Through the years of classes, student events and late-night study sessions, it may be difficult to remember the little moments of one’s time at NYU. But Corey Blay, a master’s student pursuing degrees in the Stern School of Business and the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, embodies self-reflection and learning through first-hand experiences in education. Blay will speak at the Yankee Stadium commencement ceremony on May 21.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies and urban policy from the University of Chicago, Blay went directly into the field of education at age 23, teaching seventh-grade history at a private middle school in New York City. He was the youngest teacher at the school in addition to being the only African-American teacher. The school had a strong commitment to social justice and, following suit, Blay was an activist in the community, taking part in political organization and starting a nonprofit.
Blay taught at this middle school for six years before deciding to come to NYU.
“I came to school looking to become a better leader in education,” Blay said. “This was never about coming to NYU to be the top in anything. It was always about taking a little time out for me and just being able to reflect.”
But his humble mission of self-growth and contribution to the community ended up greatly impacting the university. During his first year, he began organizing events to benefit the community’s interests, such as creating a panel to discuss the Occupy Wall Street movement as it developed. His panel initiative brought together 250 students, faculty and staff at Stern, with notable speakers such as former Gov. of New York David Patterson and then-managing editor of Fortune Magazine Andrew Serwer.
Blay was also a part of the University Space Priorities Working Group, giving a student voice to the analysis of the university’s expansion plan. In addition to being a part of the committee, Blay was also a student senator on the Students Senator Council.
Although Blay was able to find his role in the community, as he leaves NYU he voices a concern for students’ complaint about the lack of a campus.
“It wasn’t until I found the right community that I was able to see myself as a part of a larger whole,” Blay said. “I think for students, unfortunately the reality is that you have to know yourself very well before you come here. Students need to reflect on why they want to be a part of a place.”
Blay encourages his former middle school students and his peers at NYU to remember to focus on their self-growth and taking time for themselves.
“In the absence of community, everything becomes super important,” he said. “And then it’s the fear of saying no … you never realize you can say no, and it’s not the end of the world. You can take time for yourself, and you’re not going to fall behind. You can do something that’s outside your life dream.”
After graduation, Blay plans to build a private middle school for boys of color in Harlem. He hopes his school will solve the area’s student dropout rate and will positively affect the other private schools in Harlem.
“Ideally, what we do as students is self-realize and find the things that are important to us,” Blay said. “My kids are most important to me. They inspire me, and there’s absolutely a guarantee I’ll be thanking [them] in my speech.”
Hannah Treasure is deputy features editor. Email her at email@example.com.