Rocco B. Commisso has come a long way since attending Mount St. Michael Academy.
Back then, the 1967 graduate was just a boy looking to provide for his mother, working 40 hours a week while still attending the Bronx school. Commisso earned full scholarship to attend Columbia University, graduating from the prestigious Ivy League school with both a Bachelor of Science Degree in Industrial Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration.
Commisso would go on to become one of the most successful Italian immigrant entrepreneurs in U.S. history, founding the Mediacom Communications Corporation, where he now sits as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.
It’s been a long journey for an unassuming man from the Bronx. But on Tuesday morning, Commisso and the Mount St. Michael community ensured that his name will never be forgotten.
In front of a packed gym of over 900 people, Commisso was honored as part of Mount St. Michael’s First Annual Rocco B. Commisso American Dream Scholarship Fund ceremony. Thanks to a donation from Commisso, three American Dream Scholarships will be awarded annually over the next 50 years, honoring a Mount St. Michael sophomore, junior and senior who come from an immigrant family and have achieved academic and/or athletic success while displaying leadership and entrepreneurial qualities.
“I’m absolutely overwhelmed; how could you not feel good when you’re helping kids like this?” Comisso said. “They’re going to be the superstars of tomorrow… I never expected that I could graduate from a place like ‘The Mount’ and be able to come back and give back as I have. It’s all for these kids who are the pride and joy of the Bronx; a place where I am very proud to have come from.”
Senior Raishawn Pitt, junior Adrian Fernandez and sophomore Imanol Fernandez were the first recipients of the American Dream Scholarships. Raishawn, Adrian and Imanol were honored in front of their classmates at the ceremony and got to spend time with Commisso and his family.
Pitt said that the experience was wonderful and that he could not have been more grateful to Commisso.
“I have no words for it; it’s very special to be the first to ever get this scholarship and for it to enable me to pursue my goals,” said Pitt, who also hopes to attend Columbia University, like Commisso. “[Commisso] is very generous, he’s a very nice person. He’s easy to get along with and he’s larger than life. He’s really an outstanding individual and I’m proud to have met him.”
Commisso was also honored after the scholarship ceremony as Mount St. Michael’s historic Rotunda was renamed the “Rocco B. Commisso American Dream Rotunda.” Raishawn, Adrian and Imanol received certificates at the ceremony and had their names engraved on a plaque that will be displayed in the newly minted hall.
“[The Rotunda] will be a memory of grit, hard work and having a vision in life,” said Mount St. Michael President Dr. Anthony Miserandino. “Rocco is a very special person. He’s larger than life. [Coming back to the school] reminded him of the great start he got in his life; something he never forgot. He cares about ‘the Mount’ and he cares about everyone having an opportunity to succeed in America.”
Imanol Fernandez said he could not agree more with his school President.
“This means a lot; I’m very thankful,” Imanol said. “It was an honor to meet [Commisso]. He’s a great guy and he deserves this.”
Mediacom, founded in 1995 by Commisso, is the nation's 8th largest cable operator, with annual revenues exceeding $1.6 billion. Operating from its recently-completed headquarters in Mediacom Park, N.Y. and with over 4,600 employees in 22 states, Mediacom is the leading provider of advanced broadband services to 1.3 million customers in 1,500 small cities and towns across the United States.
Commisso immigrated to the United States from Calabria, Italy, at the age of 12, growing up right around the corner from Mount St. Michael Academy, between 241st street and 242nd street in the Wakefield section of the Bronx. He was the President of the Columbia business school student body during his time there and was the recipient of the prestigious Business School Service Award.
Commisso was also the co-captain of the Columbia men’s varsity soccer team and was named a three-time All-Ivy League honoree despite never having played soccer in high school. Commisso was invited to participate in the 1972 U.S. Olympic Soccer Team trials after graduation.
In 2004, on the 250th anniversary of Columbia’s founding, the school’s undergraduate newspaper, Columbia Daily Spectator, listed Commisso among Columbia’s 250 greatest undergraduate alumni of all time. In 2013, Columbia recognized Commisso’s more than 40 years of contributions to its soccer program by naming its soccer venue at the school’s Baker Athletics Complex as the Rocco B. Commisso Soccer Stadium.
In another tribute to Commisso, Mount St. Michael will play a soccer game against archrival Cardinal Spellman on October 16th at the Rocco B. Commisso Soccer Stadium at Columbia University. Commisso said he will be in attendance and was already beaming with Mountaineers pride.
“We’re going to have fun there,” Commisso said. “I will be there for sure. I’ll be absolutely in heaven if I can see these kids enjoy the field where I played many, many years ago, and also come out with a win. We’ll have a lot of Mounties there to come out and support them.”