Garfinkel Essay Scholarship: It’s About the Journey

This entry was written by Christine Mooney, a faculty member at Queensborough Community College, CUNY. Since 2009, she has served as a faculty member for students who submit their essays to the Garfinkel Essay Scholarship.

Before I begin, I would like to note that this contest is named in loving memory of David A. Garfinkel, the son of Barry and Gloria Garfinkel. Mr. and Mrs. Garfinkel have generously supported the contest since its inception in 2008. Each year, their financial support of the program has grown. This contest is a legacy to the memory of their son.

I thought it most appropriate to dedicate my first entry on this blog to David. I never had the honor of knowing or meeting David Garfinkel. However, I did have the opportunity the other day to speak with his father, Mr. Barry Garfinkel. I asked Mr. Garfinkel to tell me something about David. Two things were abundantly clear from our conversation. David loved history and sharing his knowledge with others. This contest provides a unique opportunity for community college students to carry out two of David’s passions. It gives them the chance to look at important aspects of our legal history and apply those doctrines to their individual experiences. This type of program is invaluable for community college students. Why?

It is one of the few opportunities to look at topics not often covered in traditional classroom settings. Over the last several years, my students and I have discussed the legal implications of the Erie Canal, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the Lemmon Slave Case and most recently the rights of the LGBT community. These topics are of vital importance to their understanding of our society and our legal system.

More importantly, each time a student completes a research paper, they have acquired a skill. A skill that will assist them in their future endeavors. I tell each student that their essay is an artifact to flaunt for scholarships, internships and job interviews. Last year, one of my students secured a job because she knew the building across the street was the place of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The interviewer inquired as to her knowledge of the event. She quickly informed the team that she had written a research paper about the fire and the criminal trial. She was hired the next day!

Over the last several years, my colleagues and I have had the privilege of mentoring students who have won. It is an amazing experience to watch someone who has overcome personal obstacles accept an award at the Court of Appeals. It is also awesome to watch their eyes when they open their envelope. In some cases, this prize provides payment for half of a student’s tuition.

More than winning, it is about the journey. The topic for the 2015-2016 contest, You, the Juror, is an engaging topic. I thought my students would not be interested in the project this year, but to my surprise, five minutes into a discussion with my students, one raised his hand and said, “If only people in my country could partake in such an honorable duty!” My reaction, “Is he really talking about jury duty?” He was very serious and began to compare our abuse of the judicial process to the communist rule of his country.

My students never cease to amaze or remind me that even the simplest things should never be taken for granted. This contest brings obscure or forgotten details to life. I have learned more about historical events over the last several years than my students.

So, I would like to invite each of you to take this journey with your students and explore the wealth of knowledge and detail at your fingertips! My first student, Dawar Jamal, won the contest in 2009. It was an amazing year for both of us. He was to be married and I was to discover that my second child was coming. My daughter is now five and it is hard to believe I have guided students for so many years through the various topics. All I can say is encourage your students to write and discover! Take the journey and you will not be disappointed.

Lastly, a special thank you to the Garfinkel family, for sharing David’s memory with us. You have given a very unique and talented group of students the chance to carry on his passion for history. To conclude, thank you David for allowing us to explore, engage and endeavor to honor your memory, one essay at a time!

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