In 2015, John Freeman ’80 established the Freeman Family Scholarship in honor of Fordham Prep’s 175th Anniversary. This fund is awarded annually to students who evidence their desire to receive a Fordham Prep education with demonstrated academic achievement, strong work ethic and moral compass, but who otherwise would be unable to attend Fordham Prep without financial assistance. Preference is given (but not limited) to any student who meets the criteria who resides in the Bronx, New York. Here is John Freeman, in his own words.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up at Fordham Prep. We know you grew up in the Bronx, so what was the consideration in attending Fordham Prep?
I started my scholastic career at nearby Our Lady of Mercy on Valentine Avenue in the Fordham section of the Bronx. My older brother attended Fordham University before enlisting in the Marines. Its campus along with the Bronx Zoo and Botanical Garden provided great childhood memories. My father passed away before I turned 8 and my mother thought it best to move further north to the Woodlawn section of the Bronx.
For grades 6-8 I attended St. Barnabas School where I was active in Scouting and served as an altar boy. I then applied to the local high schools, including Cardinal Spellman, Regis, Bronx High School of Science, and Fordham Prep. I was accepted to all these schools (in retrospect I had peaked academically as a 7th and 8th grader!) and chose to go the Prep over the others with my widowed mother’s mixed blessings. While she was very knowledgeable about and a great fan of the Jesuits (she worked at Murray-Weigel Hall caring for their elderly and infirmed Jesuits) the prospect of attending what was then the relatively most expensive option of my possible choices was not a financially prudent decision as far as she was concerned.
The Prep’s combination of a challenging curriculum, its location on the bucolic Fordham University campus and its wide offering of sports persuaded me that it was the best choice for me. Funnily enough, I recall that some of the lay and clerical mentors at my parish school were less than enthused that I chose to study with the Jesuits. Their reasoning was not fully articulated.
What activities/sports were you involved in during your time at the Prep? Where there any particular subjects you took interest in? What teachers or administrators made an impact on your Fordham Prep experience?
While at the Prep I participated in football (4 years) and rugby (3 years); I was a co-captain of the 1979 varsity football team and take pride in our three successive victories over our rival, Xavier High School, in 1977, 1978 and 1979. I also participated in Model Congress, but was otherwise time-constrained regarding other extra-curriculars as I worked part-time jobs during much of my high school career. As far as subjects, I had an affinity for math and the sciences. French was relatively easy as I had grown up speaking French with my mother. I was weak in Latin: it required more consistent study habits, which heretofore in my academic career were secondary in application.
Some faculty who stand out for their positive impact include Stanley O’Konsky, SJ, Charles Sullivan, SJ, and Russell Sloun, SJ.
What university did you attend after graduating from Fordham Prep and what did you study in college? How did your time at Fordham Prep prepare you for college and life beyond college?
I attended Fordham University after the Prep. I had taken some first-year courses at the University during my senior year at the Prep and I was happy to spend four more years at Rose Hill. It was a natural progression for a boy from the Bronx. I arrived at the University well-prepared if (as mentioned above) less than ideally proficient in my study habits.
I began with the idea of pre-medical studies, but turned to pre-law by the end of my second year. I played for the rugby club for my career at the University.
Fordham Prep helped lay the groundwork for my academic career through law school. It fostered my sense of belonging to a cherished group of alumni-friends, with many of whom I remain in close contact.
After graduating from college, what was your professional path and what are you currently doing professionally?
I graduated in 1984 and after a year off enrolled in the evening division of Brooklyn Law School – finally exploring outside the Bronx. I was employed as a law clerk for a large law firm, then for The Chase Manhattan Bank while I attended law school.
Armed with a law degree and admitted to the Bar, I joined the first class of prosecutors hired by the newly minted Bronx District Attorney, Robert Johnson.
I then worked in legal and administrative positions for banks, hedge funds in London, Paris and New York, and eventually landed in my current position as a manager and legal officer for a small single-family Family Office.
How did you get re-engaged with Fordham Prep and the Fordham Prep community? When did you join the Board of Trustees?
I had been a quiet supporter of the Prep for some years and was approached by Father Kenneth Boller, SJ in May of 2013 at a lunch meeting in his office where he asked whether I might be interested in joining the Board of Trustees. I was and remain happy and eager to help the Prep in any way I can, so I eagerly agreed to join for the 2013-2014 academic year.
In 2015, you established the Freeman Family Scholarship as part of the Igniting Our Mission capital campaign – the scholarship is awarded annually to students who evidence their desire to receive a Fordham Prep education with demonstrated academic achievement, strong work ethic and moral compass, but who otherwise would be unable to attend Fordham Prep without financial assistance. What was your motivation behind establishing this scholarship? Why did you feel it was important to start this family scholarship?
When I arrived at the Prep in the fall of 1976, I was the youngest and last at home of three children of a widowed mother. While my mother returned to work after the death of my father in 1970, we were, unbeknownst to me, on precarious financial footing. So, the Prep generously awarded me/us financial aid which allowed me to attend my first-choice school. In those days, the Prep had financial aid recipients “work” in return for the aid. I was assigned a small job with the drivers’ education office.
As mentioned, I thoroughly enjoyed my four years at the Prep, and was and remain grateful for the opportunity to attend. I wanted to do my small part in helping to allow otherwise qualified students with financial constraints to attend my alma mater.
How does it feel knowing that the Freeman Family Scholarship is allowing a young man (or young men) to attend Fordham Prep? What impact do you hope these students receive during their time at the Prep?
It is both humbling and satisfying. Humbling in that I realize that the impact of this contribution pales in comparison with the everyday work and dedication of each member of the Prep community: administration, faculty, parents, trustees, alumni and students. These all are the life-blood and essence of Fordham Preparatory School.
Satisfying, in that I know it helps young men to participate in their own way in what is the Prep experience and family.
How important was it for you to participate in the Igniting Our Mission capital campaign and what impact do you hope this campaign makes on Fordham Prep?
It is an extremely satisfying investment, and among the most important I and my family have made in recent years.
Again, I hope that our contribution is a small part of ensuring the Prep’s legacy as a superior choice for young men of the Bronx and greater NYC.
I confidently hope that the Igniting Our Mission campaign will put the Prep on a solid financial footing, engage and re-engage members of the greater Prep community to dedicate themselves to its support and contribute to the legacy of our next 175 years.
Do you have any parting words for the Fordham Prep community?
Go RAMS, beat Xavier! (All the while recalling that they are our spiritual brothers in Jesuit education.)