Senior spotlights: Seniors reflect on time at Ramapo

Photo by Rebecca Bleich

Rojja Kharel

For many seniors, their first and second years of college fit the conventional college experience, but for senior Rojja Kharel, her experience looked different.

Kharel, a student from Nepal, is an international studies major with a minor in international business and entrepreneurship. Kharel spent her first year with Ramapo online in Nepal and then arrived on campus for her sophomore year. 

Kharel tried to make the most of her year online. With the time difference, she had to get up at 4 a.m. to participate virtually in her classes and activities offered by the school.

She became the busiest in her sophomore year, though. She got involved on campus through joining the Student Government Association (SGA), NAACH and the International Student Organization as well as becoming a mentor in the Honors Program and a resident assistant (RA).

With so many opportunities once again opening up in person, Kharel took the opportunity to join e-boards for the Honors Program and got two jobs on campus working at the George T. Potter Library and the Center for Student Success as a peer advisor. 

Being an RA is one of the most memorable experiences for her. She says that experiencing each housing option  on campus has allowed her to meet different kinds of people and make new connections that she wouldn’t have otherwise. 

Her favorite memory of her college career is dancing with NAACH, Ramapo’s student-run South Asian dance club. 

“Since starting out my sophomore year, I made great friends from there, and dancing is one of my hobbies and passions. Just being able to be there and choreograph, attending events, it’s really fun,” she said. 

As graduation grows closer, Kharel values her on-campus community and views it as the most positively impactful force in her life.

“Don’t push yourself too hard, but try to be involved as much as you can because that is the way to make more friends and learn so much more,” she said.


Photo by James LaForge

Gianna Giamanco

For many, the ability to navigate through challenges and uncertainty with optimism is hard to come by. For law and society major Gianna Giamanco, it’s become an integral part of her academic journey.

In addition to her major, Giamanco minors in human rights and genocide studies. She is a member of the pre-law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta and has been involved with the Debate Club and the Law School Prep Club. Now, she plans to enroll in law school after graduation.

These accomplishments are the product of years of hard work and dedication in the face of obstacles. After suffering from health issues growing up, including three concussions, she had doubts she’d be able to follow her career path in the first place. After graduating from Bergen Community College with an associate’s degree, she embarked on her journey as a Roadrunner.

“It gets better. I didn’t actually think I could go to law school… I didn’t know if I could do it,” Giamanco said. “Now I would tell [my 18-year-old self] ‘Don’t worry, just take it in stride. Keep it cool. Things are going to get stressful, but we’ve survived worse.’”

As a commuter student, Giamanco has gathered priceless memories besides her law activities in her short time at Ramapo, most notably from the campus’s Relay for Life events.

“I’ve been a part of both [relays] since I’ve been here. They make you think and take a step back and get outside your troubles to think about other people, which I really love because sometimes people forget to do that,” Giamanco said.

As graduation inches closer, uncertainty returns. Giamanco remains unsure about which graduate school she will attend and what surprises await her post-college life. If one thing is certain, however, it’s Gianna’s unwavering optimism and positive attitude toward life.

“There are going to be unknowns in life,” Giamanco said. “But as long as you think about what you want and the steps you take to get there… you always have to take a chance on yourself.”


Photo by Rebecca Gathercole

Gaby Henriquez

If you’ve attended a Ramapo theater department show within the past four years, then you’ve probably seen Gaby Henriquez in action. As a senior theater major with an acting concentration and music minor, they have performed in at least one main stage production each year, including their freshman year when the productions were still virtual. 

Henriquez cited their first in-person production at Ramapo in Fall 2021, the musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” as one of the best memories from their time at Ramapo. 

“Coming right out of the pandemic, I don’t think I found my footing at Ramapo until then,” they said. “It was just a reminder that theater is still alive, even though we took a break for a year or so.”

Since then, Henriquez has expanded their reach within the Ramapo theater community. They have been heavily involved with Ramapo’s chapter of Alpha Psi Omega (AYO), the national theater honor society. They’ve performed in the club’s student-run productions and were elected to the e-board, as secretary last year and president this year.

Ramapo has provided Henriquez real-world theatrical opportunities beyond Mahwah, too. They traveled with their Ramapo theater peers to the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival last winter, where they performed in the musical theater section, and attended an eight-week conservatory program at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City last summer, which they described as a “valuable opportunity.”

Reflecting on their college career, Henriquez shared that they wish they had given themselves more grace over the years, especially being in such a demanding field of study.

“Being involved in theater, obviously, you’re pushed, and I’m very thankful for that, but, at the same time, I wouldn’t give myself the grace that I would give myself now,” they said.

Above all else, Henriquez is thankful for the people they’ve met at Ramapo.

“​​Some of the people I’ve met here, I would absolutely say that they are my soulmates… I’ve created a very good support system,” they said. “I couldn’t imagine life without them.”


Photo by Rebecca Bleich

Madison Weeks

If you’ve ever walked past the Student Government Association (SGA) office or the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP), then you’re probably familiar with senior Madison Weeks. She’s a psychology major with a minor in substance use disorders, who has been at Ramapo all four years.

Despite starting during the pandemic, Weeks became involved at Ramapo in her sophomore and junior years. Starting with the Ramapo College Dance Company, then moving on to SGA as a senator-at-large, Weeks balanced extracurriculars with her studies. As a senator, she acted as the liaison for OVP and advocated for many of their events to happen.

Weeks became more involved with OVP afterwards, earning a spot as a violence intervention peer, before becoming the student outreach coordinator.

Weeks has been conducting research with classmate Madison Case for over a year, resulting in the passage of an SGA bill that provides access to Naloxone emergency kits on campus. Starting this research back in the fall of her junior year, Weeks persisted with the bill, despite pushback from departments, and it passed in October of last year. 

With being so heavily involved, Weeks still finds time to build her support network on campus and create a community. She has built connections with many people from OVP, SGA and the psychology department, as well as other friends, who have her experience at Ramapo memorable.

“I know more people and I am involved more in the inner workings of the college and I understand more about the college. [I knew] if I started early I would have been able to maximize my experience,” she said.

Juggling academics and getting involved can be overwhelming, but she says it is an experience that took some practice. She shared how she kept herself a priority through it all. 

“[I made] sure to remind myself to take time for myself and take some self-care days… At the end of the day, I am the most important thing,” she said.


Featured photo courtesy of Ramapo College NJ