Class of '24: First-Gen, Pre-Law grad felt supported by Detroit Mercy

May 07, 2024
Jacob Yasso stands smiling inside of the Gardella Honors House with stained glass windows behind him.

Each year, University of Detroit Mercy’s Marketing & Communications department profiles members of the graduating classes. Students chosen were nominated by staff and faculty for their contributions to the life of the University. Click here for more information about 2024 commencement exercises.

Jacob Yasso didn’t know if a four-year college was for him.

His high school guidance counselor suggested that he should possibly try the community college route first to see if college was the right call.

That’s when a University of Detroit Mercy Admissions counselor visited his school.

“He looked at my transcript and he said, ‘you’re in.’ I was really kind of shook, I didn’t think that I would get in anywhere,” Yasso said. “All of my friends were applying, touring and putting in applications and I was really behind. I guess I was considered a late applicant, but Detroit Mercy didn’t make me feel like I was late at all.”

Flash-forward to May 2024 and Yasso confidently says he made the right call in choosing Detroit Mercy. Yasso will be the first in his family to graduate from college when he walks across the Calihan Hall stage May 11 to receive his Political Science, Pre-Law degree.

UDM answered every question Yasso had from the start, helping him fill out his FAFSA, assisting with scholarships and just being there for him.

Two people stand indoors posing for a photo, one wearing graduation robes and cap and the other dressed in a suit.Matt Fortescue, the UDM Admissions counselor who visited his high school, Henry Ford II in Sterling Heights, also identified Yasso as a candidate to be a tour guide at UDM. Yasso was able to feel at home during his freshman year of 2020-21 — in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — because of his tour guide job.

“Matt recommending me for that position already made me feel like I was at home because he knew me so little, but he saw my potential,” Yasso said.

If he hadn’t felt at home before, he did during the first week of classes, which were held online due to the pandemic. Sitting in a parking lot outside of the Fisher Building on the McNichols Campus, Yasso found out he was the only student who hadn’t taken a quiz in Associate Professor of Political Science Genevieve Meyers’ Basic Government class.

He didn’t even realize there was a quiz. What happened next was a turning point.

“Professor Meyers said, ‘it’s okay, thank you for your honesty and I’ll reopen it for you,’” Yasso reflected. “And I thought, ‘this is going to work out for me the next four years.’

“That’s really when I became more comfortable with my studies, I really started to care about my work and do better and now my grades are much better than they were in high school.”

The caring gesture from Meyers was a theme Yasso saw throughout his time at Detroit Mercy: The supportiveness of many throughout the UDM community, from Financial Aid, Student Life and Admissions to many staff and faculty in the College of Liberal Arts & Education and many more.

That care began the day Fortescue visited his high school.

“Everyone has been so supportive, otherwise I don’t think that I would be here right now.”

Starting as a tour guide, Yasso became involved in much more during his Detroit Mercy tenure, joining the Honors Program, Political Science Student Association, Chaldean American Student Association and Student Alumni Leadership Council, and serving as an ambassador for his college and in Admissions, in addition to many other activities.

Yasso was director of freshman orientation during the summer of 2023 before his senior year. He said it was by far one of the best experiences during college.

Academically, Yasso started as a Theatre major but switched to Pre-Law, which he says fits him well. Theatre actually helped get him there.

“Every stage you step on is a stage for justice, no matter what show you’re doing,” he said. “That’s how I got there into law was from theatre. I was always argumentative and my theatre teacher in high school taught us about intersections of theatre in law.” 

A man wearing a suit stands next to a Detroit Mercy backdrop.He said partaking in the moot courts — even during COVID — only solidified his ambitions of becoming a lawyer one day.

“My first year I had Intro to Law with Victoria Mantzopoulos, and she found a way to let us do a Moot Court online during COVID and she asked me to serve as the judge,” he said. “It was a really fun experience for me even though I was at home. We did at least one-to-two every year.”

Yasso said that his Literature minor also had a big impact on him, especially as he prepares for law school.

“Reading a lot of older literature books with diverse voices, it helps you articulate your ideas and write better, which is great for law school,” he said. “My literature minor is something that I’m proud of.”

He said he felt the Jesuit and Mercy values embedded throughout his course work, and not only in the community service classes each UDM student is required to take.

“These pillars that we have opened up our eyes to new possibilities and I think my career goal may be law school, but a real-life goal is a utilitarianist idea of creating the most happiness for the most amount of people,” he said.

Yasso, who has two older brothers who are also considering college, is following the lead of his parents in the way that he attacks each day.

“I watched them work hard during their lives and be successful and I just try and mimic that, working hard,” he said. “They wanted me to go to college, but if I didn’t, you obviously have to work. It motivates me every day.

“It’s definitely very special for my parents.”

A fixture for nearly four years to hundreds, if not thousands, of prospective students, parents, alumni and many others as a tour guide, leader and face of the University, Yasso is glad he decided to attend UDM even if his first tour of campus was a little terrifying.

“The initial tour was scary, I think most people would be nervous going on a campus tour,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect from a college campus as a first-generation student, I didn’t even know where the Admissions office was.

“But Detroit Mercy definitely helped me figure out my way.”

— By Adam Bouton. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookLinkedInTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.