Seven GS Graduates on their Journeys to Class Day
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Written by Julian Shen-Berro

Photography by Rya Inman

Following the School of General Studies Class Day on May 14th, Spectator caught up with several newly minted graduates (and their families) to talk about their journeys to Columbia and their next steps.

Joudeleen Christina Frans, political science and psychology

What has your journey to today been like?

Well, I spent ten years working to put my two younger sisters through college. Now it’s my time.


(Rya Inman/Senior Staff Photographer)


How does it feel to graduate?

It feels surreal. Especially what the valedictorian speech, like affirmation of a power of dreams. Yeah I wrote something about dreams in my submission—application essay. So yeah, it resonates with me.

What’s next for you?

I decided not to delve into politics right away. I want to be happier a little bit longer and try to explore everything else besides politics. After my masters, then I will go for it.


Steven Francis, statistics


Steven Francis

What has your journey to today has been like?

Where do I begin? (laughs) Basically it’s been a long journey. I’m originally from the Bronx, New York. Did really well in school up until a certain point. Tried college out. I mean, I was in boarding schools, I did everything. It was good. It worked out very well up until a certain point, but one thing that happens, when you don’t reset your goals in life, things can kinda unravel pretty quickly. So when I went down to D.C.—I actually was at American University at first—things didn’t really work out for me. But I persevered. Did a lot of different jobs, a lot of different things, for a long time. After an eight-year break, decided to go back to school. Got into community college. Worked it out. And got here. And I’m here today.

Who’s with you here today?

So this is my sister, my mother-in-law, my mother, my wife, and my son right here, little Marco.

What is next for you?

So my plan is to figure out fatherhood. I mean, this guy is a little young. But yeah, he’s a good one. He’s crying, I guess he’s about to try to eat or something like that. But just figure out fatherhood. Use my degree just the way I want to. So as far as maybe doing something with sports or financially related. But regardless, I have a pretty versatile degree so the sky’s the limit for me. I’m just on cloud nine today.


Matt Arnold, political science


(Rya Inman/Senior Staff Photographer) - Matt Arnold


What has your journey to today been like?

“I served in the Air Force for eight years active duty, and then a couple friends of mine… came here and told me about GS and the opportunities they provide veterans. I decided to take advantage of those opportunities myself.”

And who’s with you here today?

So this is my dad and his partner Laurie and my partner Chris and my good friend and my mother over there.

What is your plan going forward? What’s next for you?

I start law school in the fall. I’m hoping to work in public interest. Don’t know exactly what, but I’m trying to find something where I can improve people’s lives in some way.


Cornelia Ogendo, Earth Institute


(Rya Inman/Senior Staff Photographer) - Cornelia Ogendo


What has your journey to today has been like?

My journey has been incredibly hard, arduous, but completely rewarding. It started out in Kenya. I was at a Kenyan university, it was American-affiliated. I wasn’t really focusing well in school, to be quite honest, and life was a bit challenging because I do come from a low-income family, so the struggles of that would affect my academics. But I was fortunate enough to move to America under the guidance, or the surship of my mom. And when I moved here, I got a second chance to do school, because I was almost graduating in Kenya. But when I came here I was like, you know what, let me start over again. Open a blank slate. I joined community college in Seattle, and worked super hard—super, super hard—and I threw all my eggs in the Columbia basket. I was just like, I’m going to apply Ivy League, aim for the highest of the highs, if I get it, good, if I don’t, at least I tried. And luckily I got in, and here I am today, graduating. I would never have thought in a million years that me, I’d be in an Ivy League school. Graduating in an Ivy League school.

Tell me about who’s here with you today.

Here with me is my mom, my baby brother, my uncle, my mom’s brother, his wife, and his son, and one of my very good friends from Seattle.

What’s next for you? What are your plans moving forward?

So far I’m planning to stay in New York and pursue career opportunities in sustainability and sustainable management in the city, and see where that journey takes me. Hopefully, I’ll go back to Kenya and develop more of my skills there. Start a practical project that will help community development there.


Thibault Genouville, economics


(Rya Inman/Senior Staff Photographer) - Thibault Genouville


What has your journey to today been like?

My journey to GS has been complicated because I got rejected at first when I was in high school, and then I reapplied when I got into Sciences Po to GS, and I finally got in. And it’s been a long journey, but a very interesting one. It’s been amazing.

Who’s with you here today?

My whole family is here. My uncle, my dad, my cousin, my mom, my brother. Everyone’s here. All the people that matter.

What’s next for you?

Not sure, 100 percent sure. I still have classes this summer. And then hopefully going back to France for grad school


Hannah Sweets, earth science


(Rya Inman/Senior Staff Photographer)


What has your journey to today has been like?

It’s been pretty extraordinary and pretty insane. I moved here from Austin. I was at Austin Community College. And I just... I was really hoping I would get into Columbia, but I didn’t think that I would. I figured I’d end up going to UT or staying in Texas, and I was so grateful to be able to make it here. I was a dancer, and then I was a chef after that. I stopped cooking to look into the more science aspect of agriculture and my journey brought me—I’m doing geophysics now. So that’s (laugh)... it’s been quite an interesting journey.

Last year I was hit by a car, and I almost didn’t finish. I was out for seven weeks. I ended up not being able to do an internship which I was really looking forward to and I put off applications for graduate school because I was afraid that I wasn’t gonna get a chance to travel. But it’s alright. I made it.

Who’s here with you today?

My mom and my two best friends. Fallame is here from Colorado. My friend Wendy traveled from Texas. And then of course, my partner Neil, who has been a rock through all of this. Amazing, patient man. I’m very grateful.

How does it feel to graduate?

Surreal. It doesn’t even—even with all of the fanfare and the pump and the circumstance, it doesn’t feel real yet.

What’s next for you?

I will be leaving on the 20th to be a part of a field mapping course, which is actually part of my capstone. I’m gonna be looking at the Laramide orogeny in Wyoming. And then after that, I will be on a boat in the South Atlantic Ocean, doing some research on the South Atlantic basalts.


Joseph Cooper, Philosophy


(Rya Inman/Senior Staff Photographer) - Joseph Cooper


Can you talk to me a little bit about your journey to today?

Sure. I grew up in Los Angeles. When I was 19, a little bit after high school, I moved to Israel to join the army. I served there for about two and a half to three years. After that, I went traveling—backpacking for about a year. And then I got into Columbia. And then I came here.

Who’s here with you?

This is my dad, Jeff, and my mom, Shelly. And all of my family, brothers and sisters.

How does it feel to graduate?

It’s amazing. It’s a really, really, really, really surreal experience.

What are your plans moving forward?

We’ll see. Either going to grad school here or travelling for a little bit.

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