President Karol V. Mason Receives the Ellis Island Medal of Honor

President Karol V. Mason Receives the Ellis Island Medal of Honor

President Karol V. Mason Receives the Ellis Island Medal of Honor

In recognition of her service to her country and her unwavering support of immigrant students, President Karol V. Mason received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor from the Ellis Island Honors Society, on May 11, 2019. “Standing here in Ellis Island, a place that saw millions of newly arrived immigrants pass through its doors, I’m struck by the undeniable fact that America is a country made up of immigrants,” said Mason upon receiving her award. She explained to the audience that as an African-American woman, she’s unable to trace her ancestors’ journey from Africa to the United States, and the only information she had about their journey was that some of them lived on the Murray Plantation in Alamance County, North Carolina.

“While I cannot tell you about my family’s journey to America, what I can tell you about is the journey many John Jay College students have taken to reach this great country. I can tell you how their experiences and their perspectives strengthen the fabric of our College community and this entire country.” —Karol V. Mason  

“While I cannot tell you about my family’s journey to America, what I can tell you about is the journey many John Jay College students have taken to reach this great country. I can tell you how their experiences and their perspectives strengthen the fabric of our College community and this entire country. Their achievements and contributions continue to enrich our lives.” The pride Mason had for John Jay’s immigrant students struck a chord with the group of students chosen to attend the event. For them, seeing their President speak on their behalf, and simply being on Ellis Island, a place where so many immigrant families arrived and went on to succeed in America, inspired the group to continue their own journeys of excellence.

Mason told the audience about two particular John Jay students who exemplified the power and perseverance of the immigrant experience. One student named Rosa, was devastated when her mother was deported back to El Salvador. But just days before Rosa graduated from John Jay, Rosa’s mom found a way to return to the States to see her daughter walk across the stage and receive her diploma. “This sense of strength and determination are clearly family traits, because Rosa is now getting her Ph.D. in Education Policy at Syracuse University,” said Mason.

President Mason and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill (center) enjoying the evening with John Jay students and staff.
President Mason and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill (center) enjoying the evening with John Jay students and staff.

The other student that Mason highlighted in her acceptance speech was a current law school student named Sabino. “He struggled with housing insecurity while he was at John Jay, and at times he would study at the College for as long as he could, then ride the subway all night long because he had no place to go,” said Mason. “But these barriers did not stop Sabino from thriving. At John Jay, he was an active peer mentor and advocate in many different groups. Now he’s attending law school with his eye on becoming an attorney who helps underrepresented populations.”

“When our undocumented students learned that their futures in America were at risk, I made a promise to them. I asked them to focus on being students and getting their education and their degrees. I promised them that I would work hard every day to provide them with the resources to succeed.” —Karol V. Mason  

Mason went on to explain to the audience why opening the new Immigrant Student Success Center, the first of its kind in the CUNY system, was so important to her. “On the evening of September 5, 2017, when our undocumented students learned that their futures in America were at risk, I made a promise to them,” said Mason. “I asked them to focus on being students and getting their education and their degrees. I promised them that I would work hard every day to provide them with the resources to succeed.” She told the audience that everyone who generously contributed to the Center’s creation shared one belief, that all John Jay’s students—regardless of their immigration status—are our country’s hope and future.

She closed her acceptance speech by saying, “Thank you, Chairman Kazeminy and everyone from the Ellis Island Honors Society for your essential work recognizing the contributions of immigrants. Thank you for this very special honor which I accept on behalf of my wonderful students at John Jay who immigrated to America.”