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Hurricane Ivan Scholarship Winner Selected as 2010 City Tech Valedictorian
Photo credit: Yue Chen
Out of devastation emerged opportunity for Lerone Bleasdille, New York City College of Technology’s (City Tech) 2010 valedictorian.
He arrived at City Tech as a result of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, which decimated most of the buildings in his native country, Grenada. He arrived at City Tech as a result of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, which decimated most of the buildings in his native country, Grenada. The former resident of St. George’s Parish had a few scares but was lucky: the first hurricane destroyed only one room in his father’s home where he lived with his oldest sister. Unable to get through to the rest of his family in the Northern Parish of St. David’s for a week, he eventually found out that his mother, stepfather and siblings, were safe and had opened their home to neighbors who had no place to stay.
It was Bleasdille’s mother, then an administrator in the Prime Minister’s office, who learned that The City University of New York (CUNY), in partnership with the Grenada Mission, was offering 15 college scholarships to Grenadian students as a humanitarian initiative.
At the time, Bleasdille, who held an associate degree in information technology from Grenada’s T.A. Marryshow Community College, was working in a local bank as a commercial teller. He applied for and won one of the CUNY scholarships, and chose to study at City Tech because it was the only one of the four participating CUNY colleges to offer computer science-related majors. The scholarship paid for his tuition during his years at City Tech.
“If I hadn’t received this scholarship, I would have stayed in my bank job for two more years. Then, I would have taken a loan to try and get into a U.S. college,” notes Bleasdille, 24, who will graduate with a bachelor of technology degree in computer systems and deliver the valedictory address at City Tech’s June 2 commencement in The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
What drives Bleasdille, an East Flatbush resident, in his academic work and many community activities is passion. “My valedictory speech will have two themes,” he explains, “finding your passion, which is going to push you to succeed, and appreciating the value of negative people in your life as well as the positive, supportive ones. If someone negates what you want to do, it makes you want it more. It actually helps. You may not realize it at first.”
He says he learned this lesson when a professor told him to drop a class because he’d missed the first two weeks while completing an internship and wouldn’t be able to catch up. “I took the opportunity to prove him wrong and ended up getting an A,” he says.
Grateful for his own scholarship experience, Bleasdille, who served as president of City Tech’s Student Government Association (SGA) and later as senator-at-large and treasurer, recognized the need to provide scholarships for international students who ordinarily were ineligible due to residency requirements.
With the strong support of the City Tech Foundation and its Executive Director Jewel Trowers-Escobar, he and some fellow students established the merit-based SGA Trust Award, which soon will announce its first awards of $2,000 each to three full-time students.
Leadership and creativity are two qualities Bleasdille exhibits in abundance, having served as lead reporter of the College’s student newspaper, New Tech Times, president of the Martial Arts Club and vice president of the E-commerce Club, in addition to his student government posts.
While gravitating towards a career in technology, Bleasdille says he “found himself as a creative writer” at City Tech. “I used to write poetry in high school and sometimes perform it,” he explains. “My first English professor at City Tech gave me great feedback on my writing and encouraged me to enter the College’s Literary Arts Festival competition. I won first prize in both the poetry and short story categories two years in a row,” he proudly notes.
Says festival coordinator, Professor Caroline Hellman, “Lerone helped pioneer SGA's involvement in the festival; now there is an annual SGA writing prize, usually on a community or academic topic.” This year, says Bleasdille, “I’m entering all sections of the competition – poetry, fiction, drama, humor and essay. It’s my last semester – I might as well go all out!” The festival takes place on April 29.
Bleasdille credits his drive and multiple interests partly to the example set by his late father, Leroy Neckles, who died in 2008. Neckles, a U.S.-educated business turnaround specialist, held numerous executive posts, such as first general manager of Grenada’s Point Salines International Airport, manager of government agencies in Grenada and Guyana, and president of Rotary International. Says Bleasdille, “He told me, ‘Leaders are never people who want to lead; they are the people others ask to lead.’ I always remember that statement; because it means you’re doing something right when people believe in you; you’re already a leader to your supporters – now they want to make it official.”
While Neckles did not live to see Bleasdille graduate from City Tech, he was instrumental in his son being able to come to the U.S. to study. One of the criteria for the Grenada-CUNY scholarship was having a friend or relative living in New York. At the time, Neckles was here being treated for kidney disease, which meant Bleasdille qualified.
Bleasdille also credits his mother who raised him, for “her indomitable spirit, and unquenchable support. “She’s read all my stories and poems. While my father set the education bar high, my mother built my character,” he says.
Bleasdille applied himself to his coursework in his major, completing four honors projects for his math and programming courses. He also did three internships instead of just the one required, picking up experience in his field at Goldman Sachs, the Department of Education and web-design company Mixed Media Solutions. Of his interest in software development, creating programs and designing websites, he says, “I like the creative aspect of computer systems: designing solutions for challenging problems.”
To gain more work experience, he is applying for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. It places non-immigrant full-time students (F-1 visa status) who have completed or have been pursuing college degrees in STEM majors (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) in full-time jobs for up to 29 months.
One of the most important things he has gained from his time at City Tech is a broader understanding of life. “I’ve been exposed to different cultures; I’ve met people from most of the countries in the world – it’s like the United Nations here – and I’ve made many friends.”
To anyone considering attending City Tech, he advises, “Come in and see it for yourself, talk to students and professors in your major, research what kind of job you can get after graduation. Find your passion. You can make a career of it; prospective employers will pick up on your enthusiasm.”