Distinguished Alumni Award

Photo of Eric Rizzo, Homeland Security graduate

Eric Rizzo
2014 Inspirational Alumni Award Recipient
Class of 2011, AS Homeland Security

“I’ve faced hardships and losses in my life, but I never gave up.”

From a very young age until the summer of 2009, I lived with my three older brothers and parents in an apartment complex bordering a neighborhood characterized by drive-by shootings, carjacking, drug dealing and other criminal incidents. My home life wasn’t any better. My older brother battled a drug addiction, which created a very dysfunctional environment. As a result, I struggled to get sleep and complete homework assignments. This, combined with a learning disability, made it almost nearly impossible for me to keep up with my studies in high school, so I eventually dropped out.

Despite my situation, I tried to remain as positive as I could and avoided getting into trouble. Once my brother left home, things improved a bit, but not for long. While working at a factory for nearly a decade, I earned my GED. I wanted better opportunities, and I knew that an education would provide me with them. No one in my family had even finished high school, so the thought of a pursuing a college degree seemed like an impossible feat.

In 2006, I received a catalog in the mail about Goodwin University’s Homeland Security program. After the events of September 11, I wanted a career that would make a difference. I was excited about the idea of doing something to help protect our country. My parents encouraged me to pursue this field, so I enrolled for the fall semester.

Soon after I enrolled, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain. I became her primary caregiver as my father had also been battling cancer since 2002. In August 2006, one week before I was to begin my first semester at Goodwin University, my mother passed away.

Nonetheless, I mustered all of my energy and courage and dove into classes, homework, and studying without ever mentioning my situation to my professors or program director. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me or treat me differently.

In September, my father’s lymphatic cancer returned. Since we could not afford 24-hour care, I became my father’s only caregiver. Five months later, my grandmother passed away, and soon after, I lost my job at the factory as a result of the recession of 2008.

I then decided to take some time off from my classes.

With my father in recovery in 2009, I thought it would be a good time to resume my classes at Goodwin University, but one month before I started the new semester, my uncle passed away, and one month later, my father ended up succumbing to his seven-year battle with cancer. I was then forced to move from my childhood home because I was financially unstable.

This still didn’t stop me from pursing an education.

I focused all of my energy on completing my degree and succeeding, and was very proud of myself for making the Dean’s List for the summer and fall of 2010. At the time, I also worked my way up from a part-time position to a full-time position at the local grocery store I worked at. I truly believe that Goodwin University has opened many doors to opportunities that would not have been available to me otherwise.

In June 2011, on the second anniversary of my father’s passing, I graduated from Goodwin University with an associate degree in Homeland Security. Within two months, I enrolled in a bachelor’s program at Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven, majoring in Law Enforcement Administration. While in the program, my financial aid ran out, but I haven’t let that stop me. I will receive my bachelor’s degree in January 2015 and was recently accepted for a 2014 internship with the Glastonbury Police Department.

Despite the amount of loss and financial hardships I have faced, Goodwin allowed me to pursue dreams that at one time seemed impossible.