From Diverse Backgrounds, ESL Learners Celebrate Achievements, American Dream At Shorefront Y


The Shorefront YM-YWHA (3300 Coney Island Avenue) celebrated its 34th Annual Graduation Ceremony of the English language learning program last night, recognizing what they warmly referred to as “the accomplishments of our newest Americans.”

Established in the early 1950s, The Shorefront Y has been a community-based organization that offers widespread services — such as adult, education and vocational programs — to the very diverse population of Southern Brooklyn. In the latest graduating class, about 60 percent of the ESL graduates were of Eastern European descent, 30 percent were of Latino descent, and the remaining 10 percent were a mix of Middle Eastern, African and South Asian backgrounds.

“Over 1000 people a year come in for our services,” said Lawrence Fish, the director of Émigré, who was particularly vocal in highlighting all the hard work the graduates put in. “The ESL graduation is a combination of seven or eight classes from different sites, but everyone is gathered here at the Y today to celebrate.”

Fish, however, said that the statistics are slowly yet surely shifting, noting that as the population of Southern Brooklyn continues to diversify, so does the inside of their classrooms.

Approximately 40 students received certificates that recognized that they had attained the highest possible level of achievement within the English language program at The Shorefront Y, as 300 students and their family members were in attendance to honor the graduates and celebrate the end of the year.

The auditorium was decorated with blue and white balloons down the aisles, as seated family members clutched bouquets of flowers to give to their graduate after the ceremony, some waving a small flag of their home country throughout.

The graduation opened with “The Star-Spangled Banner,” with every member of the audience, on stage and off, standing straight, some mouthing the words. “God Bless America,” “This Land Is Your Land,” and “Hatikvah,” the national anthem of Israel, were some of the songs that followed.

After the singing of “This Land Is Your Land,” Fish made clear: “America—this land is your land. For you, for me, for everybody.”

Esteemed guests were in the audience to celebrate the achievements of the ESL graduates and give a few words of encouragement, including representatives from New York State Senator Diane J. Savino and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

The ceremony included group presentations from the classes as the audience clapped along, and later included a piano recital and some solo performances.

Later, some of the graduates, though shy, spoke openly in front of the crowd of hundreds and gave personal statements about their journeys towards learning English as a second language—and for some, a third—and what it meant to them to become American citizens. Freedom, bravery and justice were some of the common themes shared by each individual.

Susan Fox, the executive director of The Shorefront Y, spoke in admiration of the accomplishments of the graduates, and explained that learning English, especially as an adult, is no easy task, but the Y will always offer its services to help those achieve that goal, and build a tighter-knit community in the process.

“I can’t believe we’ve been doing this for 34 years,” Fox said. “But we’re hoping for another 34.”