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UAlbany Class of 2011: Ruky Tijani, A Victor, not a Victim

Related Photos Commencement 2011 Photo Gallery

Ruky Tijani of Coney Island is inspired by the life and career of famed jurist Thurgood Marshall. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)
Albany, N.Y. (May 15, 2011) -- Growing up economically disadvantaged in a family wrought with troubles and tragedy, Rukayatu “Ruky” Tijani was 5 when she learned about famed jurist Thurgood Marshall. She has dreamed of becoming a lawyer ever since. That day drew closer on May 15 with Tijani's graduation from the University at Albany and her upcoming enrollment in the University of California, Berkeley, law school.

An Honors College student and political science and Africana Studies dual major, Ruky graduated with a 3.99 GPA. Tijani grew up in Coney Island, the daughter of a divorced mom who raised three children alone.

Tijani’s older brother Tommy, who had Down Syndrome, died while she was still in high school. “Losing Tommy feeds my passion to succeed,” she said. Her younger brother Abraham, who is developmentally disabled, turns 17 on May 20.

“I send money home to help my mother who lost her job,” said Tijani, who held three jobs while at UAlbany: Resident Assistant, mentor/tutor in Project Excel, and a library work-study. Still, there were times she couldn’t afford to go home for holidays.

“As a mentor and a tutor, it is important for me to tell students who are just going through difficulties, I’ve been there,” she said. “And I’m a victor, not a victim.”

Tijani always found a way to make things happen. She once approached her math professor and said, “I have no money to afford the book for class, but if you loan me the textbook during your office hours, I’ll get that A.” She did.

Tijani credits Makisha Brown and Chris Fernando of Project Excel (officially the TRIO Student Support Services program) with being “pivotal to my academic success.”
“I became the person I am because of all the resources available to me at this University and all the people who truly believed I could be somebody, not because of my obstacles, but despite them,” said Tijani.

Biology Professor Dan Wulff noted that Tijani ranked highest in his fall 2008 nutrition class out of about 485 students. Wulff called her “one of the finest students” he has seen in more than 40 years in public higher education.

Philosophy Professor Bonnie Steinbock remembers that Tijani always sat in the front of her Moral Choices class. “I would put her in the top five percent of students I have taught over a period of 35 years,” said Steinbock. “On the UAlbany campus, there are large posters of alumni who have gone on to do great things: judges, writers, activists and researchers. I fully expect to see Ruky’s picture up there one day,” she added.

Tijani ranked in the top 1 percent of the Class of 2011, won two Spellman awards, and is a member of three national honor societies. She was a vice president of Phenomenal Voices, a multicultural performing arts group, and served as director of public relations for the African ‘Precizun’ step team.

Her aspiration to become a lawyer began when she learned of Marshall's work in the landmark Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education case, she said. As campus coordinator for the Law School Admissions Council, Tijani presented several workshops each semester about the law school admissions process and ways to access resources for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Long-range, she plans on practicing entertainment law (she loves to sing), civil rights litigation, and constitutional law.

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