The seven students who make up Cornell’s first Posse graduating class were honored at an event filled with tears, laughter and joy from their families, friends, mentors and admirers.
“I’ve met so many people who have changed my life,” said Chris Edo-Osagie ’17. “And the fact that I’ve made my family proud is something I will carry with me forever.”
On May 27, the day before graduation, Posse staff from Cornell’s program as well as leaders from the national Posse office gathered to honor the graduates and wish them well.
The Posse Foundation founded the Posse program in 1989 to identify students from urban high schools with great academic and leadership potential who might have been overlooked by traditional college selection processes. Students are given scholarships to attend college in a “posse” of 10. These groups serve as a support community for the students on campus and in their studies.
At the event, audience members spoke of their pride and admiration for the graduates – in English as well as Spanish – and graduates shared their experiences and expressed gratitude to family, friends and campus mentors.
“You have worked incredibly hard,” said Gretchen Ritter ’83, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences. “You have struggled and no doubt had moments when you thought, ‘I’m not sure I made the right choice,’ but you have also had moments of amazing achievement. Thank you for all that you have given to us.”
Derek Chang, associate professor of history and Asian-American studies and faculty mentor for the second Posse group, said Posse members showed up to support him after the death of his father, creating a giant card with messages of condolence and caring.
“It was a lesson to me about the power of the collective, which is what I think Posse is all about,” he said.
Gabriela Zamora ’17 thanked her mother and brother, who traveled to Cornell for the event, and also expressed thanks to Linda Nicholson, professor of biochemistry and physical biochemistry and faculty mentor for the first Posse group.
“She truly is our mom on campus,” Zamora said. “She drove us places, she picked us up, she encouraged us to keep trying. We all struggled, especially our first year. Without her, we would not be standing here.”
Dajah Abdiel ’17 thanked alums Barton and Susan Winokur, both Class of 1961, who were instrumental in bringing the Posse program to Cornell and attended the event.
“People can give money, but you gave us your time,” Abdiel said. “We’ve seen you for the last four years, and we told you our dreams.
“Now, I know I might tell you a different dream each time I see you,” she said with a laugh, “but you were always there.”
Bart Winokur shared the story of working with Peter Lepage, former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to bring the Posse program to Cornell.
“I remember meeting you guys for the first time,” he said to the students. “You probably could tell how excited I was because it was the fulfillment of a dream. I knew that not only was this going to be good for you, but that this was going to be great for Cornell.
“You represent the best of what Cornell is about, which is opportunity, the opportunity to make the world better, to make your community better. I could feel that with you then and I see you now and want to thank you so much for everything you have meant to us.”
Winokur is a vice chair of the Cornell Board of Trustees and chair of the Arts and Sciences Advisory Council. The Winokurs established the Winokur Family Scholarship Fund in 1999, as well as the Susan and Barton Winokur Professorship in the Humanities in 2010. Their support was also instrumental in building Klarman Hall and the new Future Faculty Initiative in Arts and Sciences.
Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.