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First in Their Families to Graduate from College

More than 30 graduating seniors who will be the first in their families to graduate from college were honored at a celebration at the Lincoln Center campus on May 3. 

“I am in awe of you—of what it means to carry the hopes, dreams, expectations, and life savings of generations of your family on your shoulders. To come here bravely, to flourish, to find the ways to—through hard work, discipline, and courage—make such a difference in the world,” Tania Tetlow, president of Fordham, said to the students in a video message. “And I also want to share with you incredible gratitude to your families, for the kind of hard work, courage, and generations of striving it takes to get you to this place.” 

In the Company of Mario Gabelli and Denzel Washington

Students from both campuses were honored at the third annual celebration, where they received “I’m First” pins to wear on their robes at Commencement. In just one week, they will join the ranks of alumni like finance mogul Mario Gabelli and award-winning actor Denzel Washington, who were first-generation college students themselves, said President Tetlow.  

First-Gen Senior Reflects on Fordham

Among this year’s graduating seniors is Juan Rodriguez, who was born and raised in the Bronx. His father, a former construction worker, attended school until sixth grade in his native Ecuador. His mother, who served food at shelters and homes for the elderly, attended school until third grade in the Dominican Republic. 

“They don’t entirely understand the concept of college, but they understand the value of a degree. They’re happy for me, and they know it’s something impactful and meaningful that I can leverage in my life,” said Rodriguez, a finance student at the Gabelli School of Business who will be the first among his three siblings to graduate from college.  

Paving the Way with Mentorship and Industry Knowledge

Rodriguez said that Fordham has given him opportunities, including a finance internship, thanks to the Gabelli Personal and Professional Development Center; a community in the student wrestling club; and mentorship from many advisors, including Marisa Villani, senior assistant dean for undergraduate studies at Gabelli; Elizabeth Parr, assistant dean for first-year students at Gabelli, and Maria Totino, senior executive secretary in the modern languages and literatures department. 

After graduation, he will work as an operations associate at Zeta Charter Schools in New York City, where he will work on budgeting, funding, and building maintenance. 

“A lot of people helped pave the way for me,” said Rodriguez, a student in the Higher Education Opportunity Program who commuted to campus for three years. “As a first-generation college student, I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about certain industries. It helped to have the backbone of the Fordham community.”

The first-generation college student graduation celebration was sponsored by First Gen Network; the dean’s offices of the Gabelli School of Business, Fordham College at Rose Hill, and Fordham College at Lincoln Center; the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer; and Development and Alumni Relations. 


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