ESCARLIN PEREZ ’22
HOMETOWN: STAMFORD, CONN.
HIGH SCHOOL: WESTHILL HIGH SCHOOL
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE IONA?
I always knew that I wanted to be involved in service throughout my college years, and Iona seemed fitting with its Office of Mission and Ministry programs. Luckily, I was able to go twice to Camden, New Jersey, as my mission trips. I also participated in New Rochelle Cares and Midnight Run. These experiences confirmed that I made the right decision in choosing Iona.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORK WITH SENIORS AND HOW IT HAS BEEN IMPACTED BY COVID-19.
Before the pandemic, we visited senior citizens at their homes biweekly and engaged them in conversations.
I was fortunate to visit two senior citizens, Grace and Ruth. Grace was so heartwarming. Not only did she welcome us to her home, but she shared her story. Ruth would treat us like her grandchildren. It was a nice experience to feel as though we were heading to grandma’s house.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we were no longer able to visit the seniors.
HOW DID YOU ADAPT YOUR ACTIVITIES DURING THE PANDEMIC?
We still wanted to have the intergenerational interaction between senior citizens and Iona students. We came up with the idea of writing letters, quite similar to a pen-pal relationship. Because there are over 30 New Rochelle Cares members, students who participated wrote personalized letters to three senior citizens. I was responsible for sending the letters out to New Rochelle Cares members and contacting the students as soon as their response letters arrived. Even though it was not what we wanted, we were happy to spread the message, “We are here for you.”
MICHAEL CUPO ’23
HOMETOWN: EASTCHESTER, N.Y.
HIGH SCHOOL: EASTCHESTER HIGH SCHOOL
Michael transferred to Iona for the smaller classes and the caring faculty.
He is a true local hero. On October 4, 2020, Michael and a few friends were jet skiing in the Long Island Sound between the Whitestone and Throgs Neck Bridges when they witnessed a small plane crash into the pier. Without hesitating, Michael and his friends rushed to help.
TELL US WHAT HAPPENED WHEN YOU WITNESSED THE PLANE CRASH.
First of all, we wouldn’t have even been there to help if it hadn’t been for the fact that my friend Angelo was having trouble with his jet ski. Normally, we would have been going about 60 miles per hour, and we would have been back in New Rochelle by then. But Angelo couldn’t go over 20 mph, so I slowed down to stay with him.
Then we saw the plane hit the pier and immediately rushed over to help.
WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND?
I didn’t know what else to do besides tie up my jet ski and run over to help. There was nothing else going on in my head besides the thought that we needed to get the passengers out.
WHAT DID YOU DO NEXT?
Along with other jet skiers, we signaled to a nearby boat to call 911. Then we started running and hopping fences and climbing on the seawall. We were yelling to each other to make sure there was no fire, fuel spraying, or smoke. Thankfully, there was none of that.
When we got to the plane, there were plane parts everywhere. We saw the pilot in the front of the plane, but the doors were locked, so we broke the door and proceeded to pull him out. He had suffered terrible injuries, so we laid him on the ground right away to be ready for the ambulance when it arrived. Then we focused our attention on the other two passengers. They weren’t reachable through the door, so we broke a window in the back of the aircraft to get one of the passengers out. We heard the sirens getting closer and decided it was best not to attempt to take the other passenger out because she was seriously injured, and we did not want to make anything worse.
DO YOU THINK OF YOURSELF AS A HERO?
No. What we did, we did completely on instinct. We wanted to help those people. I am very surprised by our actions, and also very proud.
TAYLOR COLE ’21
MAJOR: POLITICAL SCIENCE AND HISTORY
HOMETOWN: OAKDALE, N.Y.
HIGH SCHOOL: CONNETQUOT HIGH SCHOOL, BOHEMIA, N.Y.
When faced with the decision of where to attend college, Taylor Cole knew Iona had everything she wanted to study. An all-star volleyball player, she also received an offer to play on Iona’s Division I varsity team. She had just one hesitation.
“I was super apprehensive because I didn’t want to go to school at dad’s work!” she said with a laugh. Her father, Rick Cole, was Iona’s athletics director at the time. “Being Rick Cole’s daughter is a great thing because he’s the best, but I was worried that because of that association, there would be certain judgments. That just motivated me to prove that I deserved to be there.”
And prove it she did.
Double majoring in political science and history, Cole graduated this past May – with honors – and a perfect 4.0 GPA. She was president of the Model United Nations and vice president of the Political Science Club. Studying under her mentor, Jeanne Zaino, Ph.D., Cole successfully defended a senior thesis analyzing the influence of a 2013 Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, on voter suppression and voter turnout. In addition to volunteer efforts and service projects, Cole also served as captain of the volleyball team her senior year. That meant leading teammates through a roller coaster year with COVID-19 front and center. It was a test of leadership she was honored to endure.
“It taught me a lot about sacrifice and commitment,” she said. “There’s always a higher standard for D-I athletes, but this year especially, the dedication to COVID safety had to be so high, even just to be able to play.”
But it was that “Gaels Take Care of Gaels” mentality that inspired her to persevere, saying, “My teammates were a big motivation. We were all playing for each other and to have our senior season at Iona. We knew we could do it for each other.”
Now, with a solid foundation from her time at Iona, Cole is ready to take her next steps in life. This fall, she will begin a dual degree program, pursuing a master’s in public policy from Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a law degree from the University of North Carolina, which combined will take roughly four years.
Before she heads south, she is interning, virtually, with a law firm in Manhattan. Between Zoom meetings, she had some words of advice for those just beginning their Iona journey: “Hard work will take you everywhere, and it’s worth it, every time, to give your all to something you want.”
In other words, hard work pays off – and often in unpredictable ways. Case in point: Due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19, Division I NCAA athletes received an extra fifth year of eligibility to compete. That means Cole, when she arrives at Duke, will be reunited on the volleyball court with her younger sister, Mackenzie Cole, who will be a senior Blue Devil.
“We brought a state championship back to our high school in 2015. She understands what it takes to get to that next level, and I love to be around that,” Taylor Cole said. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to play at Duke, and I’m looking forward to working hard to make it back to the NCAA tournament.”
Cole’s first and last trip to the NCAA tournament was in 2018 when the Gaels took home the MAAC Championship and went on to compete on the national stage. Is it too early to predict a Gaels v. Blue Devils match up next year?