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SSSP reflects on 2014

Published: April 25, 2014
Section: Featured, News


This Thursday, the Brandeis Student Support Services Program (SSSP) held its annual year-end event. Titled “I Am a Narrative of Change,” the event filled the International Lounge in Usdan with students and celebrated the program’s mission, its 2014 graduating class and plans for the future. SSSP provides a community-oriented program in the Office of Academic Services that promotes personal and academic success for first-generation college students and those who have overcome significant barriers to attend Brandeis.

The event began with a quick welcome from SSSP Student Leadership Board member Krissy Ford ’15, who thanked the audience for “joining [SSSP] to reflect on how we have been influenced by Brandeis’ message of social justice.” SSSP Director Gerardo Garcia-Rios and Assistant Director Elena Lewis then took the stand to deliver opening remarks. Garcia-Rios and Lewis affirmed the importance of the program, one that “contributes to social justice all over campus and helps students achieve their dreams.” They too thanked the audience for attending, as the event was an opportunity to reflect and “honor the stories that are narrative agents of change.”

The SSSP Student Leadership Board then introduced themselves and their majors, before handing the reins over to the event’s student keynote speakers, Christina Marcelus ’14 and Tom Phan ’14. Speaking first, Marcellus discussed her lifelong battle with believing in herself. “Every morning you have two choices to make,” Marcellus told the audience. “You can either sleep on your dreams or wake up and chase them.” Marcellus, who is the daughter of low-income, Haitian immigrants, described how Brandeis was “the first place I found a voice.” She also talked about how being surrounded by people who had grown up with more socioeconomic opportunities in life affected her.

“I felt like my background and story made me unprepared for college, and I struggled,” Marcellus said. “But SSSP helped me find my passion in school and made me realize that my hard work got me where I am today.” Marcellus, a double-major in women’s and gender studies and biology, wishes to empower women in the field of science and through medicine. She ended her speech by telling students to remember that “you guys are enough … so incredibly enough,” adding that “doubt kills more dreams than failure ever did.”

Phan then began his talk, describing his middle school years with an air of regret. “I was not a good student,” he said, “I missed over two hundred classes and had a 1.1 GPA in seventh grade.” According to Phan, this came from his sense of apathy toward school and his economic status in relation to wealthier students. But in high school, Phan discovered Upward Bound, a federal program that assists low-income students (which SSSP is associated with). Phan’s involvement with Upward Bound convinced him to raise his grades and apply to college, something neither he nor his parents had considered a possibility beforehand. Like Marcellus, Phan did not feel adequately prepared for college initially. “I felt isolated … like I was not good enough for college,” he said.

Phan’s Brandeis experience shifted positively when he first joined an improv comedy group on campus. “Making something from nothing was an amazing experience for me,” Phan said. This creative experimentation made Phan “decide to be the best I could be, for me,” leading to further adventures into media such as poetry and filmmaking. Phan closed by advising students to “always try and make something out of nothing; take risks, because things do change for the better.”

The third part of the evening was an original documentary produced and directed by SSSP student Jennifer Recinos ’14 and coordinated by Keith Jones ’15 and Yeng Her ’16. The 15-minute film featured SSSP students, including Recinos and Her, defining social justice to the camera and giving interviews. Students such as Lys Joseph ’14, Afzal Ullah ’14 and Cristal Hernandez ’15, spoke at length in the film about their backgrounds, their experiences as first-generation college students and how they found their way at Brandeis. A shared opinion of the interviewees was the desire for more low-income students and students of color to have the same experience as they did.

The final part of the event was an “empowerment activity,” where the rows of seats were divided into smaller groups. A Student Leadership Board member served as head for a discussion on experiences with social justice. Students, who had been given different-colored strips of paper printed with various questions related to social justice, took turns answering the questions on their respective papers. They later shared answers they found moving with the rest of the audience.

“I Am a Narrative of Change” ended with a round of applause for SSSP’s graduating class of 2014, and the presentation of commemorative plaques to members of the Student Leadership Board. The crowd, all visibly touched by the inspiring event, then dispersed for a dinner of Brazilian food.

*Correction 4/30/14: This article previously stated that SSSP was limited to “students of color” and “less affluent” backgrounds. These statements are incorrect, as the program serves students from a wide variety of different backgrounds and experiences.