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Celebrating the Success of Our EOP Champions

Cortland graduates in cap and gown with EOP 50 Years Access and Success logo

The commitment to grant college access to all is not dependent on income, personality, or any other traits that have no bearing on a studen’t potential success. The Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) shows us this every year, as it provides access, academic support, and financial aid to students who show the potential of succeeding in college but who may not have otherwise been offered an opportunity through regular admissions.

At SUNY, those who become students via the EOP program are leaders of their own kind. Consider that the majority are first generation college students, many of whom come from the downstate/NYC regions. Yes, they face challenges, but these are overcome due to the hard work and dedication of these students.

Here at SUNY, the 6-year baccalaureate EOP graduation rate has increased significantly in the last decade. The current rate stands at 67.7%, exceeding the national public higher education rate of 60%. Among these baccalaureate programs, EOP first year retention rates often exceed 90% and often exceed the rates for regularly admitted students. And these EOP students aren’t just finding their way through college, but accomplishing many things along the way. Some become Chancellor Award winners, Fulbright Scholars, Dean’s List member, or student leaders.

Board Chairman Carl McCall speaks at UAlbany

SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall speaks at UAlbany’s EOP celebration.

This year, we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Educational Opportunity Program at SUNY. As part of this year-long recognition, this past weekend, a celebration of the success of SUNY’s EOP program took place at the University at Albany’s EOP Spring 2017 Mass Meeting. SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall was in attendance to deliver an encouraging and inspirational message based on his own journey and the efforts of many in the program.

We wanted to share these inspirational words. You can find the entire speech below:

 

Good afternoon everyone…I am honored to stand before you…I am grateful that you are choosing to spend a portion of your Sunday with me…

…I would like to begin by thanking Maritza Martinez…9 years of phenomenal work as the University of Albany’s EOP Director…

Under her leadership the pursuit of graduate degrees among EOP students has grown considerably, with 80 EOP students currently pursuing advanced education…I salute you Maritza…Thank you.

…I am extremely proud of the successes of SUNY’s EOP program…The average first to second year retention rate of EOP students is 95%…This is critical.

…The average six-year graduation rate of EOP students at our institutions is 77%, which is higher than the national graduation rate and typically higher than the graduation rate of program’s host institution…Our EOP program is a treasure of American Higher Education…

…Our EOP program is also highly competitive…University of Albany averages more than 5000 EOP applications from incoming freshmen for 250 spots…

…It is extremely important that we expand the resources of this program so more phenomenal students can have the opportunity to receive a stellar education…

…Opportunity programs are important to me because of my own journey through higher education…

…When I graduated…I didn’t really know what opportunities lay ahead. But I knew how I felt: Powerful…and fortunate…

You see…I never thought I’d make it to college.

…I was poor…my chances to succeed were slim…but I had a lot of good people fighting for me.

…My mother…people in my community…teachers…people from my church…all stood up and fought for my future…

…With their help and guidance, I made it to college…and that college degree was the ticket to a life of tremendous opportunity for me…

…When I was the State Comptroller…I used to tell people that I used to receive a welfare check…but with my college degree as my ticket…I then signed every check issued by the State of New York…

…That is what education means to me…it is the opportunity to change your life for the better…

…You all have that opportunity…your education at the University of Albany has afforded it to you…

…Take hold of your opportunities. Seize them. Use them for all they are worth…

…However, you must remember that every opportunity comes with a responsibility…It is your responsibly to use the advantages that you will gain from your education to improve your communities back home…

…Many people, some that you know and some that you do not, sacrificed a lot so that you could be here…

…We are responsible for not forgetting that…We are responsible for honoring that by making our best effort to improve the lives of those that worked on our behalf…We are responsible for improving our world…

…The funny thing is that you all are best poised to change our world for the better…Every major movement in American history that led to the improvement of our nation has been orchestrated by young people…

…The American Revolutionary War, the average age of American revolutionary soldiers was 15…The Civil Rights Movement…The protests against the Vietnam War…the current Black Lives Matter Movement…These youth movements have compelled our country to manifest its highest ideals.

…Now, in order for you all to leave your maximum impacts on your communities, country and world you must be politically engaged…

…It is through the political process that we implement our dreams…It is how we make things happen.

But…we have a problem in this nation…and it is growing worse every year: Our populace is becoming more and more politically apathetic…Only about 58% voted this past November.

…I know that many of you may look at the craziness in Washington and question your ability to make a difference…

I urge you not to turn away…I implore you to remain alert, informed and engaged…Never underestimate the power you hold to change the course of policy…and the trajectory of history…

It is up to each of us to maximize our individual potential and hold our policy makers accountable…

No matter where you stand on the issues…you’ve got to stand up and make your voice heard…

…You’ve got to do your research…You’ve got to know the issues, know the facts…You’ve got to vote…You’ve got to send letters…You’ve got to make phone calls…You’ve got to attend town halls…You’ve got to march…And, sometimes you even have to protest peacefully…

…You must be an active participant in the civic arena, an informed and involved member of you community…

…Political participation also means giving something back to your community. We must not become so obsessed with our individual successes that we forget to uplift our neighbors together…The individual can only do so much…

…As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us in his letter from the Birmingham jail:

“…All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…”

…Dr. King was right. We prosper or perish together.

…Whether it’s volunteering at a literacy program…Big Brothers Big Sisters…a senior center…a food Bank…

The strength of a community is directly related to the level of its commitment…and the compassion of its residents…

…We need to be compassionate…and charitable…We need to be good friends…and good neighbors…We all need to reach out and connect…in any way we can…

…The EOP program would not exist without such an understanding and none of you would be here right now…

More than 50 years ago politically engaged and community-minded people like…Arthur Eve… Percy Sutton…Guy Brewer… helped establish our EOP program…

The program has been sustained through the continued political support and advocacy of representatives like Vivian Cook…Carl Heastie…Leroy Comrie.

…I stand before you today and ask each of you…50 years from now what social and political impact will you have made that will benefit our society?

…Hold onto that dream and never let it go.

…I know that it might be hard at the moment to maintain your dreams…I know I can get frustrated…

…However, no matter what frustration I may feel…it is overtaken by the pride I have in you…

…You all are the source of my hope in today’s America…You are smart…You are compassionate…You are committed…and you care…

…You are the ones that will pull our country back up to the high ideals on which it was founded…

…As the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, expressed to us in his farewell address:

…“It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title: Citizen.”

…I am here today because I really believe in you…I believe in the EOP program and the opportunity that it provides to those too often cast aside…Let me quickly tell you a story about why…

…Soon after I graduated from college, I decided that I wanted to teach…I had gained so much from my education that I decided that I wanted to give back in that way…

…I was in Boston where I grew up and was educated. I went to the headquarters of the Boston School Committee to register to serve as a teacher…After a short wait, they sent me to speak with the woman in charge of teacher recruitment and placement…Her name was Miss Fitzgerald…

As soon as I walked into Miss Fitzgerald’s office, she jumped to her feet with glee…She took one look at me and said, “You are exactly what we need at Jamaica Plains High School! You’re big and you can keep order!”

…You see, Jamaica Plains High School in Boston was predominantly poor and migrant at the time. Miss Fitzgerald believed that those kids needed to be controlled and tamed; not valued and respected…

…An hour later, I was at Jamaica Plains High School teaching English, History and Commercial Geography…

From that point forward, everything that I have done has been to prove Miss Fitzgerald wrong…It has been my lifelong mission to make sure that students who happen to be poor, minority, immigrant, and otherwise marginalized get the same respect, consideration, and opportunity as everyone else.

…That is what our opportunity programs are all about. That is what the University at Albany is all about. And that is what the mission of SUNY is all about.

…Stay the course…Keep the faith…and never give up…

Thank you.

 

    Taras Kufel

      Written by Taras Kufel

      Taras Kufel is the Assistant Director of Digital Engagement at the State University of New York.

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