It was winter 2020 and six Corcoran High School seniors had some big decisions to make. Their final year in the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) was winding down, the new coronavirus was changing life as they knew it and their college destinations needed to be finalized. Marwa Abedrabbah, Bobby Cecile, Sam Livingston, Connor Shanahan, Joey Sojewicz and Kyle Tran—all high-achieving students and outstanding athletes—had nearly unlimited college options. Acceptance letters had come from Fordham, Northeastern, Notre Dame, Rochester Institute of Technology and other reputable colleges, and the opportunity to venture far from home was both appealing and intimidating. They weighed their options, did some soul searching and went with the school that was closest to their homes and their hearts.
All six chose Syracuse University.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved everything about the Orange community,” Livingston says. “I’ve always gone to games and idolized Syracuse University, and being one of the students that I’ve looked up to feels just right.”
Livingston had been captivated by a College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) presentation he’d attended during last fall’s Orange Previews , when prospective undergraduates spend a day on campus exploring programs that interest them. “ECS has remarkable facilities and faculty, and my goal is to work in an environment that allows me to come up with creative solutions for difficult engineering problems,” he says. “I am confident that Syracuse can give me the tools I need to use my creativity productively and make a meaningful contribution to the world.”
Shanahan, Corcoran High School’s 2020 valedictorian, says it was the opportunity to major in sport analytics at Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics that tipped the scale toward Syracuse. “It’s a very unique program, and I want to have a career that I am really passionate about,” he says. “I also feel like it’s important to stay close to family and friends during this uncertain time.”
Sojewicz and Cecile also chose Falk College; Sojewicz will study sport management and Cecile is undecided about his major. “I want to have a career that involves working with a professional sports league, and I believe that Falk College will help me get there,” he says.
Abedrabbah says Syracuse was her top-choice school. “My family and I are originally from Palestine, and we moved to the U.S. 13 years ago to begin a new life filled with opportunities,” she says. Although she spoke little English when she arrived in Syracuse, Abedrabbah immersed herself in school-related activities. She was chosen for membership in the Superintendent’s Cabinet as well as National Honor Society and National Art Honor Society. As a member of the Big Brother Big Sister program, she tutored elementary school children and discovered the rewards of students helping students.
One of the highlights of her high school experience was taking part in the Seeds of Peace club. “This organization promotes events that bring students together in an environment where they feel safe and included,” Abedrabbah says. “My ultimate goal in college is to create change in my community, and my dream career is to become a pediatrician. After a lot of research I think the pre-med track in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences will provide me with the necessary courses to be accepted into medical school.”
Kyle Tran hopes to follow a similar path when he begins his studies in biology at the College of Arts and Sciences. “My goal is to go on to medical school when I graduate and become an emergency medicine physician in the U.S. Air Force,” he says. He hopes to get a head start on that goal by joining Syracuse University’s Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, through which he’ll earn a commission of second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force while completing his Syracuse University degree. “I have always wanted to join the Air Force because I wanted to give back to my country for what this country has given me,” he says.
Tran considered colleges as far away as Georgia but decided to stay close to home in Syracuse. “Both of my parents are immigrants from Vietnam, and my grandfather worked with the American Embassy as a Vietnam government official during the Vietnam War,” he explains. “I was born here in Syracuse, and I grew up as an American child. Syracuse University offers me a great education close to home, and there’s no place I want to be but in Central New York.”
All of the Corcoran graduates had a powerful motivation for choosing Syracuse University: Each one will receive a four-year, full-tuition scholarship through the Say Yes to Education program. This partnership between the SCSD and Syracuse University began in 2008 to address issues like poverty, dropout rates and educational deficits in the urban school community. Since that time, more than $10 million in scholarships and grants has been awarded and $120 million in state, federal and institutional aid has been leveraged. SCSD students do not get special consideration for admission, but they do have a strong incentive to stay on track academically. “That’s almost impossible to turn down,” says Cecile.
The students all believe that attending urban schools with a wide range of racial and socioeconomic disparity in the student body has given them good preparation for life on a diverse college campus. “It’s really valuable to experience people from different walks of life, and I’ve made some good friends at Corcoran that I’ll have for my whole life,” Livingston says.
“I got a great education at the SCSD schools,” says Shanahan, a National Merit finalist. “The teachers and staff are really interested in helping the students, and it’s reflected in a strong community.” Shanahan is this year’s recipient of the 1870 Scholarship , the highest recognition offered by Syracuse University’s Office of Admissions. Named for the year of the University’s founding, it recognizes academic and personal accomplishments, community service and demonstrated caring for others.
“When it comes to the quality of the Syracuse City School District, I give it a 10 out of 10,” says Sojewicz. “It’s excellent!” He is a recipient of Syracuse University’s Chancellor’s Scholarship , which recognizes academic achievement based on credentials, performance on standardized tests, class rank, leadership and citizenship.
Corcoran High School offers the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB) , a challenging academic curriculum recognized by some of the world’s leading universities. All six students took part in IB, which required them to take higher-level classes and fulfill core requirements like an extended essay and theory of knowledge course to broaden their educational experience. “It was the best decision I’ve ever made,” says Abedrabbah. “The IB program was incredible,” says Livingston. “It’s challenging and honestly prepares students for the amount of work we’ll face in college, so first semester won’t be overwhelming.” Cecile agrees, saying, “It really made me college-ready and I believe it has put me in a position to be successful.”
It’s not just academics they’re excited about. “I want to take advantage of all the experiences that are available to me, like study abroad and internships,” says Sojewicz. “I want to make friendships and connections that will last a lifetime,” says Shanahan.
Sports and Hobbies
The students have followed Syracuse University athletics with great passion most of their lives, and all have distinguished themselves in that arena. Abedrabbah was a member of Corcoran’s varsity track team. Sojewicz, Shanahan and Livingston were captains of Corcoran’s cross country team, and also took part in indoor and outdoor track. Tran and Cecile, both varsity lacrosse players, earned the prestigious Coach’s Award. “Kyle and Bobby are both great kids, on and off the field,” says Matt Dowd, Corcoran’s varsity lacrosse coach. “When we did fundraisers, Kyle was one of the best. He also helped out as an assistant coach for the Valley Youth Lacrosse League. Bobby was a key player as an attackman junior year and was going to be a huge part of our offense senior year,” Dowd says. “Unfortunately they missed out on these opportunities due to the COVID-19 virus.” Cecile also played basketball and soccer at Corcoran and hopes to play club lacrosse at Syracuse this year.
For Livingston and Shanahan, a fascination with robotics will be well served at Syracuse. Their Corcoran High School robotics team made it to the world championship of the Vex Robotic Competition this year, but the event was canceled due to the coronavirus. ECS’s Orange Robotics team placed eighth out of 48 teams the first time it competed in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers student design competition in 2017. ECS offers an Introduction to Robotics class where students originate designs like sumo wrestling robots, and the University also has a new unmanned aerial systems club—a big draw for students who want to experiment with drones.
Being Orange means being part of a strong community that works together to improve society.—Connor Shanahan
All of the students live within a 10-minute drive of the University. Tran, who works as a night shift supervisor at UPS and was a level one technician at United Radio throughout his senior year, is commuting to campus, as is Abedrabbah. The other four, who have been friends since kindergarten, are living on campus. “I’m in the Living and Learning Community in Shaw Hall for students with STEM majors,” Livingston says. Ironically, his grandmother, Linda Mandel Livingston ’61, lived in Shaw when she was a Syracuse student. “I have always had gratitude for the strong academic foundation in the sciences I received at Syracuse University,” Mandel Livingston says. “It was excellent preparation for a career in clinical research, and I am so thankful that my grandson Sam will have similar opportunities in engineering at Syracuse.”
There are a lot of other family connections to Syracuse University. Abedrabbah’s cousin, Barihan Khattab, is a graduate student in the School of Education . Cecile’s parents, James ’88, L’91 and Julie Cecile L’91, are both graduates of the College of Law . His sister Hannah ’19 is an alumna and their grandfather, Robert Cecile, was associate dean of University College . Shanahan’s parents both earned graduate degrees at Syracuse; his mother, Amanda G’94, from Falk College and his father, Michael ’08, from the School of Education. Sojewicz’s grandfather, Timothy Gorman, L’72, is a graduate of the College of Law. Tran has two cousins attending Syracuse—Shannon Phan is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and Quoc Phan is a junior in the School of Education.
Even though their senior year in high school was cut short by the pandemic, the students have pushed aside their disappointment and feel optimistic about what awaits them in the next chapter of their lives. They are united in their belief that Syracuse University will give them a valuable connection to a network of people focused on the greater good.
“Being Orange means being part of a strong community that works together to improve society,” says Shanahan.
“It means I’m empowered to reach my fullest potential,” says Abedrabbah.
“For me,” says Tran, “it’s being part of a family on a beautiful campus surrounded by a great culture of diversity.”