Real Talk About College: Holiday Homecoming 2019

We were honored to welcome more than 150 guests to our 2019 Holiday Homecoming event on January 8th. We started off with a scavenger hunt—students canvassed the room seeking out other guests who were published authors, retirees, and recent transfer students. It was a great way to get the room buzzing with energy. Our own board secretary, Carol Durant, served as our emcee, and she and other board members led the room in a series of toasts with sparkling grape juice to the vision of our founders, the accomplishments of our recently retired executive director, Robin Christenson, and our bright future. After dinner, we welcomed our new executive director, Laura Marx, and then it was time for the main event.

Alfredo Medina, a longtime supporter of our program, and the Director of Community Outreach at SUNY Albany, moderated a panel of alumni who had a discussion about the real challenges they faced in college.


The panel was comprised of: Andrew (Dru) Alvez, an Albany High School alum and graduate of SUNY Potsdam; Fareeza Islam, an alumna of Schenectady High School and graduate of Colgate University; and Cassandra Pintro, a Troy High School alumna and our most recent college graduate, who just completed her studies at Marist College.

The panelists spoke about their decision-making process in choosing a college: cost, location, majors and job placement rates all figured into how they made their choices. They discussed the benefits and challenges of studying abroad, and highlighted that college is a great time to grow and explore interests. They also spoke about the idea of changing majors and going beyond one’s comfort zone. Dru shared that as a college student he was terrified of public speaking. But said that “sometimes you just gotta get through it.” after a class in public speaking at SUNY Potsdam, he was much more comfortable speaking in front of an audience. Dru also shared his experience failing out of school early on. He had to work hard to get his GPA back on track, and highlighted his sense of personal responsibility and determination to succeed. He not only completed a bachelor’s degree, but also earned a masters from SUNY Potsdam as well.

Fareeza urged the Scholars in attendance to “trust the process and be open to exploration” throughout college. She shared her challenges with test anxiety and also spoke about the need to explore lots of different interests. She entered college thinking that she would become a doctor, but was uninterested in her science courses, and was squeamish about blood, to boot. Once she became an RA, and realized that she could build a career in higher education, she changed her major, her grades improved and she began to shine as a student. They all spoke about the challenges of being people of color on predominantly white campuses, and talked about the importance of finding other students they could relate to.

Cassandra was clear about it: “I worked ten times harder than my classmates, I wanted it ten times more.” She spoke about the way that her initial encounter with more privileged students “blew her mind” because they had so many more resources and opportunities at their fingertips. The panelists also discussed the specific ways in which they were singled out in classes or in other situations because of their race or their background, and highlighted that these behaviors were unacceptable, though commonplace.

This type of “real talk” will help to prepare our college-bound Scholars and our currently enrolled college students for the realities of campus life, and will help them to be able to address challenging situations if they arise.

We thank our generous underwriters for their support of this event and our Scholars!