College is never about giving 100 percent; it is always about giving 200, says Fritzner Philemon. He should know. The last several years the criminal justice major has walked a hard road on the journey to completing his college education. The class of 2017 graduate is the first in his family to earn a college education—not just in his immediate family but among his “cousins and cousins’ cousins” too.
Growing up in a tough neighborhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Philemon saw violence, gangs and drugs wherever he looked. “I always wanted to save people from being victims of senseless crimes. I feel as if law enforcement is the only way I can make this goal come true.”
He was moved to apply to Caldwell after a recruiter came to his high school and talked about the family atmosphere and the opportunities through the Educational Opportunity Fund. He began his freshman year with hopeful anticipation, not knowing he would face life-changing obstacles along the way.
At the end of his freshman year, his parents’ apartment burned down and they lost everything. Not wanting to live in a rundown motel, Philemon found himself homeless, so he lived out of his car. With the university’s help, he lived in the residence hall for a time. He got a job at the Citibank corporate office in Warren, New Jersey and eventually was able to find an apartment for $600 a month, something he could afford only by working overtime—more than 40 hours a week. He commuted across the state to take his college courses. By the time he left the bank, he was a supervisor.
After that, Philemon got a full-time job at a pharmaceutical company, closer to school, where he worked two weekday nights from midnight to 8 a.m. and weekends from 4 p.m. to midnight. On school days, he would get off from work, eat and head right to class.
He is grateful to have been taught by faculty with extensive hands-on experience in the field. “I know more than what is in the book. I know the dangers and the realities in the field.” Philemon plans to apply that knowledge to graduate school studies in criminal justice, to the police academy or to taking the Secret Service exam. “I want all my life to be about helping people and making a difference in a positive way.”
He is grateful to the staff in Caldwell’s Educational Opportunity Fund Office. “They always motivated me. If it wasn’t for EOF, I would have given up.”
If there is a silver lining—and Philemon would probably tell you there are several—it is that he has solid work experience, much more than many 22-year-old students have when they graduate. “My résumé looks really good.”
He is not wasting any of the struggles but is using them to give advice to other students who hit roadblocks. “You can make it through. Think about the end goal and why you are here.” And always give 200 percent.