By Sofyah Soleil
“Laurie DiTocco..? I have no idea what her job is, I always see her at different places around D-Hall,” says Fae Osei, a first year Media Studies major. This is because although Laurie DiTocco is the Supervisor of the Main Dining Hall, she’s taken upon herself to help with a little bit of everything; from cleaning and putting the food out to manning the cashier.
“I can’t just sit back and watch people work so hard!” explains Laurie. Her help does not go unnoticed by her colleagues.
“She’s always here, willing to do whatever. Literally, anything,” says Alicia Zykoff, the Director of Operations. The Kitchen Staff share smiles with Laurie and are more than comfortable handing her trays of food to put out for students or a rag to clean up a spill. Peter Mennillo, the Office Manager, says, “When we need people, we call her…she doesn’t even bat an eye.”
Laurie’s helpfulness is common knowledge, but what most people don’t know are Laurie’s endeavors before coming to Purchase. “I’ve never been one of those people that knew what they wanted to be when they grew up, I still don’t know what I wanna be when I grow up,” says Laurie. Laurie was a Med-School student, studying to be a Medical Assistant and later an Ultrasound Technician.
After that, Laurie started what she describes as a “little business on the side This business would later gain recognition from T.V. Producers. “I was on that show Shark Tank, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it,” says Laurie. That “little business” was Picture It Perfect!, a service that incorporates names into images. It’s still around today, though no longer owned by Laurie. She ended up having to sell the business in order to pursue schooling and raising her children. “It’s still doing really good, as much as I try not to think about it because it makes me sad,” says Laurie. “But in the moment I did what I had to do.”
Laurie developed a hard-working mindset due to her experiences growing up. Laurie recounts, “I grew up in East Harlem which was, in the 80s and 90s, a really bad neighborhood.” Her mom passed away when she was young, leaving her in the care of relatives. Her family life was unstable, as she witnessed her relatives endure cycles of abuse, poverty and welfare, drug use, and incarceration.
This instability spilled into Laurie’s school life. “When I was in high school, I said, ‘Why am I even going to school? No one cares. I don’t have a parent to ask how school was or when I was in a play there was no one there to watch me.” For years, Laurie was at risk of repeating the cycle. “I felt like that was my destiny because, my family, that’s what happened to them,” explains Laurie. This feeling of desolation weighed heavily on Laurie.
During high school, Laurie had an epiphany, “My mom would not want this for me.” She found motivation in the sentiment that would stay with her throughout her life. “I realized at a certain point, if I don’t wanna stay in this neighborhood, and I don’t wanna stay with these people, I need to graduate high school,” she added. “It doesn’t matter if there’s anyone watching me or telling me what to do, I have to just do it.”
Laurie put herself on academic probation to ensure she was going to school. Her teachers had to sign off on her attending her classes, ensuring that she graduated with a good GPA. She went to school all day, worked all night, and got her first apartment at the age of 19. “Once I could get out of the situation, I did it, and I took my little brother with me,” says Laurie. She got the chance to go to college when she was 36, starting out at Westchester Community College for two years and then transferring to Purchase College for her last two as a Communications and Media Arts Major.
These experiences gave Laurie a soft spot for helping, specifically young people. “I feel like I relate to them a lot, I’ve been through a lot of stuff in my life so I can understand what they go through,” explained Laurie. “I know a lot of students and young adults and teens, they feel hopeless. You guys have so much stress on you now and you’re so young.”
She found a home at Purchase and returned to work here in 2018. Her favorite thing about her job is the opportunity to help the students. “That’s what makes me wanna come to work!” exclaimed Laurie. “Even if it’s the little thing, like someone coming ‘Do you have vegan yogurt?’ ‘Yes! Here’s your vegan yogurt.’ Like I feel like I’m just doing something to help, to make your day a little happier, a little less stressful. Just something because those little things add up.”
Besides the importance of tenacity and flexibility, Laurie learned another important lesson during her childhood. She learned the importance of being a positive force in someone’s life. Life is too short to waste time being negative. “I only had my mom for 13 years, but what she did for us will last way past how long she was on this earth,” said Laurie. “Let’s just have a good time and spend time together, because that’s the most important thing honestly.”