Escaping Adversity, S.I. Student Finds a “Second Home”
Though Mary Tarawally’s graduation from St. John’s University is months away, she has already compiled a résumé of success stretching from the Staten Island campus to the United Nations.
“St. John’s mission struck a chord from the start,” said the student leader and social justice advocate. “My family’s survived hard times, and we believe in giving back any way we can. I knew I could do that here.”
Born in Sierra Leone, Mary was a child when her family fled the brutal civil war that ravaged the West African nation from 1991 to 2002. They spent seven years in a displaced persons camp in nearby Guinea. When they finally left the camp, they were homeless. They slept in churches and relied on the generosity of strangers until 2004, when a United Nations refugee program helped them to settle in New Jersey.
A friend told Mary about St. John’s when she was a senior at William L. Dickinson High School in Jersey City, NJ. Mary visited the Staten Island campus and was impressed by the strong sense of community. “I ended up having a second home,” she said. She was still a freshman when she organized an on-campus Ebola awareness dinner that drew close to 40 students, faculty, and administrators.
Today, the 21-year-old Business Management major continues to make a difference on campus. A member of Omicron Delta Kappa, the National Leadership Honor Society, Mary is President of the Multicultural Student Organization and mentors fellow students in the University’s R.I.S.E. (Reach, Inspire, Succeed, Empower) and Aspire programs. She also participates in the Black Student Union Organization and is a board member of the new Diversity and Inclusion Organizing Committee.
Helping those in need has been important to Mary since her high school days in Jersey City, where her family volunteered through their church. At St. John’s, she has participated in University Service Day and the Midnight Run Program, served at local soup kitchens, and joined a service “plunge” to the nonprofit Give Kids the World village in Florida.
As a refugee from Sierra Leone, Mary is committed to the cause of international justice. An internship with the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation, Inc. a nongovernmental organization, led to a position as a member of the UN’s Annual Youth Assembly. The gathering brings young delegates from around the world to the UN for panel discussions and information sessions with ambassadors from participating nations. This past August, Mary helped coordinate her fourth Assembly.
Mary earned the internship through her work with the Immigrant Information Center of Staten Island. From the spring of her freshman year at St. John’s to the fall of her junior year, Mary served as the organization’s Student Link Coordinator and UN Liaison. David Gachigo, Associate Dean for Student Affairs at the Staten Island campus, recommended her for the position.
“Her energy, her desire to help others as a student leader, has always impressed me,” said Mr. Gachigo. “She’s a perfect example of the way students of all backgrounds flourish at the caring, close-knit campus we cultivate at Staten Island.”
As a student in St. John’s combined B.S./M.B.A. program, Mary will continue her studies in The Peter J. Tobin College Business after she graduates this May. Ultimately, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in economics. “Wherever my work leads me,” she said, “I want to continue to help those in need—to always give back.”