Anne Sweeney Praises CNR Graduates for Pushing Beyond Boundaries to Pursue Life Stories


The College of New Rochelle held its 106th commencement ceremony today at Radio City Music Hall, conferring degrees to some 1,000 students who heard an inspiring commencement address from Anne Sweeney, Co-Chair of Disney Media Networks and President of Disney/ABC Television Group.

Ms. Sweeney, a 1979 CNR graduate, was presented with an honorary degree from CNR. Michael N. Ambler, Esq., Chairman of CNR’s Board of Trustees, also received an honorary degree for his dedication to the College.

In her commencement address, Ms. Sweeney recalled her early years as a CNR student and how she was inspired by her Medieval Literature professor for introducing her to a lifelong love of storytelling.

“Because while I loved stories, I always assumed that I would become a teacher,” she said. “But then, as luck would have it, I paged at ABC my senior year and came to realize that the stories I was destined to live would play out on a different screen ... or multiple screens,” she said.

“If there is one thing that I’ve learned throughout my life, it’s that inspiration happens when you least expect it…and oftentimes without you even knowing,” she said adding, “I think CNR students understand better than most the value of using inspiration to pursue their life stories. You’ve pushed beyond the boundaries that could have defined you or the obstacles that could have stopped you. You are each the hero in your own epic tale.”

This year’s commencement ceremony was especially poignant for several graduates and their families. Family members of Katonah resident Jessica Franco, who died last year after valiantly battling spina bifida, received her degree posthumously. In another touching moment, Queens resident Rajwant Sandhu, who underwent a heart transplant in 2011, received her degree. 


“Commencement day is always a joyous occasion for us and for our students, but this year it was especially memorable. We were happy to be able to present Rajwant with her degree and honor Jessica’s memory with a posthumous degree to her family,” said CNR President Judith Huntington. “All of our students worked very hard to get to this point and we congratulate all of them for achieving this great milestone.”

Born with spina bifida, a developmental congenital disorder caused by the incomplete closing of the embryonic neural tube, Franco underwent 200 surgeries to help fight her disorder. A graduate of Fox Lane High School, Franco was very determined to earn her degree.

Although confined to a wheelchair, she was independent and fully informed and involved in any decisions that affected her medical treatment, academics and personal life, according to family members. In fact, last year she underwent physical therapy and was in special training so that she could walk on graduation day with body braces. Sadly, she passed away in November 2012.

While at CNR, Franco studied psychology and Spanish. She was said to have grown intellectually, emotionally and spiritually at the school. In her own words she was “learning how to live” the values she treasured the most. Family members were touched when Ms. Huntington presented them with Jessica’s posthumous degree.

For Rajwant Sandhu, today’s commencement was a dream come true. During the summer of 2011, Sandhu was on her way to achieving her dream of being a physician as she prepared to take the MCAT exam. But on her way to take the exam, she suffered a major heart attack and was hospitalized.

Upon her release, she suffered a stroke and returned to the hospital where she was told she needed a heart transplant. That’s when her classmates and teachers came to her rescue and held a fundraising campaign at a volleyball doubleheader game which raised $1,000 for her medical expenses.

Also, CNR came together as a community to hold a prayer service for Rajwant. She joined her classmates today, graduating with a double major B.S. degree in biology and chemistry, with a GPA greater than 3.8.

Margaret Mary McMurray SAS'13 won an unofficial "most audience participation" award from Dean Thompson following a dynamic speech at the School of Arts & Sciences Hooding Ceremony, but true to her modesty, her speech failed to mention her astonishing family history at the College. "Molly," as she is known, is the thirteenth woman in her family to attend the College, beginning with her great-grandmother who graduated in 1911. Of the thirteen, she is the third Margaret Mary.