2023 EOF Graduating Class: A Masterclass in Resilience
Galloway, N.J. – The Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) celebrated its 2023 graduating students with a reception and awards ceremony on April 18 in the Michael Jacobson Board of Trustees Room.
Brett Pulliam, the executive director for Educational Opportunity and Success programs, congratulated the graduates on completing their journey at Stockton University and encouraged them to take pride in this moment.
“In just a few short weeks, you all will be recognized at the commencement ceremony – with your EOF sash – and you’ll be part of the over 15,000 students over the last 50 years who have shown the state of New Jersey, the institution and the world that, no matter what obstacles were put in your place, you’re able to overcome it,” Pulliam said. “So, be proud of that fact and be proud of yourselves and everything that you accomplished.”
Barbara Tilelli, assistant director of EOF, echoed Pulliam’s sentiments, adding that this year’s faced challenges unique to others, such as the COVID-19 pandemic occurring during their “finding your footing” years at Stockton.
“In order for you to be exactly where you are right now, you had to have made a commitment to achieve your goals regardless of the challenges you faced: that takes persistence and courage,” Tilelli said. “You were able to withstand and recover from difficult conditions, which is the actual definition of resilience. It is in times of difficulty, that a person’s true character is revealed, and your true character has been revealed throughout this entire academic journey... you are resilient.”
Students received certificates and sashes, with selected students from both the Galloway and Atlantic City programs also earning awards for class valedictorian, student leadership and embodying the spirit of the EOF program.
One of the valedictorians, Criminal Justice major Kristyn Laaouina, delivered a speech where she reminisced on beginning the program in the summer of 2019 and how being part of EOF has served her well on her university journey as a student and active member of the campus community.
“For those of you who have not seen me rocking my bright blue polo, I am a TALONS on campus and have been since my first year here,” Laaouina said. “I help new students transition to the campus community and support them through their first-year seminar courses. My letter of recommendation was written by my EOF advisor, further showing that the opportunities that I’ve had at Stockton lead me back to that summer in 2019 – the summer that I met the best and brightest people that I’ll ever meet at Stockton.”
- EOF Class Valedictorians – Madison Post, Catherine Knoll and Kristyn Laaouina
- EOF Leadership Awards – Vakaz Akram and Mbili Findlay-Batchelor
- Spirit of EOF Awards – Danica Cranshaw and Dominique Cranshaw
Laaouina’s last year at Stockton has been a self-described “rollercoaster:” she recently had to go to court and resolve a power-based personal violence (PBPV) situation against a former partner of hers.
She said that studying PBPV situations as a Victimology and Victim Services minor and seeing the similarities between the cases she studied and her situation was a revelation for her: victim advocacy was the career path she wanted to pursue. Eventually advocating for a stalking victim and having the opportunity to present her research on human trafficking at the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences – just three weeks after the court hearing – only reaffirmed that revelation.
“Take these experiences as a lesson to how the adversity that we face during our time at Stockton molds us into the people that we need to be in order to make a difference in this world,” Laaouina shared. “The journeys that we take farther away from our past lives have led us right here and right now to this very moment. The time that we spent at Stockton made us the gifted people that we can be for the world to be a better place.”
It is in times of difficulty, that a person’s true character is revealed, and your true character has been revealed throughout this entire academic journey... you are resilient."
Pulliam and Flora GriffinHall, student success coach for EOF, closed the program with remarks reflecting on why they’re passionate about supporting students and the EOF program.
“Kristyn’s speech reaffirms and reminds us how much and why we do what we do,” Pulliam said. “Every moment that I get a chance to be reminded of how important the work that we do helps you all get to the next level makes me want to fight harder to do what we can to support you all in this program.”
“This is just very extra special for me because you all started with me and my journey here at Stockton started with you,” GriffinHall said. “I feel like I got to see a lot of different summers and seasons of your lives, so I just wanted to say thank you for allowing me to be a part of that with you.”
– Story and Photos by Loukaia Taylor