Growing up, I had driven past this exit sign dozens of times on my way to Long Island to visit family, but I never really thought twice about it. For me, exit 7W marked the three hours into our trip, the three-quarter mark of a trip that, as a child, seemed endless.
I certainly never thought I would end up here. In fact, I didn’t visit Fordham until two weeks before I had to make my college decision. (Disclaimer: I tried to visit one weekend in the fall of my senior year, but the D train wasn’t running — my first exposure to the schedule-altering subway construction that seems to constantly encompass New York City.)
Free application. No supplements. Why not apply? Applying to Fordham seemed harmless for me. I had countless family friends who had attended Fordham and couldn’t say enough about their time here, the beautiful Rose Hill campus and the memories and connections that remain with them today. I had never heard a bad thing about Fordham.
At the time, I was only slightly familiar with the connection to Fordham that would later pave the way for me to choose Fordham.
In the 1940s, a young widowed mother was raising six children in a small apartment on the corner of East 137th Street and Willis Avenue (just a few blocks from Alexander Avenue) in the South Bronx. This woman was my great-grandmother, an Irish immigrant who came to America thanks to her sister, who was an indentured servant. One of these six children is my grandfather, a Bronx native. Unfortunately, the apartment building that holds such prominence in my family history was torn down in the 1950s for the Bronx River Parkway, the same road I use to get to Lincoln Center for class or home to Albany, New York. It is a road that has made all of our lives so much simpler, but had such a devastating effect on the lives of others.
My papa, Joseph Planells, the son of Spanish and Irish immigrants (I know what you’re thinking, “Cailin McKenna” doesn’t really scream anything besides Irish) spent much of his life in the Bronx. Growing up he shared stories of his youth and the ever-changing neighborhood with his seven grandchildren. While many things have been destroyed, the Bronx continues to be a place of diversity and a melting pot of cultures and ideas. The people of the Bronx have an entirely new identity compared to the Irish immigrants who dominated the South Bronx in the 1940s. This new population is proud to call the Bronx home, as am I.
Every time I visit my grandparents, they ask me about “Joe’s beloved Bronx,” which provides a connection to my past and my grandpa. In this way, my papa has become a huge part of my college experience. “Joe’s beloved Bronx,” a phrase I have heard so many times, has now become my beloved Bronx.
Not all of the Planells have left the Bronx; my great-uncle still lives on Valentine Avenue, only a block away from our beloved, if slightly deteriorated, Fordham Road D-train stop. Seeing him at family gatherings, we talk about our changing neighborhood and the pride we have for our beloved Bronx.
As I walk to the subway, and into Manhattan, I am reminded of the rich family history this borough offers me. I am reminded of how Fordham has always been the right choice for me. For many students, college offers a new experience in a city far from home. But for me, despite the changing landscape, there is so much of my heritage still left in the streets of the Bronx.