-- Commencement Keynote Speaker and Alumnus Matthew Higgins Established Program to Honor His Late Mother, an Alumna and Single Working Mother --
QUEENS, NY, May 23, 2019 – Two of this year’s proud Queens College graduates—aspiring CPA Rosanna Batista, and would-be teacher Tameka Edwards-Hepburn—credit the Linda Higgins Empowerment Scholarship with allowing them to complete their degrees. Both women pursued higher education while burdened with significant family and work obligations. Matthew Higgins, Queens College alumnus and keynote speaker for the school’s 95th commencement on Thursday, May 30, established the scholarship to honor his late mother Linda Higgins, also a QC graduate.
"A weight lifted from my shoulders," is how Battista, an Ozone Park resident, felt after learning she’d received the scholarship. "I’d run out of TAP (state financial aid) and so was in a tight situation, worrying about paying tuition and graduating. The award kept me positive and on the right track." Edwards-Hepburn is equally grateful about her scholarship, saying, "It meant that I didn’t have to leave school." A native of Kingston, Jamaica, she has assumed serious responsibilities since she was a teenager, when she took on the care and lifelong upbringing of her infant niece. Until her marriage last month, she was the single mother of a son, now 14, and a daughter, now eight.
A single mother, Linda Higgins faced dire poverty while raising four children. But in Matthew Higgins’ words, the college "…affirmed her dignity and self-respect. To so many who work their way through school, or who battle struggles at home, or who summon the will to return to college after years of prolonged absence, this is an oasis…" He went on to become vice chairman of the Miami Dolphins and cofounder and CEO of the private investment firm RSE Ventures, debuting as a "guest shark" on the ABC-TV reality show "Shark Tank" in 2018.
Higgins will meet Batista and Edwards-Hepburn for the first time, before the college’s main commencement ceremony, on Thursday, May 30, at 7:30 am, in the Student Union.
"Matt's scholarship program honors his roots while making success stories like his possible for the next generation," says CUNY Chancellor and Queens College President Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. "The experiences of people like Tameka Edwards-Hepburn and Rosanna Batista are at the foundation of our efforts at Queens College. Every degree that we confer at commencement is proof of a dream realized, for so many women and men who might not otherwise have had an opportunity to earn one. The significance of having an alumnus like Matt Higgins support those opportunities—based on his own life experience and his continuing commitment to the college—is powerful, and we are eager to see the bright futures that Rosanna and Tameka build because of it."
"Queens College is a haven for those whose lives have taken them down an unconventional path," adds Higgins. "Watching my mother singlehandedly raise four boys while working, battling chronic health issues and pursuing higher education taught me the true meaning of sacrifice and the value of a college degree. The Linda Higgins Empowerment Scholarship is a way to honor my mother’s legacy by eliminating the barriers that may otherwise keep mothers like Rosanna and Tameka from obtaining a degree. It reinforces the fact that Queens College is a place where the promise of an excellent education is not contingent on means, but on mettle."
Batista’s path to a BA in Accounting & Information Systems college diploma involved many detours. As a young, single mother attempting to attend class, raise her son and hold a job, she dropped out of Queens College and later, LaGuardia Community College. After seven years working in retail management, she returned to LaGuardia, earning an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration with honors. Then she enrolled at Queens College once again, determined to earn her bachelor’s degree.
"I live near my mother in Ozone Park, where I grew up, and she watches my son," says Batista, who works part-time for a property management company in Queens. She has also volunteered weekly as a math tutor at the high-needs Franklin K. Lane High School in Brooklyn. After her long, hard journey toward a college diploma, Batista has another reason to celebrate on May 30: she has been accepted into Queens College’s graduate accounting program. Her goal is to become a CPA and eventually open her own accounting firm.
Unable to afford college after high school, Tameka Edwards-Hepburn received hospitality management training and held a supervisory position at a luxury Montego Bay hotel. With the decline of tourism after 9/11, she entered automotive customer service. Then her son became seriously ill with what later proved to be misdiagnosed leukemia.
To access better medical care for him, Edwards-Hepburn moved to the United States a decade ago, doing "odd jobs to make ends meet. At one point, I was on the brink of homelessness," she recalls. Edwards-Hepburn enrolled at Queensborough Community College with the goal of becoming a nurse, but through volunteer work at church realized that she loved being around kids and wanted to teach them. After earning her Associate’s Degree, she was admitted to QC, majoring in Elementary and Early Childhood Education. "My family, advisement, the Higgins scholarship, and a part-time tutoring job in the SEEK program helped me to stay on track," she declares.
This summer, she will be working in a program for elementary school students that is designed to address the learning loss that can occur between the spring and fall semesters. "I will be graduating with honors this May and returning to graduate school here at Queens College," says Edwards-Hepburn, who became an American citizen last year.
Approximately 3,000 degree candidates will attend Queens College’s 95th commencement ceremony. CUNY Chancellor and Queens College President Félix V. Matos Rodríguez will preside over an audience that is expected to number more than 10,000, graduates included. Over 4,500 undergraduate and graduate degrees will be awarded this year to candidates from summer and fall 2018, and winter and spring 2019.
About Queens College
Queens College graduates the most teachers, counselors, and principals serving in New York City public schools. The college contributes to the local talent pool as a powerful economic engine and a leader in tech education, with more computer science majors than any college in New York City. Students from across the country and around the world are attracted to study at the Aaron Copland School of Music. Its renowned faculty and alumni include nationally recognized composers, conductors and performers who have received over 100 Grammy Awards and nominations.
Queens College enjoys a national reputation for its liberal arts and sciences and pre-professional programs. With its graduate and undergraduate degrees, honors programs, and research and internship opportunities, the college helps its nearly 20,000 students realize their potential in countless ways, assisted by an accessible, award-winning faculty. Located on a beautiful, 80-acre campus in Flushing, the college is cited each year in the Princeton Review as one of the nation’s 100 "Best Value" colleges, as well as being ranked a U.S. News and World Report Best College and Forbes Magazine Best Value College thanks to its outstanding academics, generous financial aid packages, and relatively low costs. Visit our homepage to learn more.