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“I always apologized,” he said, “and I said, ‘All right, Professor, so you know I’m in that body shop, so I’ll leave the mute on.'”
Despite the obstacles, Mr. Paneto knew that he had to finish his studies. His mother had always wanted him and his siblings to go to school, especially after his father died in a robbery as a baby.
Mr. Paneto grew up in the South Bronx after his parents moved there from Puerto Rico. He chose Union College because he received a substantial financial aid package and it was not far from town. He has also been inducted into a program that supports first generation college students.
“We always knew that education lifts you out of poverty,” he said. “Even though my career had only just really picked up speed, I always intended to end and promised my mother that I would end it.”
He kept his promise and finished his dissertation “People’s Republic of China: The next world power to exploit Latin America” just a few days before the founding ceremony of the Union. In addition to the two courses he took at Union College, he also took three courses at Orange County Community College that counted toward his degree.
He was finally going to get his bachelor’s degree – in Asian Studies as well as Spanish and Hispanic Studies.
When Mr. Paneto left Union, so did his son Joshua, an economist. At the beginning they sat next to each other, socially distant. Then it was Joshua’s turn to cross the stage and finally, after nearly 30 years of waiting, Mr. Paneto.