NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Diversity took center stage Tuesday, as the FDNY welcomed nearly 300 new firefighters.

As CBS 2’s Elise Finch reported, almost half of the graduates are people of color, and four are women. The class comprises the greatest number of female graduates the department has ever had at one time.

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One by one, graduates of the FDNY training academy accepted their certificates Tuesday, each receiving enthusiastic applause from family and friends.

But the applause was the loudest for the four women in the group.

“I feel like I accomplished a lot. I worked really hard, and I pushed myself past my limit, and I’m just reaping the benefits right now – it feels great,” said Giselle King.

“I couldn’t do it without my family, my best friends here; without the three women that came along side by side with me, that when we were in the lowest of lows and the toughest of tough situations, we all came out together, and here we are today,” said Vanessa Schoening.

“It’s hard for any female, but the military helped me to be more resilient and to just dig in, pretty much,” said Antoinette Proctor.

The four women were part of a diverse group that survived a grueling 18-week training period.

“This is a class that absolutely looks like New York City, and that is a beautiful thing,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “You represent all of New York City, and that is taking us forward.”

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“We have more women and people of color,” said outgoing FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano. “Diversity makes us better.”

The four female graduates add to the diversity of this class in more ways than one. Two are African-American, one is Hispanic and the fourth is part of a father-daughter firefighting duo – only the second in the department’s history.

“Overwhelming,” said Charlotte Shannon.

Shannon is the youngest of Kevin Shannon’s three daughters, and the only one to follow in his footsteps when it comes to the job.

With the four new firefighters, the department now has 41 women in a force of more than 10,000. That is less than 1 percent, and represents one of the worst gender disparity rates in the country.

But veteran firefighters said things are changing.

“It’s a new time for the Fire Department. A lot of things are shifting – the culture of the Fire Department,” said Sarinya Srisakul of the United Women Firefighters. “The more women that we get on, the more women know that they too can become firefighters.

Another distinguishing fact about the new firefighters is that 100 of the 286 graduates Tuesday are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.

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