Building Community at DU and Beyond
At this year’s Black Male Initiative Summit, Gianni Di Cioccio witnessed a moment he will carry with him when he graduates with his MA from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies later today. It was the talent show portion of the day. A kid came up on stage and said he was going to freestyle. “He was king of bobbing his head, and he said, ‘My parents recently got divorced and I haven’t told anybody, and I’m sad,’” Di Cioccio recalls. “As he came off the stage, kids were coming up to him, giving him hugs and it was just this moment.”
Watching that kid share something so personal with 250 strangers — teenagers no less — was powerful to Di Cioccio, in part because he helped make that moment possible. As chairman of the Black Male Initiative Summit, this was exactly the environment he had hoped to create for the day. “It was really important for me to be involved, because I knew how important it was when I was growing up to have strong male influences in my life, like my father and my grandfather,” he says.
Those influences have been a driving force behind Di Cioccio’s entire time at DU, from application to graduation. It was his grandfather who first stoked Di Cioccio’s passion for international relations. He had been an ambassador to Kenya and the Seychelles, and received his PhD in international relations from none other than DU. “When applying I was faced with the decision between a few schools in D.C. or Korbel, and it came down to trying to continue the legacy my grandfather started, and following in his footsteps,” Di Cioccio says. “I got into [international studies] from the same perspective my grandfather had, in that the basis of all the things he was doing was to improve the lives of those around him.”
Di Cioccio isn’t waiting until he starts his post-grad career to start making an impact in his community. That work started on day one at DU. In addition to his role with the summit, Di Cioccio served as house manager (and de facto mentor) of DU’s Transfer Living Community, president of the Black Graduate Student Association and was honored as a Presidential Management Fellow.
And while Di Cioccio has big plans for the communities he loves, he has just as lofty expectations of himself. He has a five-year, 10-year and 15-year plan that he keeps under wraps, but he’s not shy about sharing where he sees himself down the road. “I love where I’m from. Harlem will always have my heart, and that’s a community I want to see flourish. I would love to go back and be involved,” he says. “I’m not saying I want to be the youngest governor of New York, but I’m saying I want to be the youngest governor of New York.”
After just a few minutes with Di Cioccio, that goal doesn’t seem so farfetched. He is the only DU student to become a finalist for the Presidential Management Fellowship this year, which has him set on a rigorous but promising path toward his goal. As a finalist, he has access to exclusive government positions around the country and a fast-track toward senior management roles. He’s currently tossing around offers from the Air Force, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security.
In the meantime, Di Cioccio is looking forward to graduating and enjoying his side gig as a model with Wilhelmina International. His face has popped up in ads for such brands as Nike, Target, Old Navy and Sprite. Even as he sits in front of photographers and stylists though, his mind drifts to his passions. “One of the other models is from Benin and Togo, and I had a conversation with him about the relationship that former colonies in West Africa have with France,” he says. “Fashion is an international community, so being able to have those conversations is cool.”
Though his grandfather won’t be there to celebrate Commencement, just being on DU’s campus helps Di Cioccio feel close to his late grandparent. “Knowing that he was here has been really special to me, and when the time comes, I’m going to take a long look and be thankful that I was here.”