A Hempstead Village elementary school was renamed Wednesday night for one of its most famous graduates: David A. Paterson, the state's first black governor.
Students, teachers and residents filled a tent on the front lawn of Fulton Elementary School for a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included speeches by Paterson and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The school will be the first in the state named after Paterson, who served as governor from 2008 to 2010.
The Hempstead school board had approved the renaming during Paterson's final year in office, but the change will not be official until the school year resumes in September.
On Wednesday night, Paterson recalled the challenge of attending school after the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating desegregation. Many white parents feared sending their kids to school with minority children, he said, and pulled them out.
The Hempstead school system survived that challenge, and others that followed, he said.
"The name on the building will reflect the achievement of one person," Paterson said. "But the institution will reflect how thousands of people overcame" difficult times.
Many students credited him for inspiring a sense of social justice as governor.
Fifth-grader Nia Lariosa thanked him for his efforts to stop bullying.
"Thank you, Gov. David Paterson, for being our voice," she said. "One day I will also be the voice of the people."
Paterson, 59, has spoken fondly of his 25 years in Hempstead. Though he was born in Brooklyn, his parents relocated to Hempstead in 1958 because the New York City public school system would have placed Paterson, who is legally blind, in special education classes.
After graduating from Hempstead High School, Columbia University and Hofstra Law School, Paterson followed his father's footsteps by winning a New York State Senate seat in 1985. He went on to become the Democratic leader in the Senate in 2003, and was then elected to serve as Eliot Spitzer's lieutenant governor in 2006.
Following Spitzer's resignation amid a prostitution scandal in 2008, Paterson served as governor for the remainder of the term.