A call to the principal’s office is usually never a good thing.
In the case of Roselle Park High School Senior Cayla Solomita though, it was a call that changed the course of her life for the better.
It was in that office that she received the news that she was awarded a full four-year scholarship to Fairleigh-Dikinson University (FDU) which will include room and board as well as books. Entering into the office that had RPHS principal Sara Costa along with other key school personnel Ann Moore, Ellen Bachert and Kathleen Carlin, as well as two gentlemen Cayla had never met before, the 17-year-old sat – nervous yet composed – to hear the news that she was chosen from three dozen applicants who met certain criteria which included having a 3.0 Grade Point Average and writing an essay that answered the basic question “Why are you deserving of this scholarship and how will it change your life?”
Randy Pulley, who graduated RPHS in 2010, spoke first, “You have a great story. We saw that your choice was FDU and we want you to go there full time. We don’t want you to commute. Being on campus allows you to meet people, allows you to create friends and relationships that you’re going to carry on for the rest of your life. It’s going to help shape the person you want to be, to be the role model for your younger brother that you want to be. It will be a tremendous support for your parents and I’m sure they’re very proud of you. We want you to have that commitment to be there and we want you to go there.”
The other gentleman there to give the presentation continued, “You really made an outstanding impression on all of us who met with you and we actually want to do something in return for you. And the most important thing is that we will be here to support you in any way possible. If you need anything besides the financial support, which you don’t have to worry about, we’ll be here. You deserve it and we want to help you make a difference. Congratulations.”
As Cayla sat in shock, now knowing what she hoped for, she – visibly emotional yet still composed – said, “Thank you so much. Thank you. Can I give you a hug?”
They embraced as the room erupted in applause.
By way of some background, Randy Pulley was the first recipient of this scholarship four years ago. In 2010, he was in the same seat as Cayla being told that his dream to attend Rutgers University would become a reality and he would not have to worry about the financial aspect of his education so he could concentrate on continuing to do his best. Now, having graduated from Rutgers with a degree in Finance, Randy works for Merrill Lynch in New York City. Randy realized the opportunities he has been afforded and how the course of his life was changed by that one act and now he is giving back by becoming a mentor for the program.
The person who agreed to pay Randy’s full college tuition and is now doing the same for Cayla, is Ken Shanley – himself an RPHS alumnus – who, up until now had preferred to remain anonymous. Ken proudly stated that Roselle Park High was “the only place I ever graduated from”.
With that foundation in his education, he went on to create Hotel Connections, a company that for close to 20 years has been handling a diverse portfolio of clients worldwide in commercial, private, charter, and cargo sectors. Ken admitted that he himself did not have a role model growing up but said, “Through hard work and luck, I’ve built up a business that has afforded me a life that allows me to give back.”
From Roselle Park to a company that has offices in the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
Ken still likes to visit his alma mater from time to time and it was on one of those visits with his family that his wife suggested the idea to help kids, like himself, who came from Roselle Park. He thought about it and even though he had already been involved with various philanthropic endeavors, it was that high school diploma that afforded him the opportunity to create what Randy Pulley called ‘a destiny of their own’.
And now Cayla can create a destiny of her own to fully pursue an education she is deserving of. To be sure, the exciting road ahead will not be an easy one but Ken, and everyone who knows Cayla, have unshakable faith that she will meet it head on and succeed. Ken had one condition, stating, “In return, what I ask is that someday, you come back and help another student that we give this opportunity to and actually be a mentor to that person.”
All Ken basically asked was that Cayla become a part of the giving that started with him. It was given to Randy who, in turn, gave back to Cayla who, in turn, was about to give to her family.
To share the news, Cayla called her father, Richard. He could be heard repeatedly asking in disbelief, “Are you kidding?”
After she assured him that she did receive the scholarship, Mr. Solomita could be heard on the line saying, “Oh, Cayla, this is beautiful. This is so great.”
It was then that Cayla understood the signficiance of giving and started to tear up. She heard in her father’s voice the importance of this to her family and her future.
Ken’s words a few seconds before the presentation about how beautiful it is to give came full circle in that room from him to Randy to Cayla.
The girl from Roselle Park, who is involved in various activities that include cheerleading, student council, RPTV, and softball, plans to study biolgoy and – as of now – wants to be doctor. But really, the whole world has opened up to her and she can be anything she wants.
And that is what Ken wants to help be a part of, a future where anything is possible to a student from Roselle Park. Ken plans to expand his foundation to allow other residents to take part in supporting those who might not have the financial ability to meet their extraordinary goals. But for now, Ken was just beaming with joy knowing that someone from his old high school was going to have the chance to live out their dreams like he has.
Cayla, in reflecting upon everything in her life that became the words of her winning essay, said, “Honestly, I just didn’t hold anything back. I knew this was my chance and I just wanted to bring across that I wanted to be a good example for my brother. Succeeding in school and getting a degree is a big part of that. I can now help others.”
When asked about what she would like her schoolmates and future students to know about education, she said, “Don’t be scared of taking chances. Life will happen.”