Students speak about being the first in family to graduate
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 01:05
“Sacrifice, suffering and struggle in the pursuit of success is my definition of being legendary,” said keynote speaker Ipyani Grant ’12 at the annual Student Support Services Program ceremony, held last Thursday in the Mandel Center for the Humanities and sponsored by the Office of Academic Services and the Brandeis Pluralism Alliance. According to its mission statement, Student Support Services offers resources to undergraduate students who are the first in their family to attend college.
Due to the financial crisis, the federal government has cut funds to programs such as TRIO, a Department of Education program that helps first-generation and low-income students attend college and which sponsors SSSP. The Student Leadership Board of SSSP at Brandeis has written a petition to the U.S. Senate to urge them to continue funding for the program. They reminded the Senate that many students are given the opportunity to go to college because of the program and without government funding to programs such as SSSP, many students will not receive support from their schools.
The program coordinates events that enhance the experiences of SSSP students, such as study breaks and talent shows, and provides volunteer opportunities along with the signature “I Am” event. This year’s theme was “I Am Legendary,” and the students explored how they view themselves as legends and how they define the word legendary.
Grant knew from a young age that he wanted to succeed, but at times he was held back. He grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York in a public housing unit. His daily life included riding bikes and witnessing drug deals. “How I perceived those experiences and overcame them made me legendary. I fought over and over and over again, and this is why I succeed,” he said in his speech.
Dean of Academic Services Kim Godsoe explained how SSSP honors Brandeis’ mission of social justice. She opened the event by saying, “The best community we can be is to welcome everyone.” Godsoe described the event as “uniquely Brandeis … When colleges and universities across the country are becoming more and more expensive and more and more a place only the wealthy can afford and others cannot, Brandeis has stayed strong in its diversity and it has stayed strong in its mission of social justice.”
Tamar Brown ’12, another student who is a part of SSSP, is co-director of the SSSP documentary I Am Legendary, which premiered at the event on Thursday. “This year we really wanted to recognize not only the SSSP community but also [give] a shout-out to our graduating seniors, Class of 2012. The mark they are leaving on campus is the mark we hope juniors, sophomores, and first-years will also leave and I hope I’m right when I say that,” Brown said.
Many students involved in the program underwent similar experiences and overcame barriers to be accepted to the University. The same phrase echoed throughout the 20-minute documentary: “I will not let my circumstances keep me from achieving my dream.”
There proved to be several definitions for the term “legendary.” Students’ definitions ranged from “unforgettable, “someone who has a voice,” “someone who stands up for what they believe in” and “someone who really makes a mark.” Gerardo Garcia-Rios, director of SSSP, came up with his own definition of legendary by creating an acrostic poem: “‘L’ is for legend, ‘E’ exemplary, ‘G’ for great, ‘E’ elite, ‘N’ noble, ‘D’ dedicated, ‘A’ amazing, ‘R’ respectful and ‘Y’ youthful.”
“Legendary is [a term] for people who go out and make opportunities for themselves,” said Jessica Hood ’15. “If I think I’m legendary, it’s going to make me want to go out and be and do things on campus. Because … in the end … I don’t have to worry about anybody else thinking that I’m not, because I am.”
Rachael Koehler ’13 highlighted the prevalence of SSSP. “I think that programs like SSSP are important especially right now,” she said, “because if you just keep having the same people of the same status and the same minds be the ones who get an education to go further, and then people of the lower status who have different minds and different thoughts [who do not] have the opportunity, then we will never truly change.”
Her success, along with that of the other SSSP members, speaks to the importance of the program in helping students achieve their dreams. SSSP has encouraged Koehler in school by providing peer tutoring and peer-mentoring programs. Reactions from an audience member during the question-and-answer session spoke to the nature of the program. “I can honestly say that my struggle isn’t your struggle so ... I appreciate hearing that you guys have persevered, that you are striving, that this is what [SSSP] is truly about.”