Jennifer and Michael O'Connor with their parents William and Madeline. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Jennifer, who earned her bachelor's degree from Amherst College, says she plans to focus her studies on what she calls "an invisible population" at many private colleges and universities: students from families with little or no higher education experience [Jennifer's mother, Waltham schoolteacher Madeline (Caruso) O'Connor, is a 1971 BC graduate].
"Going to college is a difficult enough transition for many freshmen," she said, "but it can be tougher if you're a 'first-generation' college student. Not that you can't make friends, but you do feel different from a lot of the other people around you.
"The fact is, there are a lot more students coming to college - including working mothers or adult learners, for example - who do not fit the stereotype of a middle-class 18 to 21-year-old whose parents and other family members have higher education degrees. The question is, how well do colleges help these 'non-traditional' students adjust to the college environment?
"That's why a program like BC's Learning to Learn is so helpful, because it provides a lot of support in many areas."
The O'Connor siblings, who grew up in Lexington, have nothing but good things to say about their BC experience. "We're from a strong Catholic background, so our faith definitely helped to bring us here," said Michael, the second oldest, who has accepted a position as an accounts manager at the Pepsi Corp. office in Taunton. "The Jesuit ideals of BC were really important to me, and they've shaped my development as a student and as a person."
Added Jennifer: "Any student can make it, regardless of his or her background, as long as they have the inspiration and the support. We're extremely grateful to BC for the opportunities it's given us."
Villacorta - a native of El Salvador whose family moved to the US when she was six months old, and who grew up speaking Spanish and learned English in kindergarten - will pursue post-graduate studies at Bulgaria's Sofia University. The multi-lingual political science major, whose mother works as a housecleaner, pursued a Slavic studies minor as an undergraduate, becoming fluent in Bulgarian through her BC coursework.
"I feel so privileged to have won a Fulbright, and my mom is very proud," said Villacorta, raised from age 9 in a single-parent home. "I never imagined this would happen; all I can say is, working hard does pay off in the end.
"I knew I wanted to come to BC, and I knew I wanted to excel in school, to help others and to become a well-rounded person," she said. "This was the place I wanted to be, to succeed."
She is the first BC Fulbright winner to have participated in the University's Options Through Education Program, a summer enrichment initiative for academically and financially disadvantaged students. OTE students spend six weeks taking courses, learning study skills and becoming acclimated to the academic and social aspects of college life.
"We're exceedingly proud of Marta's accomplishments," said Donald Brown, director of the Office of AHANA Student Programs, which administers Options Through Education.
Inspired by Adj. Asst. Prof. Mariela Dakova (Slavic and Eastern Languages) throughout her BC career, Villacorta spent a semester junior year studying at Sofia University, and will return this fall to the school in Bulgaria's capital city. She will study the contemporary relationship between Bulgarian youths and the Christian Orthodox Church.
After her Fulbright year, Villacorta plans to attend BC Law School, and eventually to work with members of the Latin and Slavic communities as an immigration lawyer advocating for victims of domestic abuse.
Keri (left) and Corinne Badach.
(Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
But on Monday, when the 22-year-old sisters officially closed out their college careers, they knew they were saying good-bye to one another for what may be a far longer period of time.
Keri is headed to an as-yet unassigned location "in Latin America" to work for the Peace Corps, while Corinne is preparing to start a job as a financial analyst in New York City.
The sisters, who both received degrees in finance from the Carroll School of Management, chose to live together during all four years at Boston College after sharing quarters throughout their childhood.
"Of course we will miss each other but I think we both knew this would happen," said Keri.
Corinne said, "It was nice to know that no matter what, I had a friend here."
For all their inseparability - and their penchant for finishing one another's sentences - the Badachs say they actually began following different paths toward the end of high school. At BC, Corinne focused on finance and business courses while Keri included a Faith, Peace and Justice minor in her CSOM curriculum.
"It was something I found really important," said Keri. "I wanted to try something different, to ask different questions. Finance was great, but I wanted to do something more than all that math."
"People like to think of us as a pair, but we're different in so many ways," said Corinne. "It's only the people who have taken the time to get to know us that know the difference."
Needling her sister, Corinne added, "She's more worried about her rank than I am."
Keri replied, "She is a lot more social than I am. College would have been a little harder if I didn't have her encouragement."
The sisters credit Boston College for offering them an opportunity to explore their unique interests while being able to stay together as sisters and roommates. They cite spring break service trips to Appalachia during their freshman and sophomore years as seminal experiences in their college experience. Another memorable event was a Campus Ministry Kairos retreat they attended together.
"That was amazing," said Corinne. "A nice chance to reflect."
Keri said, "That is part of what makes a BC education unique. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.""
"Neither would I," said Corinne.
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