Christian Cumbe
Valedictorian Christian Cumbe ’24 Earns Full Scholarship to Seton Hall Law School

Degree: B.S. in Criminal Justice
Mentors: Adjunct Instructor Joanne Payne-Preyor, Adjunct Professor Daniel Kessler, Adjunct Professor Rajub Bhowmik, Ph.D., PsyD.

Hometown: Belleville, NJ
Career Aspiration: Attorney

What was life like before John Jay?
I was blessed in a lot of ways. I grew up with great siblings and parents. The town I lived in was suburban and calm. My mom is from Spain, and my dad is from Ecuador. There were a lot of Ecuadorian families in the neighborhood. My parents didn’t go to college—I’m the first in my family to graduate from college—but they put a high value on education. There was an expectation that I was going to college.

Why John Jay?
I liked that John Jay classes were taught with a justice focus. I admired the fact that the College prioritized looking at issues through the eyes of others and understanding different perspectives. In comparison to other schools, it felt like the professors at John Jay were not only teaching career skills but also life skills. The passion for justice was a perfect fit toward the skills I wanted to learn for my career and my life.

Was there a specific course that enhanced your experience and changed your perspective?
I did a research paper for my class with Professor Rajub Bhowmik on capital punishment and the impact it has on different groups of people. It opened my eyes to how certain people get processed differently through the legal system. It made me see that there were a lot of disparities within the criminal legal system. At one point I thought about becoming an FBI agent, but that course helped change my mind. As an attorney, I can work directly with people and can cause change through legal precedent. 

What life experiences ignited your passion for becoming an attorney? 
This past September, my brother Daniel passed away at 26 years old. He always told me that life was bigger than work. “You don’t just have a burden to school. You don’t just have a burden to your job. You have a burden to humanity.” That was one of the last things he said to me. Daniel wanted me to do something in my life to help others. His voice still lives through me. I even sound like him sometimes when I talk. I want my work to be a legacy to his life.

What are your plans after John Jay?
I plan to go to law school. I’ve committed to going to Seton Hall Law. I’m grateful because they gave me a full-ride scholarship. After law school, one of my biggest goals is to become financially free. I want to use what I earn to help people in ways I can’t even think about right now. I also want to take care of the people who I love, like my parents. They broke their backs getting me to this place in my life and I want to help them in any way I can.

You were named the Class of 2024 Valedictorian. What does that distinction mean to you?
After my first semester at John Jay, I got a 4.0. I thought, What if I did this every semester? Then, I looked into how the valedictorian is selected and I realized it was a possibility. Being a first-generation college student who did well and is going to law school means a lot to my family. I’m very grateful and excited for the distinction, but the title doesn’t mean as much to me as my experiences. Although it’s an amazing achievement and it feels really good, it doesn’t mean I’m the smartest. It just means that I put in the hard work and was at the right place, at the right time, and I ended up here. I want to remember what Daniel told me and know that there are even bigger things in life than these achievements.