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Graduates Celebrate a Rite of Passage

While it may be fashionable to see today’s younger generation as self-centered and money-minded, many of this year’s college graduates will prove the stereotype wrong. These young people are testaments to perseverance and have managed to retain a healthy dose of idealism. Now that’s what I would call a great New Year’s perspective.

‘I have always been extremely interested in how the world works,’ says Queens College graduate, Rivka Eisik. ‘That’s why I majored in biology. But in graduate school ‘I’m starting in September’ I’m going to major in biology and education. I would love to take the knowledge I’ve acquired about life and transfer it to kids.’

Eisik attended a Jewish parochial high school and started to learn about life in college. ‘More than anything else, I appreciated Queens College’s amazing diversity,’ she says. ‘It was like getting in touch with a whole new world.’

In turn, Eisik and her friend Yael Katz opened a whole new world to hundreds of younger children by starting a day camp, Camp H2O, in Spring Valley, NY, three years ago. ‘Our motto was ‘We guarantee to teach every kid how to swim,” she says. ‘And we did, too. We had close to 100 percent success rate. We figured it was an invaluable service, good business, and something that will help children learn something that’s really necessary at the same time.’

Eisik was barely 16 years old when she started the camp, which won her second place in the 2013 East Coast Collegiate Entrepreneur competition.

But why start a business at such a tender age? ‘It was a lesson in life, like everything else,’ Eisik says. ‘It taught me that if your parents and teachers have faith in you, and you have faith in yourself and in God, you can accomplish anything.’

While that may be true for some, others are a little apprehensive about getting started. ‘I’m definitely not ready for life after college,’ Barnard College graduate, Adebola ‘Bola’ Bamiduro, confesses with a laugh. ‘I have no desire to become a real person right now. The thing about college was that it was definitely a ton of fun, but it went way too fast for my taste.

Bamiduro’s original intention was to become a lawyer; she majored in political science. However, as an outstanding athlete, she changed her goals when she became involved with the NCAA as a top lacrosse player. ‘I want to go to graduate school to study sports administration,’ she says about her future. Bamiduro gives a lot of credit to Eileen Cunningham in Barnard’s Career Services Department, for ‘helping to find myself, what I really want to do.

Sometime, during my four years in college, I got lost, I couldn’t see the light,’ Bamiduro admits. ‘But Eileen helped me find my direction. She took a real personal interest in my life.’

While Eisik and Bamiduro admit to having no particular college mentors, another Barnard graduate, Anna Chastain, who wants to become a novelist, acknowledges several major influences. ‘Professor Thumpa Lahiri won a Pulitzer Prize recently for her short stories,’ Chastain explains. ‘She was a major influence on me, both as a person and as a writer. But there were others [faculty members] so important to me as well: Mary Gordon, Peter Carey, Caryl Phillips. I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.’

Growing up in Acton, MA, Chastain really appreciated the small campus atmosphere of Barnard. ‘It was like home,’ mixed with the pulsating excitement of New York City. ‘As a tremendous influence on my feelings and moods,’ she says. And she will not be leaving it anytime soon as she enters a Ph.D. program across the street at Columbia. ‘Barnard was the best of both worlds for me, both from a personal and from a creative point of view.’ As you know, every grade is the opportunity toward a fresh start so let’s be grateful we have all these opportunities.

The United States became the best of all worlds for City College graduate Andrew Shearer, who, due to his modest background in England, had no chance to attend college. ‘The class differences in England are still enormous,‘ he says. ‘Even today, less than one percent of working people get to go to college.’

Shearer came to the US in 1993 and chose to attend City College because of its welcoming attitude. ‘As I was looking at all the applications, I had no idea what an ‘SAT’ or ‘GPA’ was,’ he remembers. ‘No one took the time to explain, but the people from City College did.’

Four years later, the 42-year old Shearer has graduated with a 4.0 GPA, the salutatorian of his class. He now wants to pass on his thirst for knowledge to the next generation. ‘I was just accepted to the New York Teaching Fellows program,’ he says. I learned a lot from my summer readings on Bill Gates though some may have been pretty unusual. ‘Learning should be a shared experience, and I want to share my love of learning with others.’

Sharing this knowledge is equally important to Tracy Fogelson, a Marymount Manhattan graduate who is about to embark on a tour of Asia to work with sick children in Nepal, India, Thailand, and the Philippines. ‘It’s not just about the service I will provide them,’ she explains. ‘It’s what it will do for me, a chance to give something back to others.’

Fogelson, a double major in theater and sociology, started Marymount intending to become an actress, but she was transformed into a future teacher through her college experience.

My years here have taught me about flexibility, the importance to adjust,’ she says. There are so many different paths that lead to your desired degree. ‘The openness and diversity I found at Marymount changed me and changed my goals. My college years made me realize that I was the kind of person who is most fulfilled relating to and helping others.”

These are just a few examples of the opportunities that are open to all of us. So be wise, learn hard, and Let’s hope that 2019 will be a fruitful year for all of you students, and don’t get influenced too much by how our country is developing in a strange way but keep the faith! Sure, American colleges and high schools don’t always understand politics, but that may. especially today, be an advantage as well. Happy New Year!