Campus News

My MEC Story: Advocacy wasn’t an option — until I made it one.

Editor’s note: My MEC Story is an occasional series featuring students and alumni at Medgar Evers College with unique stories — and a willingness to tell them.


By Geraldyne Raphael

How did I get here?

What am I doing here? 

I ask myself these questions almost every day. Just a few years ago, I honestly didn’t know anything about college, let alone want to go to college.

It was something that I had to do.

Now it is something I want and I crave.

My name is Geraldyne Raphael, and I am a student at Medgar Evers College.

If you told me three years ago that I’d be sitting here, writing this piece, with a smile on my face and advocacy in my belly, I think I would have run in the other direction. The 18-year-old me would have been scared — not because of a lack of self-belief, but because my path wasn’t clear, it was cloudy at best.

But I’ve stubbornly and steadfastly found myself. I’ve found my voice.

But it wasn’t easy, and if my journey can potentially help you, then I must write this.

How the CUNY application almost didn’t happen…

Where do I even begin? Let’s start in high school. 

My senior year of high school was honestly one of the most pivotal years of my life — but it was a struggle.

First period started at 8:12 a.m. — and I was barely making it to school for lunch, which was the fourth period. When I did arrive, I spent most of my time in the guidance counselor’s office, then completed the last three periods of the day.

That mindset didn’t exactly put college at the top of my priority list. And, initially, I chose not to apply to college because I didn’t have the money to pay for applications, and then school if anyone accepted me.

Honestly, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. 

But, because I attended an NYC high school, CUNY application fees were waived, so my teacher made it a requirement in class to apply for CUNY. Even then, because I’m a Bronx native, l didn’t apply to Medgar Evers College. I literally remember saying “I’m not traveling to Brooklyn for school, that’s deep.” 

Yet, here I am, literally, a couple of years later, reflecting on “how I got here.”

But CUNY wasn’t my original plan. 

I didn’t know much about college except for what high school teachers said to scare students, so I was set on going to the US Navy. My plan was to join and do college there so they could cover my tuition. I eventually changed my mind after nights of extensive research and weighing my options because to know me is to know that I would’ve been kicked out of basic training on the first day and not because of the physical aspect.

Taking a new direction . . .

Instead, I started at an NYC community college that I impulsively enrolled in a few weeks before the start of the semester. I took out a loan and my college journey started off with me pursuing nursing. 

I always knew that I wanted to help people, so nursing made sense at the time.

Sitting on science courses, I felt like I wasn’t learning anything, but I kept going because I just thought that this is what college is supposed to feel like. Being a first-generation college student, my parents weren’t able to guide me like some of my high school classmates. 

This caused me to become a part-time student and full-time worker. My mother would always ask when I was graduating, but I never had the guts to tell her “mom, I’m only taking one class this semester, so let’s add a year to the original date.”

Attempting to force nursing to be my career caused me to travel through the CUNY system. After attending another college and realizing I didn’t like it, I started researching Medgar Evers College. I didn’t know that it was a PBI (Predominantly Black Institution) and as soon as I saw that, I wanted in. I remember calling admissions, because I again applied on impulse about two weeks before the start of the Spring 2022 semester. I gave them my name so that they could speed up the process.

When I started at Medgar, I was online, finally returning to in-person in Fall 2022. The rebound for campus was slow and campus life simply wasn’t engaging. I think all CUNY schools struggled with that post-pandemic vibe. 

But I chose to do something about it, as I applied and joined the Student Government Association as a sophomore representative. I just wanted to help make campus fun again.

It turned out to be a life-altering decision – it made my life exciting for unexpected reasons.

Through Medgar Evers College, opportunities I would have never dreamed possible were made available, including trips to the statehouse in Albany and the Mock Senate Trial — both of which led to internships. It pushed me to close out my biology degree in fall 2023 and shift to getting my bachelor’s in Public Administration.

Once I started stepping into alignment with what God has for my life, decisions became easier. I’m finally learning. 

No has finally turned into yes.

Geraldyne Raphael spoke at the tribute to the late Dr. John Louis Flateau.

A bit of foreshadowing . . .

When I was younger, I was referred to as the “big mouth child.” As comical as that may sound now, it wasn’t then. If my parents did something I didn’t like or knew wasn’t very parent-like behavior, I’d speak up. This behavior of course would get me in trouble — but I was born with it.  Even after getting punished, I’d continue. 

My family would always tell me to be a lawyer or teacher (but as soon as I understood what the salary range was for the latter, I knew I wasn’t doing that). It was a running joke that if one of my siblings got in trouble and I’d defend them, my mother would say “li pa bezwen yon avoka” which translates to “he/she doesn’t need a lawyer.”

In middle school, I was placed on probation for speaking up although I’m 100% convinced that discrimination was the actual reason. I remember watching all my classmates get pins while their family cheered them on and me just sitting there. 

I guess that’s where my strong sense for advocacy started — I didn’t deserve that. Actually, no child deserves that. 

Although I advocated for myself, I was just a child so the adults did not listen to me. 

Even in middle school, I would defend myself against non-Black people of color.

My mother didn’t really know how to defend me and I knew that, so I started taking matters into my own hands. I became super defensive. My defensiveness was mostly towards those in power. 

Teachers, principals – all of them. 

All I had to do was feel like they were trying to play with me and it was up from there. I used to argue with teachers and even my vice principal in high school. I wouldn’t do my assignments just to prove a point.  I was honestly due for multiple suspensions but I guess advocating for myself saved me. 

I was also super involved in my high school community while doing all this. I was a mentor to freshmen students and in my high school’s version of the SGA, but we only planned events for the school. I believe that my involvement in campus life kept me from life-altering trouble — and even led to my high school counselor, dean and staff defending me.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not telling you how to act like I did. 

But I think back on those moments, and I realize where I sit now was borne from that fight.

I didn’t jump right into a law education because of the amount of school I’d have to do — plus the sincere fear. 

Those feelings stuck with me internally and I just pushed them aside. 

I never gave value to them. 

But MEC and SGA reminded me of where I wanted to be in life. 

I realized that I have too much to say and I’d be doing myself and others a disservice by not saying it. Nursing is an amazing field but I just couldn’t imagine not being able to legally tell a patient the right thing to do, and just have to do what I was taught to do. 

The trips to the Capitol that MEC has afforded me have given me a front-row seat to observe what other bold Black women are doing – and I believe that’s what I am destined to do.

Even now, people look at me a bit sideways when I talk about going into civil law — there’s no promise of money and wealth. That’s not my worry, I’m going to be wealthy in soul.

I don’t want people to feel like I felt or to travel my same path just thinking “that’s just life.”

It isn’t.

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