It started with a simple conversation between friends. Elizabeth Caraballo, a Weehawken High School and Ramapo College graduate who is currently attending Seton Hall Law School, and Omar Elangbawy, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania who also graduated from WHS, wanted to do something to help students at their alma mater.
“We wanted to come back to Weehawken and talk to the kids about college,” said Elangbawy, who will graduate from Penn in May with degrees in economics and computer science. “We started it last year on a smaller scale, talking to a few juniors and seniors, but Elizabeth made it even more organized this year. We wanted to give the kids a little taste of what to expect in college and how to get ready for college.”
Caraballo, her brother Kelvin – a graduate of Stevens Tech who is currently working as an engineer in Manhattan – and Elangbawy were among the seven Weehawken High School graduates who returned to the school last week to talk about college with the current students.
This was totally different than any other college discussions in the past, because the other conversations came from teachers and guidance counselors.
Role models “I enjoy relating my experience and giving advice,” said Elangbawy, who has already signed a contract with UBS Financial Services to begin work soon after graduation. “If we had something like this when we were students at Weehawken High School, I know it would have been beneficial for us. There are so many questions, from admission into colleges and student life on campus.”
The other college students who participated in the day-long event included Alex Wagner, a former Weehawken valedictorian currently studying at Penn; Chayanne Moya, a Rutgers University pharmacy student who also is very active with the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad; Jorge Janampa, who is at Boston University; and Vanessa Casella, an education major at St. Peter’s College.
The seven college students didn’t simply focus on juniors and seniors. They met with all the students, including the seventh and eighth graders.
“You really want to begin the thought process about college in the seventh grade,” said Catherine Campen, the supervisor of student personnel services for the district. “Our students can relate to the college kids and can see the successes they’ve become. You can’t just wait until 11th or 12th grades to think about college. I thought the whole day was wonderful. You love them when they are here, you miss them when they leave, and you are so proud of them when they develop into the fine young people they’ve become.”
Elangbawy was impressed with the questions he received, especially from the younger students.
“I was amazed with the seventh graders, asking me questions about tuition, about different schools,” Elangbawy said. “It’s nice to see these students have such goals at an early age. I would like to think that I can be a role model for them. I know that anyone from Weehawken who has the right mindset, who is goal oriented and is focused, could achieve and go anywhere. It was definitely a lot of fun. I think it meant a lot for the advice to come from a familiar face and not just a teacher. They know now what to expect, what to look for. They can set goals and strive for them.”
Kate Kitzie, an English teacher at the high school, was touched by the college students’ generosity to want to come back.
“It was a testimony to kids and to the school that they came at their own request and that they did such a remarkable job, extending themselves so warmly and fully to our students,” Kitzie said. “They have even requested the opportunity to return in the spring. It’s helpful to hear from other kids It’s gratifying for us as teachers to see them prospering, doing so well, fulfilling promise.”
Current students speak out The current students definitely enjoyed the visit.
“Omar gave a true explanation of the need for time management and the pressures of college,” said junior Gerard Guerrini.
“It was good to get information on college life from a student’s viewpoint,” said fellow junior Victor Bautista. Sophomore Andrea Rivadeneira liked what Wagner had to offer.
“Alex Wagner said that the beauty of Weehawken High School is that it’s small enough to partake in many clubs and activities,” Rivadeneira said. “Such participation is one thing that colleges look for.”