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Despite Hurdles, Bianca Jeannot SAS’16 Shines at CNR

June 2, 2016
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Dr. Nick Smart, professor of English, and Bianca Jeannot SAS'16

During her four years at The College of New Rochelle, Bianca Jeannot SAS’16 was a typical college student in many ways. But in addition to the usual concerns of schoolwork, socializing, and career planning, the Bronx resident had more pressing matters to consider.

In February 2012, shortly after she received her acceptance to CNR, her mother, a single parent, died. Still a senior in high school, Jeannot then found herself as head of household for her two brothers—both of whom have special needs. In addition, with her new status as an orphan, the scholarships and awards she received as financial aid became null and void. But when she alerted CNR to her altered circumstances rather than turn her away, the College instead affirmed its commitment to her. Admissions officers reworked her financial aid package within 24 hours.

“Out of the colleges I’d been accepted to, CNR is the only one that responded to my call,” she remarked. “I was so impressed that the admissions team was willing to do so much for a prospective student.”

It wasn’t the first time she’d faced adversity. Earlier in her life, Jeannot’s family spent seven years in homeless shelters. “I know what it is to have to fight for medical care and housing,” she said.

For the past four years, while taking Honors courses and pursuing her English degree at CNR, Jeannot has had the added responsibility of managing all household expenses and routines for her two brothers. Her oldest brother, Paul, suffers from renal failure requiring grueling dialysis. Her other brother, Michael, has Down syndrome and requires round-the-clock supervision because he doesn’t eat or sleep normally. When not at home, Jeannot kept up her full-time course load while also holding down four jobs-- three  on-campus and one off-campus. Cabs and trains were her only means of transportation.

Despite these hurdles and hardships, Jeannot thrived at CNR. She founded the popular Anime Club; reported on College news as a staff writer for the Tatler, the student newspaper; and served as editor-in-chief of Phoenix, the literary and arts magazine. With the help of the Deborah and Russel Taylor Scholarship, she was able to study abroad in London for three weeks, with a close friend assuming her role as brothers’ keeper at their Bronx apartment. “I ended up talking to all kinds of people and got to know the locals,” she said. “I visited thrift shops and soup kitchens around London—the kinds of places that provided services for my family when we were homeless. Everyone was so friendly.”

At CNR’s Commencement ceremony on May 24, 2016, Jeannot proudly strode across the stage of the Beacon Theatre and accepted her diploma from President Judith Huntington. She is the first in her immediate family to earn a college degree. “It is an accomplishment I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life,” she said. “I wouldn’t change anything for the world, because it’s my life, and it’s made me who I am today.”

After several news outlets covered Jeannot’s story, highlighting her graduation from CNR as the capstone of a long and often perilous journey, her story went viral, appearing in multiple traditional and online outlets from as far away as Australia and Japan. She praises her classmates and faculty for their generosity with time, patience, and assistance. “The College of New Rochelle has given me ample opportunity I never would have gotten anywhere else,” she said.

Now with her bachelor’s degree in English, as well as a forensic science certificate, she has set her sights on a career either in management with the ASPCA or a stint in the New York City police academy that would eventually allow her to transfer to an animal cruelty unit. She speaks with excitement about what the future holds. “There’s only one way to look,” she said, “and that’s forward.”