Each alumnus will be honored during the annual Fordham University Alumni Association Recognition (FUAA) Reception, to be held virtually on Thursday, January 21. The two award winners were nominated by their peers and selected by FUAA Advisory Board members.
Di Giorgio, so surprised he would be receiving the Ram of the Year Award—given to a graduate who has enhanced the reputation of the University through their professional achievements, personal accomplishments, and loyal service to Fordham—was convinced he’d been notified accidentally. He said he read the email three times, initially assuming he was cc’d as an alumni chapter leader and that another Mark was the winner. It wasn’t until he checked the list of email recipients that it started to sink in.
“I don’t know if I’ve been in the running before or been considered. So, it was a complete shock,” he said. Di Giorgio added that for him it was one of few “shining stars of 2020.”
Sarwar said he felt that same shock and was “extremely humbled” when he learned he’d won the Trailblazer Award, which is presented to a graduate from the past 10 years who has demonstrated outstanding dedication to Fordham and whose leadership has inspired fellow alumni.
“There are a lot of young alumni who are doing a lot of great stuff, so I definitely feel very thankful to the University for this recognition,” he said.
Building New Ties, Finding Camaraderie
Di Giorgio and Sarwar both have years of supporting Fordham under their belts, albeit in different ways.
Now a financial analyst at Bank of America, Di Giorgio initially found it hard to maintain a connection to the Fordham community after he moved from New Jersey to California in 1996, a professional move he thought would be relatively short-term—and then he found the Alumni Chapter of Northern California.
He joined the chapter’s leadership board and in just a year was nominated to serve as president, a role he’s held for almost 15 years. During that time, he has helped revamp events to engage a wider group of people, especially younger alumni. In the spirit of engaging alumni who are physically distant from Fordham but still identify as New Yorkers, he’s even created a bocce team, the Bronx Ballers, that competes in San Francisco’s Ferry Bocce league. “It turns out we get enough people to participate in the league three times a year. … People ask, ‘Are we playing again? Are we doing this again?’”
“A lot of people, they don’t get back to New York, and this was one way that they still connect with Fordham,” he said. “So, it’s the satisfaction of the alumni engaging, not necessarily [with]Fordham but [with each other]for the camaraderie.”
In a normal year, the chapter would hold a number of in-person events, from an end-of-the-year Christmas dinner to attending sports games and more. But “COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into everything,” Di Giorgio said.
“I’m optimistic that one day soon—within three months, six months—that I’ll be able to shake the hands, hug the people that I haven’t been able to in a year,” he said.
Education as ‘Silver Bullet’ for Socioeconomic Mobility
Sarwar, whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan when he was in eighth grade, believes in the power of education and the opportunities it affords people. He attended Fordham thanks to the Thomas G. Labrecque Smart Start Program, which included a full four-year scholarship to the University and an internship with JPMorgan Chase while he was a student.
“My father spent most of his adult life getting the rest of his family to this country because he believed in the educational opportunities that America had to offer,” Sarwar said, adding that his own goal is to try to help provide educational opportunities to others. He sees higher education as “the silver bullet to help people transcend socioeconomic backgrounds and ensure mobility in our very fast-changing world.”
Now six years into his tenure at JPMorgan Chase as a risk associate in asset management, Sarwar is passionate about paying it forward. He’s been a member of Fordham’s Young Alumni Committee since graduating, and he’s also chaired its philanthropy subcommittee twice. He said the committee is a great way to stay in touch with recent alumni and identify ways they can give back to Fordham.
“Their time, their thoughts, their ideas, their feedback to the University [are]extremely critical, especially because it’s the most fresh batch of feedback we can get,” he said. “Relaying [that feedback]to the appropriate administrators and making sure that it’s part of what the Fordham administration considers to make changes has been very rewarding.”
Through Fordham’s Social Innovation Collaboratory, Sarwar uses his specific career experience as a risk associate to mentor current Fordham students interested in entrepreneurship. “Trying to implement that kind of thinking to entrepreneurship, I feel, is a good way I can give back.”
Fordham’s spirit, values, and mission sit at the center of both Di Giorgio’s and Sarwar’s efforts. “Being a mission-oriented university, I think, really helps us continue to make those bonds stronger,” Sarwar said. “I got to go to the University with a scholarship. I got to meet some of the best people ever, and if I can help other people do that, that’s what [I’m] inclined to do.”
For Di Giorgio, who lives across the country from many of his family and friends, maintaining a sense of connection to his alma mater and the “Go Rams” Fordham spirit is crucial.
“What I can think of and touch and feel, it’s the friendships I have,” Di Giorgio said. “They’re lifelong friendships, and I think it’s because Fordham draws the same types of person at its core. So I’ve had friends for 50 years, but the ones I call and stay in touch with—send Christmas cards to—are my Fordham roommates.”
Typically held in person, this year’s FUAA Recognition Reception will be held virtually due to COVID-19. Sarwar and Di Giorgio will receive engraved awards ahead of the virtual reception, which will also feature a sweepstakes open to all attendees.