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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Gaffney Benedict

Veronica Ortiz

“I will never know how to thank you for what you have given me. When I first met you, I did not know if college was a possibility for me. You were the first person to tell me that I could go to college… I would have never received such a great education if it were not for you and the Matthew Gaffney Foundation. You taught me not only that my financial situation does not define my intelligence but also that the opportunities out there are endless.” Veronica, 2015 Hold Fast to Your Dreams, co-authored by Beth Zalsoff and Joshua Steckel, a college counselor in Brooklyn follows ten students from Brooklyn who want to get out of poverty and were accepted into college. Many of the students featured in this book do not finish college. Steckel suggests that the reasons these students fail to get out of poverty is: Colleges do not give appropriate financial aid. Students have problems adjusting to traditionally white colleges that are often on an unfamiliar rural campus. Students lack the support from their families who feel abandoned. Jason De Parle, educational contributor to the New York Times, followed three students from Galveston, Texas on their college quest. In his article, For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in Hard Fall, De Pearle writes,”…their stories seemed to validate the promise of education as the great equalizer.” DeParle’s study validated Steckel’s. Each supported the premise that these students fail, because they do not assimilate well outside their nurturing environment. Despite the continuing press written about the failures of this socio-economic group, top colleges are actively seeking out these students to increase diversity on campus. In May 2016, Frank Bruni’s article, Who gains From College Diversity? defends Amherst’s and other top college’s admission policies when he writes, “It is a win for America and its imperiled promise of social mobility.” Bruni quotes, Biddy Martin, President of Amherst College, “Opportunity for people from every conceivable background is essential to a functioning democracy, and in this country we’re not providing enough of it.” Bruni’s article was met with opinion letters in support from academics like Alison Byerly, President of Lafayette College, who wrote, “Providing a rich educational environment in which students live with and learn from a diverse range of peers requires investment from the entire community.” In contrast, other comments were less supportive, like this one from Washington D.C. “Sure you can let them in and prop them up, but they’re just… there. I’ve noticed these sorts of articles never mention the most popular major of these low income students, graduating GPA’s, 4-year graduation rates, or any salary data, why not?” Our Gaffney Foundation student, Veronica grew up in Norwalk, Ct. Her mother is a single parent and cleans houses for a living. Veronica wrote with pride about her mother in her college essay: “Sometimes when I help my mother, we sit on the patio after work and imagine what it would be like to live there.” Veronica graduated in four years from Franklin and Marshall College in 2015. She went on to pursue a Masters in Health Sciences from Johns Hopkins. She is currently employed at Columbia University Hospital and has just been accepted to five medical schools. This blog will continue to tell the success stories of the students in the Matthew Gaffney Foundation. Gaffney students are all first generation to go to college and qualify for free lunch in school.

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