Good Things Come to Those Who Persevere

Elvira Kirilko, the valedictorian of the Class of 2015, sat for an interview with John Jay News knowing that the following day, she had a one on- one with an admission representative from Georgetown University Law School - her first choice. Any nervousness on her part proved misplaced. Shortly thereafter, she made the move from Georgetown's waiting list to its entering class for this coming fall.

Kirilko, who immigrated to the United States from Belarus at age 3, sports a perfect 4.0 grade point average as an Honors Program student majoring in Forensic Psychology. "I came to John Jay for forensic psych," she said. "I knew I wanted to go to law school, but wanted a relevant degree without it being specifically pre-law."

En route to the top of the graduating class, Kirilko has made the most of her faculty mentors. Psychology Professor Jill Grose-Fifer has helped her almost since day one, having cotaught in Kirilko's freshman learning community. Professors Evan Mandery (Criminal Justice) and Richard Haw (English/Interdisciplinary Studies) also rank high on the valedictorian's list. "I can go to them for everything, from calming to career advice," she said.

Kirilko knew from the start that a perfect GPA was something worth hanging on to. "It was a lot of pressure, but it was a burden that I liked," she said. "The only way you can go is down." The significance of her achievement hasn't been lost on Kirilko's mother, who recently bought two "valedictorian" bumper stickers for the family car.

Success and perfection notwithstanding, Kirilko's prescription for her fellow graduates is simple. "Live life in the moment," she urges. "Don't live only for the future — you'll burn out, and it's a waste of your life."

The Class of 2015's co-salutatorians have some things in common — they're both transfer students from community college, both are a few years older than the average graduating senior, and both have a surprisingly easygoing perspective on the perfect 4.0 GPAs they achieved.

"It wasn't about the GPA — more about making sure I learned something in every class I took," said Daniel Destefano, a Criminal Justice (B.A.) major who came to John Jay via Kingsborough Community College. "The 4.0 just reflected the amount of work I put in." Emily Ford, a Criminology major from Monroe County Community College in western New York, reflected: "I don't feel like it was a burden to maintain perfection because I wasn't actually trying to achieve a 4.0 GPA. I kept telling myself that if I didn't get a 4.0 one semester, that'd be OK, but I did achieve it and I am extremely proud of myself."

An unassuming attitude doesn't mean that they didn't take their John Jay education seriously. Destefano, who aspires to a policy analysis position in government, got a taste of that last fall as part of a student team participating in the Diplomacy Lab project. In February, Destefano and other student researchers presented the findings from a study of illegal wildlife-trafficking to officials at the U.S. State Department. "I don't know if the research has future potential," Destefano said, "but the people at State certainly seemed impressed."

Ford, who hopes to find a career as a criminal investigator, had to work extra hard to stay focused since her fiancé, a Marine corporal, was deployed to Afghanistan for much of the time she was John Jay. "It helps to have a great support system," she said, citing four Fs: fiancé, family, friends and faculty. "Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness,"

Ford noted. "Your professors are there to help you and want you to succeed." Being a bit older than the average college senior can be a plus, they agreed. "I know I'm more focused than I was when I was younger," said Destefano, who said he chose John Jay for the opportunities it offered and its diversity. "I think a lot of my success has to do with where I am in my life right now, being older than the average student," added Ford, who chose John Jay for its affordability.