Queensborough Community College’s Melanie Jerez graduated Valedictorian, Class of 2024. Photo courtesy

“Sometimes you need to deviate from your path to reach your destination,” said 32-year-old Melanie Jerez, who graduated with an associate in science (A.S.) degree (3.96 G.P.A.) in Psychology at Queensborough Community College’s 63 rd Commencement Ceremony last Friday, May 31.

As far as her destination is concerned, becoming Valedictorian of her Class is a dream she doesn’t have to wake from.

“The dreams I have held close to my heart for so long have come to fruition. My hard work, my sacrifices, the risks I have taken to challenge myself and not be afraid of failure have brought me to this place. I am so honored to represent Queensborough on the culmination of my extraordinary journey at the College and share my farewell with my great fellow graduates of 2024.”

Melanie, who enrolled at Queensborough in the fall of 2022, grew up in the Dominican Republic.

Although she is the first in her family to graduate from college, it is her family who instilled some of the most important values in her life such as dedication, perseverance, and empathy. As a teenager, Melanie lived with her loving grandmother, who also nurtured her great grandmother in the last years of her life. During this time, Melanie took on the responsibility of caring for her younger brother when he needed her most.

It is family that inspired her decision to follow in the footsteps of that kindness and warmth and pursue a career in caregiving.

In 2007 Tropical Storm Olga ravaged the island. “We lost everything.”

Melanie stayed with her family in the Dominican Republic while the healing and rebuilding was underway. During that time, she completed her studies in Nursing at a vocational school, giving her the opportunity to intern as a Nurse in several major public hospitals in the Dominican Republic. In addition to nursing, Melanie worked as an English teacher at the JFK Institute of Languages and the Universidad Dominicana O&M, opening doors of opportunity for her to work as a teacher assistant at Colegio Bilingüe New Horizons, O&M Hostos School, and others. In 2017, after she arrived in the U.S. she interned as a medical assistant at NYU Langone ambulatory care in Manhattan while also pursuing EMS training with Aura Prep at Fordham University to become a Certified EMT and continue her pathway in health care.

Melanie applied her teaching skills at Queensborough Community College where she worked from 2022-24 as a math tutor and college assistant in CUNYStart. “I helped students to gain confidence with their quantitative skills and grasp a better understanding of the curriculum by providing guidance, and other support.”

Soon Melanie will offer encouragement and advice to a much bigger crowd. “Queensborough has encouraged me to be brave. I asked for help and received mental health support during COVID. I saw myself in other students– work and family responsibilities, feeling lost sometimes. But I also saw and experienced joy, excitement, and friendship. I found true comfort here, a community nestled in a culture of care.”