-- John DeSantis, Founder, Believe in Syracuse
SUNY Cortland ‘14
Fowler High School ‘10
“I kind of lost a lot of the cynicism I had for higher education.”
After 4 years at Cortland, Rashad will be graduating with a BA in Communication Studies and will head even further south to SUNY Binghamton, where he will pursue Public Administration and Student Affairs Administration. “I hope to get my Ph.D. in Public Policy so I can help under resourced kids get into college and so they can realize their full potential as I did.”
Rashad has led a busy life in Cortland as Assistant to the Vice President of the Student Government Association, a Senior Representative of the Educational Opportunity Program, Senator to the Faculty Senate, member of the Gospel Choir, Black Student Union, and Pan African Student Association and has helped fundraise over $800,000 for the Wickwire Pool Project, a campaign to renovate a community pool in danger of being shut down.
Though if we were to turn the clock back five years and look at Rashad in Fowler High School, it would be like looking at two different people. He was still a member of Student Government, was active in DECA, a global organization that prepares young leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in business, and worked two job, but he had a very different outlook on life: “I loved Fowler, but most of the teachers were white. We had a few black teachers, but it really sent a message to me about where my place in society was. I didn’t think I would be successful. I thought I was just training to be the next cashier, despite having supportive teachers.”
College was not even on Rashad’s radar in high school. He had a severe distrust of higher education, that it supports inequality and would not offer him a chance. Even when Say Yes came to town in his junior year, Rashad was very skeptical. He didn’t really understand why this organization was offering free tuition to Syracuse students. So as his senior year wore on, Rashad thought he was going to live with his parents forever, or at least for the foreseeable future.
That is, until he was confronted by Fowler English Teacher Mary McCrone: “I didn’t want to go to college, but thankfully one of my favorite teachers got me into Cortland. She had asked me where I was in the application process, because all of my friends had submitted applications and I told her “I didn’t submit anything, I didn’t even work on an application,” and she was like “what are you talking about?” So she really took it upon herself to drive me over to Cortland. I saw the campus and met a few people and I applied and got in.”
There is only one way that Rashad could describe his experience at Cortland from that point on: “Transformational. I didn’t really trust the higher education system. Now I am all about it. One of the most important things I want to do is to get more people of color into college because I think depriving the white students that are here of diverse interactions with people of different backgrounds perpetuates the system of inequality. I have met a lot of people here who have told me “Oh you are the first black person I have ever interacted with.”
It is comments like these that are driving Rashad into the public realm and also to return to Syracuse as often as possible to show younger people the importance of college. Every year since he graduated, Rashad has gone back to Fowler and helps give a presentation he calls “The Transition to College & Financial Aid Opportunities.” He highlights Say Yes as being an integral part of his opportunity to go to college. “It is almost parental in a sense. They call you about financial aid, scholarships and just to see how you are doing. Before they came to town, college wasn’t even an option for me, but with Say Yes I started to question whether I should go to college or not. I think it is there as a symbol of opportunity if anything, equal opportunity. Syracuse definitely needs Say Yes.”
Coming from Syracuse has allowed and influenced Rashad to be who he is today. “Syracuse is my home. I enjoy Syracuse; the entire community is definitely a family for me.” Rashad believes that Syracuse induces feelings of home for his New York City friends that come to visit: “They love the mall, the architecture when they drive in and see Syracuse University and downtown. I guess it is nostalgic of their home, or at least a mini version of their home.”
“I think it’s only the people that are from Syracuse that say “Oh there is nothing to do here, and I don’t like it here,” but everyone else who isn’t from there, they love it. Whenever people say that Syracuse is dying and they say there is nothing to do there… I have been all over the country and anywhere I go, whether it is a big city or small city, the only thing that people do is go to the movies, go out to eat and enjoy the night life. You can go to the movies, go out to eat and socialize at night in Syracuse. I don’t think that if you switch locations you are all of a sudden going to take part in different activities like skydiving.”
Rashad will always call Syracuse home, and when he finishes his masters in Binghamton, he hopes to be able to make the impact that Say Yes has made in Syracuse in other places, or even here at home. And when his story is made into something for the public to see: “My life story would have to be a movie-musical. I don’t know if he could represent me, but Jamie Foxx has done some good work in singing. Or Taye Diggs. Either one I guess.”
Student Spotlight by Jason Ashley
Intern, Say Yes to Education | Syracuse
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