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Virtual Jubilee Events Capture the Spirit of Community at Fordham

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From June 4 to 6, more than 400 Fordham alumni from across the country and around the globe gathered for a full weekend of virtual Jubilee experiences that showcased the heritage of Fordham as well as its continuing impact in its communities and in the lives of its alumni.

Organized by the Office of Alumni Relations, Jubilee events featured everything from the “hidden gems” of Rose Hill to the WFUV experience to the next chapter for the men’s basketball program. Alumni bonded during a virtual dance-and-nostalgia party and flexed their entrepreneurial muscles during a mini pitch challenge hosted by the Fordham Foundry. Marymount alumnae reconnected for a virtual award ceremony.

And it all began on Friday evening with a culinary kickoff.

Choosing Wines, Cooking with an Arthur Avenue Flavor

Courtney Schiessl, FCRH ’11

Courtney Schiessl, FCRH ’11, senior editor of online beverage magazine SevenFifty Daily, led a tasting of three wines in a session called “Grapes You’ve Never Heard Of (But Will Love).”

Schiessl, a sommelier, discussed an Austrian Grüner Veltliner, a red field blend from the Douro region of Portugal, and a Mencía red from Ribeira Sacra, Spain. Anyone intimidated by the idea of deciphering wine lists could take comfort in how much Schiessl has learned since she entered the field. “I knew nothing about wine when I graduated from Fordham,” she said.

Later that evening, Mike Mele, FCRH ’74, demonstrated how to cook spaghetti and meatballs with a homemade marinara sauce, inspired by the Arthur Avenue neighborhood near the Rose Hill campus.

Behind the Scenes at WFUV

On Saturday morning, two recent graduates shared their experiences at WFUV, the NPR affiliate on the Rose Hill campus that has served as the launchpad for many successful Fordham alumni in media. Emmanuel Berbari and Eliot Schiaparelli, both FCRH ’21, who served as the sports and news managers their senior year, shared stories about their work at WFUV and how it’s impacted their careers.

Emmanuel Berbari, FCRH ’21 and Eliot Schiaparelli, FCRH ’21

“My experience at WFUV was so valuable to me,” said Schiaparelli, who will be attending Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in the fall. “To be able to be hands-on like WFUV provides—to be in the studio, doing newscasts—it’s an invaluable experience.”

Berbari said the ability to serve as a beat reporter for New York professional teams in addition to calling Fordham games gave him a unique ability to both work alongside experienced professionals and gain experience in broadcasting.

“We get the opportunity to cover the Yankees and go to Yankee Stadium, and you’re a full-season credential beat reporter just like those other beat reporters—you have the student name attached to you, yet you really don’t,” he said.

“It’s so cool because you walk past someone like Ryan Ruocco [FCRH ’08] or Michael Kay [FCRH ’82]—two of the better-known Fordham alumni out there in the sports world—and they’re at Yankee Stadium on a consistent basis,” he added, noting that they got their start at WFUV.

Schiaparelli said WFUV also gave her the opportunity to tell stories that mattered to the local community.

As a junior, she created a multimedia series about people making a difference in the Bronx, “and WFUV has really taken that idea and started to run with it,” she said. The project helped deepen an existing collaboration between WFUV, Norwood News, and BronxNet, she said.

“I hope it’s making a difference in the Bronx, but it’s also taught me a lot about the borough that I got to live in for four years,” she said.

The Strength of the Fordham Community

On Saturday morning, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, spoke to Jubilarians in a prerecorded address about what the University did “to get through the pandemic and to get through the pandemic, I think, with really flying colors.” These efforts included the pivot to online instruction within 48 hours in March 2020, “one of the greatest moments in the … life and history of the University” because of how faculty and students rose to the challenge, he said.

Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham

“Fordham was able to get through this very difficult year precisely because of the strength of its community,” he said.

The community of alumni gave generously: In introductory remarks, Michael Griffin, associate vice president for alumni relations, said that this year’s Jubilarians donated more than $80 million to Fordham over the past five years, including $2.4 million from the 50th reunion Class of 1971.

As the University moves beyond the pandemic, Father McShane said, it will continue its work in becoming a more equitable place for all: “Fordham is whole in, all in, in the great and I think gospel-rooted work … of addressing racism, forming a more perfect union, and creating on campus that kind of inclusive, celebratory, affectionate environment which all students deserve and all students will get.”

The ‘Hidden Gems’ of Rose Hill

On Saturday afternoon, Justin Rivers, FCRH ’01, led his fellow Jubilarians on a virtual tour of Rose Hill’s “hidden gems,” emphasizing the University’s history and longstanding ties to New York City.

“Fordham has a really rich history architecturally,” said Rivers, a writer and the chief experience officer of Untapped New York, where he creates and leads educational tours of New York City.

“The city grew up with Fordham, basically, which I love,” he said, noting that from just about “the minute Fordham was founded” in 1841, the New York and Harlem Railroad (now Metro-North) was extended to Rose Hill from Manhattan. “The growth of transit is also the growth of Fordham,” he said. “They have a very symbiotic relationship.”

A panoramic image of the Rose Hill campus, circa 1916, shows both the Metro-North and elevated rail lines.

A panoramic image of the Rose Hill campus, circa 1916, shows both the Metro-North and Third Avenue Elevated rail lines.

The first “gem” Rivers experienced as a Fordham student was Alumni House. The fieldstone cottage was built in 1840, most likely as a home for the family of William Rodrigue, the architect who designed the University Church and St. John’s Hall. Since 1991, it has been home to Rodrigue’s Coffee House, where Rivers and his parents attended a bagel-and-coffee reception on move-in day in 1997.

“I still have that very, very vivid memory from 24 years ago of walking in and [thinking], ‘Oh, this is pretty cool, I want to hang out here,’” said Rivers, who worked as a volunteer barista at Rodrigues, which hosts free concerts, poetry readings, and open-mic nights.

He highlighted several other campus gems, including the quarter-scale replica of the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Mother Butler Hall, a recent gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art, housed in the William D. Walsh Family Library, which is home to some of the “oldest [existing] pieces of art humanity has ever produced,” he said.

Rivers noted some treasures to be found in the Fordham libraries’ archives, including a 1776 military diary kept by George Washington and “Old Edgar Allan,” the University Church bell that may have inspired Fordham neighbor and frequent campus visitor Edgar Allan Poe to write the poem “The Bells.”

Beyond COVID: How the Pandemic Impacted Fordham Sports

On Saturday afternoon, two athletics panels offered a look at what the past year-plus has been like for Fordham’s teams and what the future holds for men’s and women’s basketball.

Berbari, the former sports manager of WFUV, moderated a conversation with head men’s soccer coach Carlo Acquista, head women’s soccer coach Jessica Clinton, head softball coach Melissa Inouye, and head baseball coach Kevin Leighton.

They spoke about the impact COVID-19 had on Fordham sports, from the cancellation and rescheduling of seasons—all teams played in the spring this past year—to the ways coaching staffs supported their players and fostered team chemistry remotely.

“Our mantra was, ‘The team that’s going to be the most successful is the team that stays connected,’” said Clinton, who explained that her players stayed bonded, even over Zoom. “We saw a real jump in how they started to take care of each other and lean on each other.”

“You have to have more patience in general and get to know each player a little bit more,” said Acquista, who brought in mindset performance coaches to complement the mental health resources provided by the athletics department. “It helped us get through it all,” he added, with his team going on to win the 2021 Atlantic 10 conference title.

It was a hard year for the teams due to personal difficulties to lost playing time, the panelists said, but many players and coaches strengthened their personal connections during the pandemic.

“We try to do a really good job of celebrating all the small victories and enjoying the moment together,” Inouye said, “because we know it can be taken away any time.”

Later that afternoon, director of athletics Ed Kull had a “courtside chat” with head women’s basketball coach Stephanie Gaitley and new head men’s basketball coach Kyle Neptune about the future of the two programs.

Gaitley, who joined Fordham in 2011 and has led the Rams to two Atlantic 10 titles and two NCAA Tournament appearances, said 2021 “will probably be one of my most satisfying years, because we overachieved.” The Rams competed in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament in March after finishing the regular season tied for first place in the Atlantic 10—a tribute, she said, to the team’s chemistry.

Kyle Neptune, Fordham men’s basketball head coach

Neptune, who was named men’s head coach in March following years as an assistant at Villanova and Niagara, comes into a program that has struggled on the court in recent years but for which he has big plans that start with hard work.

“We’re trying to be really transparent with what we expect from recruits,” Neptune said. “We want people who want to be pushed. Our goal as coaches is to get our guys to do the things they don’t want to do to get where they want to go.”

Equally important to Neptune, a Brooklyn native who played college basketball at Lehigh, is fostering the opportunity for young people to thrive not only on the court but in their lives beyond their playing days.

“Being from Brooklyn and seeing firsthand that some guys didn’t get the same path that I got … I want our guys to get those opportunities, and Fordham is the perfect place to get them,” he said.

Both coaches made it clear that the future of basketball at Fordham is one that must involve strong relationships with both alumni and the surrounding community. Gaitley touted alumni connections and marketing efforts that helped her team jump from last place to third place in the Atlantic 10 in home game attendance.

‘Everyone’s an Entrepreneur’ at the Fordham Foundry

Jubilee participants also had the chance to participate in a Saturday afternoon “mini-pitch challenge,” where three alumni with ties to the Fordham Foundry, Fordham’s hub of innovation and entrepreneurship, presented their startups. Through an app, audience members awarded fake money to the presentation they liked best.

The winner, Ingrid He, LAW ’12, GABELLI ’22, developed an app called Sjogren’s Tracker, which allows people diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, a common autoimmune disorder, to track their symptoms, such as dry eyes and a dry mouth, and perform data analysis based on that information. Ravelle Worthington, FCRH ’09, GSAS ’10, created Mommy Brain, to help provide a community of support to mothers and to connect them to services and resources for promoting mental, physical, and emotional wellness. Rachel Ceruti, GSAS ’20, launched Tresor Exchange, a website that aims to connect people with upcycled fashion—or new clothing that has been developed from previously worn attire—to help address the waste of “fast fashion.”

Ingrid He, LAW ’12, GABELLI ’22, of Sjogren’s Tracker

Fordham Foundry Executive Director Al Bartosic, GABELLI ’84, and his team also gave an overview of what the Foundry offers, including courses for Fordham students and summer programs with high school students, while other alumni involved with the startup incubator gave testimonials about its impact.

Paul Sieradzki, FCLC ’14, who co-founded R3 Printing, an industrial 3D printing firm that won the Ram’s Den competition in 2018, said that he believes the Foundry’s work ties into the University’s mission.

“The spirit of entrepreneurship is also the spirit of Fordham,” he said. “It’s a commitment to curiosity, critical thinking, and the pursuit of profound new ideas that can bring about change and touch the lives of those around us. The Fordham Foundry is proof that Fordham isn’t just about the time spent on campus, it’s forever.”

Ram Reunion Radio

On Saturday night, New York and WFUV radio host Paul Cavalconte, FCRH ’83, created a virtual dance-and-nostalgia party for Jubilarians.

As the music played, alumni posted comments in the live chat reminiscing about seminal courses and favorite professors, Spring Weekend, dance marathons in the Ramskeller, riding the Ram Van, and that time in 2009 when U2 played on the steps of Keating Hall.

For Cavalconte, who got his start at FUV as an undergraduate and returned to the station in 2013 to host the weekend show Cavalcade, the evening was about celebrating “friendships that last a lifetime and music that has that staying power, too.”

A Look Back at Fordham History

Jubilarians also got a taste of Fordham history from Golden Rams Bert Schultz, FCRH ’70, and Terry Dugan, FCRH ’69, members of the Fordham Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) Alumni Chapter. They screened and spoke about Fordham SDS, their 2014 documentary film on the anti-war movement at Fordham during the late 1960s.

The film mixes Schultz’s 16-millimeter, black-and-white footage of campus demonstrations with contemporary interviews with Fordham SDS members, who, Schultz said, have been reuniting annually for more than 20 years now. He and Dugan spoke about their commitment to the anti-war movement and related it to ongoing struggles against racism and sexism.

“I’d like to pass on this legacy to my fellow Fordhamites,” Dugan said.

Looking Ahead

On Sunday, the Jubilee celebrations came to an end with a morning Ignatian yoga session featuring Carol Gibney of Campus Ministry and then Mass from the University Church.

Father McShane also urged Jubilarians to keep an eye out for opportunities to return to campus in person, particularly for Homecoming in early October.

“You’ll be able to see and experience the new campus center” being built at Rose Hill, he said. “You’ll see a level of pride, a level of playfulness, a level of real joy on campus, because Fordham—a school which never closed for the pandemic—will be back in full force.”

—Chris Gosier, Adam Kaufman, and Ryan Stellabotte contributed reporting to this story.

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