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SSSP community praises academic success in annual I am Proud ceremony

The student leadership board of the Student Support Services Program (SSSP) arranged a celebratory event to commemorate students and faculty for their academic dedication to the community this past Tuesday. The event featured student talks, awards and other forms of recognition.

Agnele Sewa ’20 and Karekin Johnson ’19, both current board members of SSSP, opened the night, explaining the program’s history of being federally funded through the department of education to provide low-income first generation students with the support they need to achieve academic success.

SSSP Director Elena Lewis then took the stage to show her delight, saying the students’ “presence gives us strength and legitimacy to the work that we do.” After a brief remark of gratitude by new Dean of Arts and Sciences Dorothy Hodgson, SSSP student Billy Chau ’19 entered the stage to share his journey at Brandeis.

Chau explained how his history as a hardworking student was put to the test at Brandeis. A local native from the Bronx, he explained how his high school did not offer certain support programs that SSSP does, so his chemistry classes obstructed his sense of worth as a student. Through SSSP, however, he slowly gained the skills to succeed in his classes and establish confidence. He will graduate this May with a bachelor of science in biology and will earn a masters in biotechnology next year.

Chelsea Walker, assistant director of SSSP, then called students up to the stage to collect gifts, including Sandra Casarez ’21, Jorge Chaves ’20, and Irma Zamarripa ’21, and a short video was presented showing all the students’ favorite aspects of Brandeis that inspired them the most. From developing clothes in a fashion class, to working in admissions, to aiding students through the Samaritans suicide hotline, everyone showcased some important aspect of their college life.

Following the video, Deborah V. Fataki ’19, a Posse scholar from Atlanta, Georgia, reflected on her educational experiences, leaving the audience with a powerful adage, “don’t fake it until you make it, rather face it until you overcome it.” A current scholar in the Brandeis IBS program then explained how first generation students don’t give themselves enough credit for the work they do as students. He further elaborated on his desire to give back to his community and to support his family, and he hopes a degree from IBS will provide a stepping-stone for such goals.

After this, the final awards were presented for the night, including a leadership award to Chau for dedication to the community and an award for citizenship to Irma Reyes ’21. Graduate assistants Leah Shafer (GRAD), Jeremy Rappaport Stein (GRAD) and Habiba Farh (GRAD) were also praised for their efforts, and Yvonna Roderick ’20 was given an award for peer mentor of the year. The last award of the night, tutor of the year, was given to Brandis Whitfield ’19 for her contributions to the mathematics department, dedicating time to over 15 tutees while also managing her personal life. Lewis then made her closing remarks, restating her happiness for all the students in the program and her best wishes for their life journeys following Brandeis.

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