Campus News

‘Go where you are celebrated’ — an inside look at Sherifa Clarke’s Medgar Made journey 

By David Gil de Rubio |

There is a Jamaican proverb that reads as “Wi likkle but wi tallawah,” which translates to “we’re a small nation but we’re strong-willed, we’re determined and we refuse to be restrained by the boundaries of our small island.” 

It’s the perfect adage when it comes to Medgar Evers Class of 2023 Valedictorian Sherifa Clarke and the educational journey she’s taken that currently has her riding high in the MBA program at Texas Southern University. 

Currently balancing a full-time job in a rotational program as a financial analyst with PayPal’s Houston office, Clarke points to a decision to check out MEC back in 2019 after it was one of six schools she’d been accepted to. 

Determined to get an Associate’s Degree in Hospitality, Clarke didn’t have MEC as her first choice. It was a decision that changed after the Jamaican crossed paths with Andy Rennie in the Medgar Evers College admissions office. 

“As far as I was concerned, I was going to Kingsborough Community College, right by the beach because I wanted to go to school by the beach because I love water,” Clarke laughingly recalled. “I didn’t really care what degree it was because I owed my father a degree. I just showed up at Admissions seeking out information, but I already made up my mind. Andy Rennie gave me this look and said I was going for a silly degree and why wouldn’t I come to a PBI (Predominantly Black Institution) and go where you are represented? 

“I left and then thought about it that night and realized he was right. He did expand on the whole degree thing. He said a more versatile approach would have been to earn a business degree and then he suggested other little courses and programs in event planning, which would be the same thing, but would give me a wider scope when looking for a job.” 

Rennie noticed Clarke lived a few blocks from Medgar Evers College and in addition to pointing out that walking over to the campus beat a two-hour commute to Kingsborough, he even went as far as to help Clarke choose classes and walk her over to ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associates Program) office to see how they could help her further. Working with the ASAP office to secure a math class with Professor Miriam McDonald was a decision that changed Clarke’s life. 

“[Professor McDonald] is of Caribbean descent and is a math professor who knows her stuff inside and out,” Clarke explained. “She literally eats, breathes and sleeps teaching math. At the beginning of the class, she said it’s hard, but not that hard as long as we do what we’re supposed to do, which is study what we’re supposed to study, do our homework when we’re supposed to do it and practice. Because of her method, I realized that I don’t hate math. I just didn’t understand it. 

“If it’s not that bad, why not do it. I became one of her ‘A’ students. At one point she said because I was so good with formulas, I should look into finance. My first reaction was to laugh and think she was mad. I was in a remedial class, so it didn’t make sense. But I thought about it and started doing research. However, I did so well that they wouldn’t put me back in a remedial math class.” 

Before long, Clarke switched her major to Financial Economics and found herself thriving at Medgar Evers College thanks to the guidance and mentorship of McDonald, Professor Elene Evelyn, Dr. Emmanuel Egbe and from the School of Business, Dean Jo-Anne Rolle and Raquel Bennett. 

And the ASAP office continued to provide solid support through the efforts of people like Nadege Waithe, Jackie Russo and Christina Chala. 

Professor Evelyn’s insistence that Clarke join NABA (National Association of Black Accountants) also proved to be a catalyst for greater future employment opportunities. 

“One day in November 2020, all the current leadership of NABA was leaving. [Professor Evelyn] said I should really join because she loved my energy and thought I’d be a great person on the team,” Clarke said. “I joined and she wasn’t lying that you’re open to networking, internships, scholarships and landing jobs. Because I felt NABA was doing so much for me, I decided to participate. 

“The way I went about doing that was growing membership and cultivating a really tight knit group. The majority of us are an extremely tight knit group. To join NABA as an undergraduate, you have to put your résumé up on something called Mathplicity. It’s like a sourcing engine for jobs and internships.” 

Those efforts bore fruit and before long, Clarke was fielding lucrative paid internship offers from the likes of Ernst & Young, KPMG, Deloitte, Boeing, Cisco, and PayPal. The latter was especially persuasive in pursuing this future employee — going as far as to insist on speaking with Clarke while she was on Spring Break in Miami. 

In the end, Clarke not only wound up interning with PayPal, but doing double-duty with both the former and Cisco, putting in a combined 60-hour work week that paved the way for her landing at PayPal as a full-time employee. With her sights firmly set on being a CFO, Clarke is proud to call herself Medgar Made and is quick to advise anyone looking for a rich educational experience to matriculate at MEC. 

“If you are African-American, go where you are celebrated and not where you are tolerated,” she said. “Don’t go to another school thinking I’m going to sit this through and hope for the best and that I’ll get the support I need. If you’re not African-American, go for the culture. We have an amazing culture and diverse faculty who do know what they are talking about. 

“Medgar Made to me means you did four years at a school that has always been underfunded and underappreciated under the general CUNY umbrella. We’re underrecognized and we were literally the underdog and still we rise. You get out of it what you put in, but go for the culture and the support.”