Here's one indication that York College's Class of 2014 is something special: More than 200 students turned out Sept. 7 to celebrate their summer reading assignment, Warren St. John's "Outcasts United."
And they brought their Cardinal Spirit with them.
You might think they were lured by the prospect of free pizza. Not completely. Pizza was 90 minutes away.
"Outcasts United" is the story of a small town in Georgia, told through the lens of a soccer team of refugee boys called the Fugeees, a team founded and coached by Jordanian-born volunteer named Luma Mufleh. The team and its remarkable coach provide powerful lessons about how to create a community in places where everyone is different.
Like the players in "Outcast United," Almamy Tunis Seray-Wurie was part of a resettlement program that brought him to New York after fleeing civil war in Sierra Leone and spending years in a refugee camp in Guinea. Sharing his journey with students, he described what it was like to survive the camp experience and to arrive in the U.S. with no documents, no passport. Years later, he said, he still dreams about the fighting in Sierra Leone.
"People are not used to seeing people who are different than themselves," he said. "We should be tolerant of people who dress differently or who eat different foods."
Seray-Wurie put a face on the real-life story of the immigrant experience and the realities of diversity in contemporary America.
York's own championship soccer team is part of that real-life story, too. Call them Cardinals United. Members did a star turn at Freshman Reader Day, calling out the country of their birth as the freshmen cheered. Togo. Haiti. Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Ecuador.
Kafui Kouakou, last year's CUNY Player of the Year and now an assistant coach, told the freshmen "The struggle you go through in life defines who you are ... it may be a war zone or a family situation, but it makes you stronger."
Provost Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith also used the word struggle as he suggested lessons to draw from "Outcasts United." For the Provost, the book represented three S-words: Survival, Struggle and Success. He turned to one of his favorite quotations from Confucius to suggest the book's message. "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
"If those families could pick up and move on, there is no reason why you can't," he told the freshmen.
The Provost also offered three suggestions to help freshmen rise:
- Plan to stay at York and graduate at York. Do not simply pass through York, persist.
- Don't be comfortable with mediocrity. Aim for excellence. Get a C and ask what it takes to get an A. Get an A and ask what it takes to get an A-plus. Geeks do indeed rule the world.
- Don't think that college is only about classes. It is a combination of experiences that expand your horizons. Engage outside the classroom. Go to an athletic event or attend a show. Find a club or start one of your own. Find a research mentor and get involved in research at York.
And after smaller group discussions the group found pizza in the faculty dining room, where "Outcasts United" author St. John's video message seemed designed for the Class of 2014: Like his young soccer players in this rapidly changing and increasingly diverse world, we must learn to connect with each other and build a new kind of community.