Following in her brother’s footsteps, Greenport woman earns prestigious SUNY award

As she reflected on her journey, Rosario Rodriguez praises the many people who helped her along the way. There were the teachers at Greenport High School, her mentors and friends at SUNY/Oneonta and all those involved in two college programs dedicated to assisting migrant students.

Most of all, though, she spoke of her parents, Marbin and Maria, and her older brother, Marvin.

Rosario, 21, graduated from SUNY/Oneonta May 11, following in Marvin’s  footsteps. The siblings, who are five years apart but are often mistaken for twins, both earned the prestigious SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence at Oneonta.

Their accomplishments, they agreed, would have never been possible without their parents’ sacrifice.

After the pomp and circumstance of the weekend’s festivities wound down, Rosario and Marvin  saw an opportunity to express their gratitude to their parents.

Marvin handed his college cap and gown to his father; Rosario gave hers to her mother. Marbin and Maria put on the black gowns, complete with graduation stoles, honor cords and medals, and the red tassels on their caps, with a pin indicating the graduation years: 2015 and 2019. They stood on the steps of a Greenport patio and posed for photos — a pair of Guatemalan immigrants who came to America without knowing English and never had the opportunity to pursue education as they strived to provide opportunities for their children.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen them smile so hard,” said Rosario, who graduated with a degree in mass communication. “The saying that I have is: We all immigrated, therefore we all graduated.”

Rosario Rodriguez joined at her graduation by her parents Marbin and Maria and her brother Marvin. (Courtesy photo)

Early in her high school career, Rosario wasn’t sure if she even wanted to attend college. She said she wasn’t motivated or focused enough to think about higher education.

Her biggest role model has been her brother, and his journey to Oneonta opened her eyes to possibilities she didn’t know existed. At around 12 years old, she met Pathy Leiva, who was working for the college and helped recruit Marvin . They kept in touch over the years and Ms. Leiva became director of Oneonta’s College Assistance Migrant Program, which helps students from migrant or seasonal farmworking backgrounds transition to their first year in college. The program aids not only enrolled students, but those applying to college as well.

Ms. Leiva and Marvin pushed Rosario to dream bigger.

“Seeing his footsteps and seeing his success and his motivation definitely helped me,” she said.

Marvin said his sister motivated him as well. He wanted to attend college and become the first in his family to graduate to show his sister what is possible.

“Seeing her graduate brought all that together for me,” said Marvin, 26. “It really hit home for me because she worked hard throughout her four years to achieve what she did. It means a lot because throughout the years our family has made many sacrifices.”

The CAMP program, along with the Education Opportunity Program for students with financial disadvantages, provided immense support to both siblings while they were at Oneonta.

Rosario was one of four students who received the college’s Chancellor’s Award this year.  The award is given at each SUNY school to honor students “who best demonstrated their integration of academic excellence with other aspects of their lives,” such as leadership, campus involvement, community service or athletics. It is the highest honor SUNY bestows upon students.

Rosario said she remembered attending the ceremony in Albany when her brother received the award and how she thought to herself: I’m going to achieve that, too.

Transitioning to college wasn’t the easiest for Rosario. She said she started with a 2.9 GPA, well shy of the 4.0 her brother achieved in his first semester. But by the time she graduated, she had received  a 3.59.

In an announcement about her Chancellor’s Award, the university noted that Rosario was “deeply involved in coordinating events and fundraisers for two national honor societies and her multicultural sorority. Rosario is passionate about serving others, volunteering her time as a peer mentor and host to prospective students.”

Rosario’s success in college came as no surprise to Chris Golden, Greenport’s current athletic director.

“It was great to see the evolution for Rosario, not only as a student, but as a young person in terms of gaining the confidence and the maturity that I see a lot of young people get from when they move up from junior high, through high school years and then done with college. It’s probably one of the best aspects of being in this business.”

Mr. Golden taught both siblings — Marvin, AP microeconomics, and Rosario, U.S. history and senior economics. He became a close mentor to both of them, and they’ve kept in touch since high school.

What stands out about Rosario, he said, is her larger-than-life personality.

“She’s as outgoing a person as I’ve come across,” Mr. Golden said. “It’s a great big smile on her face. Just a warm, genuine young lady.”

Marbin and Maria Rodriguez of Greenport wear their children’s college gowns.

Rosario’s father first crossed into the United States illegally as a teenager in 1981. He traveled by bus from Guatemala to Mexico and then walked through the mountains to Los Angeles.

His brother lived in California. Marbin received a governmental pardon under legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.

He obtained residency status and often traveled back to Guatemala. It was during one of those trips that he met his wife. Both their children were born in Guatemala and they all came to the United States in 2001. They lived in California briefly, but Marbin struggled to make enough money so they moved to Long Island, where much of Maria’s family lived. The kids both became legal residents and Marvin has since become a U.S. citizen.

Marbin became a farmworker at a local vineyard, where he is employed today. He wakes up around 5:30 a.m. to get ready for work a Southold vineyard, putting in long days in the summer heat and winter cold. His wife worked for many years as a housekeeper.

Rosario said seeing the work her parents put into their jobs was motivation for her to succeed academically.

“The biggest thing I’ve noticed so far: America really does give you an opportunity to move forward,” she said. “We’re kind of like the testimony that all their hard work paid off.”

As she looks toward her future, Rosario plans to pursue a career in film. She has interned with the Manhattan Film Institute and is currently working as a production assistant on a film.

She hopes to focus on the Latino community in creating films and to show people where they come from, their struggles and triumphs. The kind of work done by Vice News has ignited a fire inside her, she said.

She feels a responsibility to be a voice for the Latino community, to clarify the many misconceptions about migrant families, to help motivate younger students and to show them how they can be successful.

“I think that storytelling is the most effective way you can do something,” she said.

Upon returning to Greenport after her graduation, Rosario spent time one day visiting her former high school and reconnecting with some of the teachers who were her mentors. She hopes to continue visiting the school and speaking with students, especially as the migrant population continues to grow.

“Her message, I think, will really resonate,” Mr. Golden said. “She’s so positive and I hope the kids see a little bit of themselves in her when she comes back and talks to them.”

Marvin now works as a programmer/analyst at Oneonta, where he majored in computer science and  studied mathematics.

He said the support  he and his sister received  in Greenport allowed them to flourish.

“All the people that have always believed in us and always been there to support us and cheer us on,” Marvin said. “It’s the place where we grew up and definitely a home for us.”

[email protected]