Rachel Rocha always dreamed of graduating from college. Her parents, both immigrants, didn’t attend college, but they constantly stressed the importance of education to Rocha and her three siblings, growing up.
Rocha, a marketing major with a minor in business administration and a concentration in sports management, makes family history this spring as a first-generation college graduate, while leading SJC Brooklyn’s Class of 2021 as its valedictorian.
Rocha planned to relish quietly in the excitement with her close loved ones and assumed her peers wouldn’t learn of her accomplishment until graduation day. The following day she went to Madison Square Garden, where she is a public relations intern for the New York Knicks, and quickly learned SJC President Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D., and Executive Dean Phillip Dehne, Ph.D., shared emails with the entire student body celebrating her success.
“I was at my internship the next day and my phone starts blowing up,” Rocha recalled. “I was scared to look at my phone; I thought something was happening! People were saying congratulations and sending me screenshots of the email. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s out!’ I was overwhelmed with joy and love. It was a really cool moment. I’m still taking it all in.”
Valedictorian Immersed Herself in the SJC Community
St. Joseph’s College served as a home away from home for Rocha of Linden, New Jersey. SJC Brooklyn recruited Rachel for her athletic prowess — she was a co-captain of the campus’ women’s soccer team — and she loved the school’s small class sizes and the thought of studying in New York City.
At SJC, Rocha volunteered as the student manager of the women’s basketball team, held leadership positions in the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, served as an orientation leader, and took part in the Residence Life Association. She also tutored her peers in the Academic Center and was a student worker in the Office of Admissions.
“The people and experiences at SJC have changed me from the person I was four years ago,” Rocha recalled. “Coming into SJC, I thought I knew my path and my future plans — until I didn’t — especially after I changed my major on the first day of classes.
She continued: “But, through the encouragement of the faculty, staff, and new friends I met at SJC, I found my way and credit this new confidence in myself to the entire SJC community, where my character has tremendously developed.”
Ready for the Future
A lifelong athlete, Rocha has long dreamed of working in the world of sports. She began her college career as a biology major, hoping to become an athletic trainer. But Rocha, with guidance from her professor Lori Thanos, associate chair and assistant professor of business administration and marketing, soon gravitated toward the business department. It proved to be the perfect fit: the marketing major allowed her to embrace her creativity, the business administration minor introduced her to the business side of the field, and the sports management concentration helps her follow her passion for sports.
The combination of classes prepared Rocha to excel as a public relations intern for the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Rocha is now set to begin pursuing a graduate degree at Temple University in the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management and work as a graduate assistant in the university’s athletic department.
“As a Jersey girl, I always wanted to go to school in New York and I thank God that he introduced me to this small, but sweet, college in the middle of Brooklyn,” Rocha said. “Never in a million years would I have thought I would be valedictorian. It is a surreal feeling, and I truly would not be here without all the support from my family, friends, and entire SJC community.”