Brookdale faculty, staff, administrators and a wide range of community members came together on May 13 to congratulate the nearly 100 Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) students who will be graduating from the college this year.
The graduates, surrounded by a standing-room-only crowd of friends, family and classmates, were presented with official certificates and ceremonial EOF sashes, to be worn at commencement two days later. Thirty additional students were recognized by the NJ Office of the Secretary of Higher Education for their academic achievements, including two graduates who earned a perfect 4.0 GPA.
Brookdale EOF Director and former EOF graduate Richard Morales Wright congratulated the students for completing the program, and for living up to the high standards set by previous generations of EOF graduates.
“Our students have the aptitude, they have the ability,” Wright said. “Maybe they have fallen in the past. But that’s alright. Because they pick themselves back up and they keep going. That’s the student that New Jersey needs. That’s the student that represents our community at its best.”
Those sentiments were echoed by a wide range of speakers, including Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy, dean of enrollment development and student affairs David Stout and prominent EOF alumni Lawrese Brown.
Brown, founder of Brown Coaching and Consulting and a New York University graduate, discussed what she called the three keys for collegiate and professional achievement: success, responsibility and community. Those principles, she said, form the bedrock of the EOF program and can help students overcome any boundaries they encounter.
“When you find the right community, possibility is more powerful than proximity,” she said.
Recent graduate Justin Melendez, fresh off his first year at Rutgers University, returned to offer some practical advice to his fellow EOF students, encouraging them to take advantage of every opportunity, facility and program their future four-year colleges have to offer.
Students and dignitaries alike also took time out to graduate the wide range of EOF staff and supporters in attendance, including Eunice Clark, Kathy Trammell, Fidel Wilson, Dr. Maria Fernandez, Christina Skyers, Rebecca Clark, Tom Roe and Catherine Cutlip. Former Brookdale EOF counselor Dr. Yesenia Madas even returned from her new post as executive director of New Jersey Center for Student Success to help hand out the awards.
Special awards were also presented to local EOF Champions, those guidance and personnel staff members at local high schools who help their students take advantage of the Brookdale EOF program.
They included: Barbara Paskin, Bryan Hackett and Carla Sinclair of Asbury Park High School; Suzanne Gallo of Freehold Borough High School; Dianne Clagett of Keansburg High School; and Joseph Palumbo of Long Branch High School.
Asbury Park public schools superintendent and EOF alumni Lamont Repollet was on also on hand to congratulate the honorees, and assure them that the “EOF family” remains strong for many, many years after graduation.
Current students Eric Allen and Donna Accoo, both working parents, later gave emotional testimonials about their time in the EOF program, which they said ignited their passion for higher education and helped them embrace a new world of possibilities.
“I hadn’t been in college since 1991,” said Accoo. “But so many people told me, ‘You can do this.’ And I became determined to be successful … Today I’m three classes from my degree. I am so proud, and so grateful.”
Allen and Accoo then passed the microphone around the room, allowing anyone in the crowd to share their own EOF success story. Pending graduates told tales of doubt, struggle and perseverance, each concluding with phrases like “accepted to Monmouth University” or “graduating with a 4.0 GPA.”
“I know that, going into college, I was afraid. I didn’t know if I wanted to do it or if I could do it,” said first-generation college student Anthony Holiday, who was recently accepted to Brown University. “But here I am. It worked out. And I want to thank you all for being there for us and for supporting us in our journey.”
EOF is a state-sponsored program that currently reaches more than 12,000 educationally and economically disadvantaged college students across New Jersey. More than 400 students were enrolled at Brookdale in 2014-15, including about 40 new students who joined this year.
The students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college, receive a state grant toward tuition and are offered a host of counseling and support services at Brookdale, including the annual “Summer Bridge” program that helps high school graduates prepare for the rigors of higher education.
This year, the Brookdale EOF program also rolled out a new Rising Leaders Academy program, giving students the opportunity to spearhead a wide range of service projects in the community. Six students who completed the demanding program were honored at the dinner as well.
For more information about the Brookdale EOF program, click here.
Check out more photos of the Awards Dinner here.