Rosemarie McCormack, FRCH Valedictorian, Reflects on Her Path to Fordham

Lindsay Grippo, Editorial Director Emerita

Migrating from Missoula, Montana, Fordham University Rose Hill Class of 2020’s Valedictorian Rosemarie McCormack, FCRH ’20, likes to refer to her path to Fordham as her “one moment of teen rebellion.”

“I like to think I was pretty agreeable in high school, but when my dad told me we had to check out Fordham I was all, “Ugh, why? I’ve never even heard of it,” she said of her first university visit. “Even though it was a gross, rainy March day, I remember walking on campus and feeling right at home.”

McCormack is an international political economy major with minors in English and peace & justice studies, hoping to continue her current work with criminal justice reform and eventually attend law school. “It feels like everything else I have sought out at Fordham and who I am as a person now centers around how to promote social justice whenever I can.”

As an incoming freshman, McCormack participated in Urban Plunge, a pre-orientation program geared towards community service, reflection, and social justice.

“Urban Plunge was definitely something that altered the course of my Fordham experience and, I think, my life,” she said of those initial few weeks in the Bronx. “I was not really exposed to social justice issues in high school, and I was also nervous about moving to New York from Montana. Urban Plunge tackled both these topics right away, making me feel at home in the Bronx and showing me how much I had to learn about race, culture, and community organizing.”

During her time at Fordham, McCormack helped found Our Story, a part of the Social Innovation Collaboratory aimed at creating new platforms for students to share personal stories. In addition to hosting various storytelling events since its inception in 2017, the organization recently launched a podcast called “Our Story: Plugged In” on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

“Leading the Our Story team taught me countless lessons about leadership, community-building and cultivating trust,” she said of the project. “I’ve met some of my best friends through Urban Plunge and Our Story — genuine, smart, giving, hilarious, conscious people who I am proud to call my friends.”

For McCormack, this deep sense of community is central to what makes Fordham so special. “On tours, I would always tell prospective students (and really mean it) that my favorite part of Fordham is the community.”

“People love to help one another out, say hi, make new friends, contribute to your fundraiser, help with projects, check in on how you’re doing,” she said of the camaraderie inextricably woven into the Fordham experience. “Especially when those inevitable lonely moments of young adulthood creep up, it’s nice to know you have a whole village who cares about you and wants you to succeed.”

However, McCormack is candid about the uncertainties of young adulthood as well as the range of emotion this stage of life can inspire.

“One of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver, wrote in her book ‘High Tide in Tucson’ something like ‘It’s not so far, then, from survival to poetry,’” McCormack referenced. “It’s always stuck with me. College and all the growing that comes with it can feel so much like both.”

Her time at Fordham has involved a healthy mix of both sonorous poeticism and simple survival: “Some moments are beautiful and precious, like watching a Bronx sunset from a friend’s roof or riding the D train alone and getting to feel like a part of the living, breathing organism that is New York City. But other days — living on your own, friend drama, family drama, mental health, homework, the stress of figuring out who you are and who you want to be — we’re barely surviving.”

“I love this Kingsolver quote because it reminds me that the veil between good and bad is actually quite thin, and beauty and meaning can be found even when you feel at your worst,” she said.

Amid the various implications of COVID-19 — involving the switch from in-person instruction to remote learning for the latter half of the spring 2020 semester — McCormack believes this sense of community has both gained a reinforced significance and been deeply missed by its many members.

“Most students and faculty were devastated that the year had to end this way, but when I talked to my friends who go to other schools, they didn’t seem to care as much,” she said of her past few weeks back in Montana. “They don’t feel as attached to their universities.”

“Our present crisis highlighted for me how lucky we are at Fordham; we feel this sadness because we have something special to miss,” she said affectionately.

When asked if there were any particular people at Fordham she would like to recognize, her response reflected this pervasive appreciation for all of the university’s nooks and crannies: “There are so many people I could shout out!”

“I am especially grateful for the staff of the President’s Office, who have looked out for me like family since I started working with them my freshman year,” she said of her four years in the office as a student assistant.

“Thanks to Dean Annunziato for supporting my research; Dr. Keller for helping me transition to Honors; Dr. Greenfield for being a great professor and for inviting me to work on her oral history project; Carey Weiss for teaching me to think outside the box; and Pauline Villapondo for keeping me grounded. These women have been the most incredible mentors and cheerleaders these past 4 years.”

As an outgoing member of the senior class, McCormack feels comforted by her and her peers’ shared experience of a rather untraditional final semester, as well as the memories that will connect them going forward.

“Finding a job obviously seems a little more nerve-wracking than it did a few months ago, but as we all try to navigate this uncertainty and start our adult lives, it’s nice to know us fellow grads are in it together,” she said.

McCormack pre-recorded a speech that aired during the university’s 175th Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 16 — the first in university history to be entirely virtual, though one of many digital celebrations occurring in the changing world upon which Fordham’s Dodransbicentennial class will formally embark.