By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart
The one negative to working at a community college is that the faculty and staff often lament that their students don’t stay with them longer. They understand that their role is to prepare the students for academic transfer or entry into the workforce, but it’s bittersweet to see them move on. A perfect example of a “please don’t leave us” student, is recent Individual Studies: A.S. graduate, Liilan Boldiis. Faculty and staff from across campus have spent the past few months pulling Liilan aside to extend their well-wishes to their beloved Academic Advising work-study, their dedicated founder of the Resources for Stressed Students support group, and their Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholar.
Boldiis was born and raised in Johnson City, NY. The youngest of four, Liilan had an average childhood, until his life changed in the fourth grade. While quietly watching a TV show after school, Liilan was struck by the show’s score, particularly overcome by a violin solo within the melody. At that moment, Liilan set his mind on two tasks. First, he needed to learn how to play the violin. Then, he needed to study music composition, so that he could create music that moved people, just as that piece had moved him.
“Listening to that score was the first time that I understood the power of music,” Boldiis explained. “The scene in that TV show was beautiful already, but the music made it so much better.”
Thanks to Johnson City School District’s music department, Liilan didn’t have to wait to tackle task #1. His passion for music fueled intense practicing, which paid off. Just one year after picking up the violin, he was selected to join the Broome County Music Educators Association Orchestra. He spent the next few years working his way to first chair, the most coveted position within the orchestra for a violinist. While still playing with Johnson City’s school orchestra and the BCMEA, Boldiis joined the Binghamton Youth Symphony Orchestra. When Liilan was in tenth grade, during the height of his love for music, he got discouraged and permanently put down his bow.
In an attempt to refocus the energy that he once devoted to music, Liilan threw himself into student activities and volunteering. He became class president, was an active member of Key Club, and volunteered with the Bridge Community Center. He also began preparing for college. For Liilan, coming to SUNY Broome was always part of the plan. Following the advice of his older siblings, fellow SUNY Broome alumni, Liilan quickly completed the application process and applied for Foundation Scholarships.
“All of my siblings, but especially my older brother Kelin, encouraged me to invest my time and efforts into applying for scholarships,” said Boldiis. “There is so much free funding available for students. We just need to do the work and apply for it.”
With his scholarship applications submitted, Boldiis’ next priority was to secure a work-study position. At a work-study recruitment event, he was drawn to a smiling face at the Academic Advising table. Liilan feels that like his music epiphany in fourth grade, speaking with Academic Advisor, Sarah E. Belancsik, a fellow Johnson City alum, was a defining moment in his life. He was quickly hired and was immediately embraced by the Academic Advising team.
It was while he was working in Academic Advising, watching the professional advisors map out his classmates’ educational and career paths, that Liilan began to have second thoughts about his future. While he was enjoying his sociology and psychology classes, his heart was with music. Thanks to the intentional flexibility of the Individual Studies: A.S. program, Liilan was able to pivot and rebuild his schedule to include courses in music theory, ear training, and piano.
Boldiis shared his hopes for the future with his colleagues in Academic Advising. That’s when advisor, Maureen Breck, played her role in supporting Liilan’s musical aspirations. Through Breck’s community of connections, Boldiis was invited to serve on the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra’s Board of Directors as a junior board member. As a member of the board, Liilan served on the Philharmonic’s EDI (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) Committee, where he and his fellow members worked to promote inclusivity, affordability, and representation within the orchestra and its performances. At Liilan’s suggestion, the BPO created an essay contest for college students to earn free concert tickets. They also collaborated to promote a “dress up, dress down, it’s up to you” attire guideline for attendees. Thanks to the support of the BPO, the things that once discouraged Liilan about the world of music, were now matters that he was actively involved in improving.
“Each member of the Academic Advising staff has made such an impact on my life. They were my biggest supporters and went out of their way to connect me with opportunities and resources ranging from internships, to mentors, to scholarships,” shared Boldiis. “My biggest issue is that I genuinely struggle with whom I share news about my life with first.”
One of Liilan’s biggest pieces of news to share was that he was named a 2023 Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholar, one of only 60 in the nation. The Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship is the largest private scholarship in the United States for students transferring from community colleges to baccalaureate institutions. In addition to being named a Jack Kent Cooke scholar, Boldiis received a myriad of awards and scholarships including Taco Bell’s Live Más Scholarship and the honor of a seat on the 2023 Phi Theta Kappa All-New York Academic Team.
Liilan never hesitates to express his most sincere gratitude to his biggest supporters within his personal family and his SUNY Broome family. At SUNY Broome, his core campus community includes Boldiis’ personal Academic Advisor, Nicole Brooks, and Kate Taylor and Matthew Brannen, former and current SUNY Broome advisors, who like Brooks, Breck, and Belancsik, took an active interest in Liilan’s life and success. Liilan would also like to thank Melissa Martin, Counselor/Chairperson of Counseling Services, for welcoming him into the world of Counseling Services and for encouraging him to use his voice as a concerned student to create a club centered around stress management and mental wellness. He also would like to extend his appreciation to Joe Spence, Career/Transfer Counselor, for guiding him through the transfer process and for supporting him throughout his Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship journey.
On the homefront, Liilan is a proud younger brother who genuinely looks up to his older siblings. But most of all, Boldiis wishes to thank his pillars, his mother and father, for their lifelong love and support.
Boldiis is in his first semester as a screen scoring transfer student at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.