When students arrive at Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies, they often feel doubtful about their ability to complete their college education, said John Bach, assistant dean of PCS. Sometimes considered “non-traditional” students, many of them have faced circumstances and challenges that have put them on a different path than students starting college fresh from high school. They often say things like, “I can’t do this. I shouldn’t be here,” Bach said. But in a speech at the school’s diploma ceremony on May 21, he told the graduates that they had made it.
“These big days are really a celebration of those days that didn’t seem to matter at all … That day you were at work and thought, ‘Oh, man—I’m not going to that class tonight,’ but you went anyway. Or that day you stayed up till three o’clock to finish that paper or take-home exam. That day you sat down at your computer and finally submitted an application to college and did something to change your life,” he said, to cheers and applause from the audience. “That day did change your life.”
The 2022 PCS diploma ceremony celebrated more than 150 graduates, many of whom overcame different obstacles to get to that stage in the Fordham Prep theater at Rose Hill. Among them was John Lenehan, an 88-year-old veteran who completed his bachelor’s degree at Fordham. Lenehan started at Fordham in the 1950s but left for a good job offer. In a story for ABC News, he said, “It’s never too late to finish the job that you started, whether it’s your personal life, your business life, your professional life.” He walked across the stage to thunderous applause.
About 30% of this year’s graduating class at PCS are active or former members of the U.S. military. PCS has more members of the armed forces than any other school at Fordham, said Bach. (This year’s ceremony date also coincided with Armed Forces Day, an American holiday that celebrates past and present members of the military.)
Juggling School, A Newborn, and Full-Time Job
Also among this year’s graduates is Ayana Jones, a Brooklyn native who earned her bachelor’s degree in social work while nursing a newborn and holding a full-time job at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as a unit assistant. She recalled one of her most difficult semesters.
“I had the baby on one hip, I was home on my one day off from work, seeing my kids on Zoom [during my internship at a public school in Manhattan], running out to do laundry in between seeing the kids, feeding the baby, feeding my older child, and making sure she was doing remote schooling,” said Jones. “There were moments where I really didn’t think this [degree]was going to happen for me.”
Over the past seven years, she completed a bachelor’s degree in social work—the “perfect” field for her, she said. “It really spoke to me. It allows me to advocate for people from a human justice perspective,” said Jones, who plans to someday return to Fordham for her master’s degree in social work.
Jones credited her family, friends, and PCS staff with helping her complete her college education.
“There were nights I cried. My family had to hold me. My child had to hold me. My coworkers had to hold me,” she said, sheepishly laughing. “But here I am, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Her partner of 14 years, Chris Quinones, added that he is proud of Jones.
“There were a few bumps in the road, but she persevered,” said Quinones, who cared for their family so that she could study and work. “I knew she was going to make it.”
An Architect Who Found A Silver Lining in the Pandemic
After a decade of working as an architect, Gabe Seidel was laid off. His clients could no longer pay their bills because of the pandemic. But when he lost his job, he said he found a silver lining.
“It seemed like a good choice to go to school if the pandemic was going to disrupt things for 18 months to two years. It was also a way to transition into what I really wanted to do—real estate development,” said Seidel, an Ohio native who earned his master’s degree in real estate this spring. “I have an internship that I’ll start next Monday with an affordable housing developer here in the city.”
A First-Generation College Student and U.S. Navy Veteran
For Kishell Davis, a first-generation college student from Jamaica, getting a degree is more than an individual accomplishment.
“Getting this degree is not just for me—it’s also for my family,” said Davis, who earned her bachelor’s degree in international political economy last February.
One of her favorite memories at Fordham is spending a month in South Africa with her peers, where she said she gained a new perspective on the international economy and saw the potential impact of her degree. “My studies will allow me to make a difference in the world and help reform policies that target people who are disadvantaged,” she said.
“I’ve always dedicated my life to serving people. In high school, I was an EMT. In the military, I served my country,” said Davis, who was an active-duty member of the U.S. Marine Corps from 2016 to 2018. “Through what I’ve learned here at Fordham, I will be able to continue helping people.”
‘Seeing the Value Inside Us as Adult Learners’
Lori A. Gaskill, PCS ’22, who graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in social work, delivered the student keynote speech.
“I want to thank PCS in particular for seeing the value inside us as adult learners. Thank you for welcoming us—not in spite of our baggage, jobs, kids, parents, community commitments, and bills, lots of bills—but because of those things,” she said.
The life experiences of PCS’s students brings color and life to Fordham’s campus and beyond, said Gaskill.
“At Fordham, what we have learned is that how we walk in the world matters. What we say and do and how we treat people … How we listen, the words we choose, and the efforts we each take to be a good person—it matters. I know I’m a better person for having completed this education,” she said, taking a moment to thank her loved ones, including her four children and her husband, who served 25 years in the U.S. Navy and made it possible for her to complete her Fordham education with his veteran benefits. “Looking around the room, I can see that we, the graduates of 2022, will make the world a better place.”
—Reporting by Patrick Verel