More than 100 students in Brookdale’s Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program received some well deserved recognition on May 3 during the 2017 Graduate and Special Honoree Awards Dinner, held in the Student Life Center.
Brookdale administrators, faculty and staff joined a capacity crowd of friends and family to congratulate nearly 120 pending EOF graduates, along with nearly 25 students who were recognized by the NJ Office of the Secretary of Higher Education for their academic achievements.
“I’m overjoyed by the fact that there are so many people here tonight,” said Brookdale EOF director Richard Morales Wright. “All of our students’ work, all of our work, culminates tonight, with our students looking at themselves and saying ‘I did it. I made it. I’m ready.’ So let’s give them all a well deserved round of applause.”
The 2017 graduation class was recognized by a wide range of officials and guest speakers throughout the evening, including Brookdale president Dr. Maureen Murphy, Student Services director Stephen Curto, EOF counselors Fidel Wilson and Torina Armstrong, EOF associate Catherine Cutlip and keynote speakers Jordan and Joelle Hernandez.
The Hernandez’s – identical twins, entrepreneurs and accomplished 24-year-old media professionals from Hazlet – spoke about their family’s experience in college-level EOF programs and the importance of rising above one’s circumstances, no matter how daunting.
“We were considered a high risk pregnancy. Our parents were told that the odds were against us and that we would never talk, let alone walk,” said Jordan Hernandez. “But, as you can see, through the grace of God, we don’t care about odds. We beat odds… Here we are standing in front of you as proud graduates of Loyola University with bachelor’s degrees in communications, making a living off of using our voices as both senior project managers at Mediaplanet publishing, as well as radio hosts on Yes Hour Radio.”
“Unpredictability and the unexpected often create the incredible,” added Joelle Hernandez. “As you sit here this evening, you have already invested in your ability to turn this world upside down. We hear time and time again that education is the key to success. And really, there is no truer statement. Your education will give you the tools and knowledge that you need to beat any odds standing in front of you.”
After each EOF graduate was presented with a certificate of completion and a decorative sash to wear at Brookdale’s commencement ceremony on May 12, awards were also handed out to 13 members of the EOF program’s Rising Leaders Academy, which connects EOF students with local nonprofits, outreach organizations, and community service initiatives to improve campus life and serve local communities.
The student honorees also joined Cutlip to present EOF Rising Leaders Academy Choice Awards to representatives from Clean Ocean Action and Special Strides, two local organizations that have worked with Rising Leaders throughout the last year.
Awards were also presented to a number of EOF Champions, those college departments and employees that have worked to support the Brookdale EOF program and its students. They included: Auxiliary Services and Events Management; CulinArt Catering; Conference Services; Career Services & Leadership Development; College Relations; Printing Services; Office of the Vice President of Student Success; Student Life & Activities; Brian Oland, associate professor, counseling; Martha McGeehan, learning assistant and summer EOF reading instructor; Thomas Roe, learning assistant and summer EOF math tutor; and Sheri Stanford, academic tutor and summer EOF writing instructor.
View the full list of student, employee and community honorees here.
The ceremony concluded with a series of moving testimonials from the graduates in attendance, including culinary arts major Jemeka Murray.
“The EOF program has meant so much to me,” said Murray, who enrolled at Brookdale as a single mother seeking a fresh start in a new career. “I know I’m like a problem child, but they showed me so much love. I’m graduating on May 12th. I’ll be the first one in my family to get a college degree, and my grandfather and grandmother have 16 kids. So I’m very happy that my daughter and I will be walking at the same time.”
Murray’s daughter, Danielle Cain, will graduate alongside her mother with a degree in early childhood education during Brookdale’s commencement on May 12.
“I just want to thank God for the EOF program and for other the clubs and services at Brookdale,” Murray added. “I want to thank Brookdale for giving young, single mothers like me a chance. You just give us so much hope and opportunity… It’s just a miraculous thing to come together and have a place that we can go to, where staff members and people from Brookdale will say ‘You can do it,’ or ‘You’ve made it.’ And to all the graduates here tonight, we did it. We made it.”
The awards dinner also featured a series of prize raffles and giveaways, including a flat-screen TV, $100 gift card, New York Mets tickets and free t-shirts.
EOF is a state-sponsored program that currently reaches more than 12,000 educationally and economically disadvantaged college students across New Jersey. More than 300 students were enrolled in the Brookdale EOF program this year, including more than 100 new students who joined this fall.
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 prepare local high school graduates for college life.
For more information about the Brookdale EOF program, click here.
Check out more photos of the Awards Dinner here.