issues, and pursuing higher education…” at Queens College—Higgins established the Linda Higgins Empowerment Scholarship to eliminate the barriers that might otherwise keep overwhelmed parents from obtaining a college degree. With the help of that scholarship, two mothers—aspiring CPA Rosanna Batista, (at left), and would-be teacher Tameka Edwards-Hepburn—earned bachelor’s degrees from Queens College on May 30. Both women say the award was vital to keeping them on track toward earning their degrees. Photo credit: Dominick Totino.

Read the commencement advisory here.