Senior Spotlight: Sofia Vescovo ’20 Transitions from Devoted Au Pair to Class Salutatorian

Senior Spotlight: Sofia Vescovo ’20 Transitions from Devoted Au Pair to Class Salutatorian

Senior Spotlight: Sofia Vescovo ’20 Transitions from Devoted Au Pair to Class Salutatorian

Sofia Vescovo was born and raised in Milan, Italy. After finishing high school, she wanted to spread her wings and see more of the world. “I decided to move to the U.S. to learn English and experience life on the other side of the Atlantic. For two years, I worked as an au pair for a wonderful family in Brooklyn, New York,” says Vescovo. “If it wasn’t for them, I would likely not be here right now. From the very beginning, they treated me as a family member, and they encouraged me to pursue a college degree in the U.S.— which was something I had only dreamt about.” Her new-found family in America helped her study for the SAT, fill out her application, and identify which colleges would be best for her. Since she was living in New York City, they suggested she look at the City University of New York (CUNY) colleges, including John Jay. “From my many visits on campus, I learned how welcoming and diverse John Jay was, and the people I interacted with made a great impression on me,” says Vescovo. “Once I saw that they also had the major I was interested in, I knew I had made my choice.”

When you first came to John Jay, what were some of your biggest challenges? How did you overcome them?
As an international student, initially my biggest challenge was to make sense of college as a whole and of the rules of my visa. In Italy, there are no such things as a GPA, elective classes, and student organizations. My only knowledge of college in America came from movies and TV shows, so it took me some time to understand how it all worked. Having to follow specific rules and requirements because of my visa was also a new reality for me. Luckily, the International Student Office at John Jay was there to help. During my first months, I must have had meetings with Inga Mezale—she’s the Deputy Director of International Student Services—almost every other week. She explained to me how to stay in compliance with my visa and what opportunities were available to international students. Eventually, I got the hang of it, but, at first, it was definitely very confusing.    

“My only knowledge of college in America came from movies and TV shows, so it took me some time to understand how it all worked.” —Sofia Vescovo

If you had to point to one organization, cohort, or person at John Jay that made your experience especially fulfilling, who would it be and why?
It would undoubtedly be the Office of Student Academic Success Programs (SASP). As a student in a first-year seminar, I was assigned a Peer Success Coach (PSC). His role was to help me and the students in my class get connected with campus resources and be successful as College students. Toward the end of the semester, Jan, my PSC, told me that SASP was hiring and encouraged me to apply. I ended up working as a Peer Success Coach for SASP for two years. Before SASP, I was a home-class-home kind of student. SASP forced me to step out of my comfort zone and helped me grow personally and professionally. I made amazing friends in the office, and my colleagues eventually became like a family to me. Being surrounded every day by such inspiring and supportive people really made me want to give 150 percent in everything I did and help others do the same.    

“Before SASP, I was a home-class-home kind of student. SASP forced me to step out of my comfort zone and helped me grow personally and professionally.” —Sofia Vescovo

What’s your favorite and most memorable story about your time with SASP?
It’s hard to pick one, but I would probably say the holiday celebration during my first year of working at SASP. Every year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas break, each person working at SASP gets a little bag that stays in the office. Then other people can put cute messages and little presents in them. We call them “warm and fuzzies.” During the holiday celebration meeting right before Christmas break, we each get to look inside our bag and see what other people put in it. In my first year, I didn’t really know what to expect, which made it even more special. Although I am not a very emotional person, reading all the notes was very touching.

What does it mean to you to be named salutatorian?
It is an incredible honor and a big surprise. For some reason, I thought that international students were not eligible to be named valedictorian or salutatorian, and I had made my peace with it. When they called me to let me know, I couldn’t believe it. I even Googled it to make sure I had heard the right thing. It really feels amazing to have my hard work and dedication recognized, and it makes me very proud of myself.   

Is there a particular classroom, fellowship, or internship experience that helped shape you as a person?
My internship experience with Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives, the Honorable Edwina G. Mendelson, had a significant impact on me. I got to work closely with her and had access to justice programs and juvenile and adolescent justice initiatives, while also being able to observe trials and case briefs. Judge Mendelson, her law clerk Thomas O’Neill, and all of the amazing staff at the Office for Justice Initiatives included me in their everyday activities and taught me more about the legal system than any class could. They also became mentor figures for me and have continued to support me even after my internship ended.

“By this time next year, I hope to be holding a law school acceptance letter in my hands.” —Sofia Vescovo

What do you hope to do after you graduate from John Jay?
I have always wanted to become a lawyer, and since I moved to New York City, I’ve had my eyes on the law schools in the City. Given that I graduated in three years rather than four, I decided to postpone applying to law school by a year. The time I spent working between high school and college was incredibly formative, contributing to my personal growth and determination. I’m sure this upcoming year will be just as rewarding. After graduating, I intend to work or volunteer at a law firm or non-profit organization to gain real-life experience in the legal field. However, by this time next year, I hope to be holding a law school acceptance letter in my hands.

Since this isn’t a traditional semester—and for safety reasons, we need to continue to practice social distancing—how do you hope to celebrate graduating from John Jay?
Given the circumstances, I am going to have virtual celebrations with my family and friends from Italy and with my friends from the U.S. Once the situation goes back to normal, I still hope that the class of 2020 will be able to have an actual graduation ceremony. For now, I’ll practice tossing my cap in the living room.

Is there someone special that’s particularly proud of your accomplishment? Who are they and what would you like to say to them?
My family, especially my parents and step-parents. They are the reason why I was able to achieve such an accomplishment. Without their support and sacrifices, I would not have been able to study in the U.S. They encouraged me to follow my dreams—even if it meant having their only daughter live 4,000 miles away and seeing her only once a year. I would like to tell them that I will never be able to thank them enough for their endless love and support.

Please finish this sentence: Without John Jay…
I would not have discovered my true potential. John Jay showed me that I have the determination and ability to achieve my goals. Thanks to my amazing professors, friends, and mentors, I was able to step out of my comfort zone and embrace new challenges.