IT’S A SEA of black graduation gowns in the belly of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn one rainy Tuesday evening in June. On the floor of the stadium, where the basketball court should be, sit thousands of students awaiting the start of the 75th Commencement of the New York City College of Technology, better known as City Tech. Everywhere, students are snapping selfies, craning their necks to find family members in the upper decks, and fastening last-minute bobby pins to caps bearing messages like “Thanks Mom!” and “Dream Big” scrawled in glitter and puff paint.

A procession of City Tech professors in robes and doctoral hoods file past the rows of students on their way to the stage. The line is moving slowly but steadily when an accounting professor students call Dr. Singh stops short after spotting six of his students seated in the row to his left. He smiles wide, throws his arms in the air, and gives each of them a handshake or celebratory clap on the back before pulling out his phone to snap a photo. Even from above, you can see the kids beaming.

If Dr. Singh is particularly proud of this sextet, he would not be without reason, and he certainly would not be the only one. For starters, they are all 17 and 18. Few expected them to graduate this early. Given their backgrounds, few people probably expected them to graduate at all.

These six students are not the kind of boy or girl genius types who are accepted to Mensa at age 4 and master calculus by age 6. In fact, back in 8th grade, none of them were accepted into their first choice high schools. Many are the first in their families to attend college—a fact that, statistically speaking, makes them far less likely to graduate at all, let alone several years early.


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Written by Issie Lapowsky

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