Stephanie Trejo ’22 (Early Childhood & Childhood Education), a first-generation college student from Mount Kisco, New York, found strength in support networks – on campus and off – along the way to becoming SUNY New Paltz’s Class of 2022 Salutatorian. Her journey to graduation is a story of overcoming adversity, adapting after tragedy, and finding strength in community.
Trejo came to New Paltz in 2018 to pursue a career as an elementary school teacher. She speaks both Spanish and English and sees an opportunity to help fill a need for bilingual teachers in New York State.
“I really like the experience of being able to teach in two different languages,” she said. “I feel like it builds a better sense of community in the classroom.”
Early on in her time here, Trejo also worked to build community outside the classroom. She was a member of the New Paltz Scholar’s Mentorship Program, which helps New Paltz students from historically underrepresented demographics develop from first-year protégés, to peer mentors, to community leaders.
“Having a mentor my first semester here made it that much easier to adjust to being in college,” she said. “Then in my sophomore year, I was a mentor myself, which was a leadership role I enjoyed because I was able to give back to other students by helping them adjust to their freshman year.”
The support network was there for her when she needed it. In 2019, during her sophomore year, Trejo’s brother died in an unexpected accident. Events like these can be especially damaging for college students, who sometimes lose momentum academically after experiencing family tragedy, but Trejo found strength to persevere.
“My brother was always very proud of me academically; he knew that I would succeed and accomplish my goals,” she said. “That definitely pushed me and motivated me to keep going.”
The following semester marked the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which she says turned out to be “a blessing in disguise,” as moving home and being with family allowed time to heal from their loss.
“Being stuck at home wasn’t always great, but I’m really family oriented, so being close to them was a positive,” she said.
She continued to thrive in the classroom, maintaining a 4.0 GPA, taking advantage of fieldwork opportunities, and bonding with faculty mentors. She says Lizabeth Cain, assistant professor of teaching & learning, was an especially strong influence.
“She just gave me all the support I could ever ask for,” she said. “She’s the one I connected with the most outside of class, and she just always seemed to have a genuine interest in my personal life.”
Through it all, Trejo has stayed true to the motivated future teacher who first arrived at New Paltz four years ago. Now she’s looking forward to being on the other side of the classroom.
“New Paltz does give us the space to be as inclusive as possible, and I have always felt accepted here,” she said. “I now get to be an example for my little sister, and the next generations in my family. It means everything to me.”
About Commencement 2022 at SUNY New Paltz
This year’s Undergraduate Commencement Ceremonies will be held on Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22, 2022, on the Old Main Quad on the SUNY New Paltz campus. Both ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m.
The Saturday Ceremony honors graduates of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, and the Sunday Ceremony honors graduates of the School of Business, School of Education, School of Fine & Performing Arts and School of Science & Engineering.
The Graduate Commencement Ceremony will take place on Friday, May 20, at 6 p.m., also on the Old Main Quad.
More information at https://www.newpaltz.edu/commencement/.