Two Different Paths to the Top of the Class

"I felt comfortable from the moment I walked in the door. It was a very different atmosphere than what I had expected."

Joey Fattorusso, the valedictorian of the graduating class of 2017, has had what he described as "a complicated college adventure," having started at Pace University, where he felt like a fish out of water and left the same day. From there it was on to Hunter College, and once again he left on day one. "I lasted about three classes," he recalled. "At that point, for the first time in my life, I felt like I didn't have a plan."

After taking a semester off to regroup, he heeded a friend's suggestion that he try John Jay. Three and half years and a perfect 4.0 grade-point average later, all the while working full time, the 22-year-old English major is ready to take on the world.

Fattorusso is the first English major to be the class valedictorian. Although he works at the Bank of America, where he is in line for a new position, his passion is creative writing, and he already has a few ideas for novels that he hopes to bring to fruition. "When they're ready, I'll take them to a publisher and make it happen," he said. "There's a part of me that's creative, and I don't want to let that go."

Unstinting in his praise for the John Jay faculty he has studied with, Fattorusso singled out Sara Whitestone, a lecturer in the English department, as a mentor. "She taught the first writing class I took at John Jay," he said. "She saw things in me I couldn't always see in myself."

Although an understated young man, Fattorusso seems to lack nothing when it comes to self-confidence. He said that he knew he could become valedictorian after his first semester at John Jay. "Not that I would, but that I could," he emphasized. And now that he's about to address his fellow graduates, what might he be likely to say? "It will be more of a thank you to students for inspiring me on my college journey," he said. "Work hard at whatever you do, and remember to give back, whether now or 20 years from now."

Joining Fattorusso atop the Class of 2017 academic rankings is salutatorian Samuel Choi, a Forensic Psychology major who is the first in his family to attend and graduate from college. The son of Korean immigrants, Choi is a product of the McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, and as such he will be heading to the University of Wyoming this fall to begin pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology and law.

Admittedly not a very good student in high school, Choi credits Psychology professors Marina Sorochinski and Daryl Wout and McNair Program associate director Ernest Lee with helping him find a focus. “Professor Wout was my gateway into research,” said Choi, who has participated in several academic conferences and plans to continue with race-related research.

He added that he had thought of delaying his graduation in order to take the time to beef up his resume with extracurricular activities, but said that in speaking with Lee, “I was told ‘why wait? Do it now.’” He will, and said he expects to have two very proud parents looking on as he crosses the stage on May 31.