On April 25, Mayor Kenney and the College community gathered to celebrate the largest cohort of graduating Octavius Catto Scholars with a pinning ceremony.
The Octavius Catto Scholarship was launched in the spring 2021 semester, when the world was still in the midst of a global pandemic. With 66 Catto Scholars graduating this spring, the program has grown to support more than 1,100 students. Not only does this scholarship fully cover the cost of tuition, but it also covers the cost of books and provides a monthly stipend to help students with cost-of-living expenses.
Dr. Seth Jacobson, executive director of the Catto Scholarship, emceed the event, highlighting those who made this milestone possible. Attendees also heard from Mayor Kenney, who made access to education a priority during his tenure, Dr. Generals, president of the College, and Dr. April Voltz, associate vice president for Strategic Initiatives and Community Engagement. Dr. Jacobson also thanked Catto Scholarship staff members “who work day in and day out, even responding to texts and calls at night and on weekends, because they will do practically anything to ensure the success of our students.”
These individuals, along with each Catto Scholar, embody Octavius Catto’s legacy, which is to equip and empower Philadelphians to be agents of positive social change in this city and beyond.
Dr. Generals congratulated the graduates before Mayor Kenney addressed the complicated legacy of Octavius Catto, a civil rights activist who lost his life on Election Day in 1871, after his pivotal leadership in the fight for voting rights of Black Philadelphians. He highlighted the fact that Octavius Catto, who was a teacher, administrator, member of the Franklin Institute and more, was not even allowed to ride the trolley. The mayor went on to say that uncovering the legacy of people like Octavius Catto, whose stories are kept out of history books, is of utmost importance.
The mayor cited Catto as inspiration for his belief that education is the most important tool for upward mobility, and promised that funding for the program would continue long after his tenure.
Batoul Shariah, a Catto Scholar who goes by Tooli, said she never expected to go to college because she couldn’t afford it. After graduating with a degree in Psychology, Tooli received full scholarships to both Jefferson and Columbia universities. Her goal is to earn a doctorate in neuroscience so that she can conduct research to combat the mental health crisis in America. “Since the day I got the call about the Catto Scholarship, my life changed in ways I couldn’t even imagine,” Tooli said. “After joining the Catto Scholarship family, I went from worrying about where my next meal would be to [thinking] about how I am going to build my community when one day I become a doctor.”
Robb Konczyk, who graduated with a degree in Digital Video Production, found that without a degree, he was constantly encountering barriers to advancement. But when he was hit with a cancer diagnosis just before the pandemic, he saw community college as a way to regain a sense of normalcy and forward momentum. He began working on top of going to school, and persevered despite the challenges.
Working as assistant house manager at the Philadelphia Film Center, Robb saw the effect of his efforts when a friend and coworker shared that he had inspired him to enroll at the College as well. “This was a powerful moment for me,” he said. “Today I am a proud graduate of CCP and am actively pursuing my bachelor's degree at Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communications studying Media Studies and Production with a minor in Leadership. This scholarship has aided me in a major way,” Rob said.
Community College of Philadelphia is a public asset that efficiently educates people who are from this city and will ultimately join its workforce. By making college possible for those who might not otherwise have such an opportunity, the Octavius Catto Scholarship creates leaders who will go on to create opportunities for people like them. In this way, the Octavius Catto Scholarship continues the legacy of the outspoken man who paved the way for a brighter future in Philadelphia so many years ago.