James Bragado remembers exactly where he was when he chose the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
“On the airplane back from Paris, over the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of the night, I decided, ‘I’m going back to school,’” he recalls of that pivotal evening three years ago.
Bragado had just spent 10 days in one of the world’s great cities while attending the wedding of two good friends. A year prior, he’d met the French couple in his own hometown of St. Louis, where they’d lived briefly for work. The friendship quickly grew through a shared love of local brews and biking – and eventually sparked Bragado’s decision to further his education after several years in retail management.
“I showed them around St. Louis and the best that the city had to offer, and they showed me French culture and, as they would say, ‘joie de vivre,’ the joy of living,” he says.
Culminating in his 2013 trip to France, the connection rekindled his interests in history and foreign languages, and the following spring he took the plunge toward earning not one but two undergraduate degrees at UMSL, where he is now a graduating senior.
“I decided to pursue history because I had just been in one of the most historical cities ever, and it blew me away,” explains Bragado, who came to UMSL with 90 college credits from St. Louis Community College–Meramec already in hand. “And I went with French because I knew I had lost a lot of my Spanish skills [after earning an associate degree in Spanish in 2010] when I didn’t have anyone to speak it with. I realized that I could learn French and that wouldn’t happen again, because some of my best friends speak French.”
Juggling 17 credit hours plus 30 hours of work each week at Michael’s during his first semester, Bragado soon came across a campus opportunity that would put his working-world skills to use at UMSL while also enriching his student experience in multiple ways.
Hearing that there was a part-time job opening in the Millennium Student Center operations unit, he applied and landed the gig – one he has relished alongside his coursework during the two-and-a-half years since.
“It really allowed me to excel at my studies, because there’s no commute between work and class,” says Bragado, who now manages all the other student workers in the unit. “I’m on campus, so I’m involved in meeting students here, and I just love the campus atmosphere.”
The MSC job also brought him into frequent contact with lots of clients, including faculty and staff, whom Bragado has enjoyed getting to know as they work together on events and other operations in the student center as well as the J.C. Penney Conference Center, which Bragado also helps manage.
“I really feel like I’ll miss UMSL when I leave,” he says. “It’s great to know I’ve made a difference on this campus, whether it’s helping this department succeed and helping the other students who work here cultivate their skills or working with Phi Alpha Theta to bring more attention to the history department.”
A member of Phi Kappa Phi and the Alpha Mu Gamma Foreign Language Honor Society as well, Bragado is president of the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society, which he’s been helping to grow alongside faculty member Peter Acsay. He also looks back fondly on his time as a founding member of UMSL’s Filipino Student Association and his participation in the Vietnamese Student Association.
But more than anything, Bragado’s journey at UMSL is leading him back to France and all things French. This past year, an internship at the Campbell House Museum in downtown St. Louis, plus his coursework in French translation, further focused his growing academic interests.
One of Bragado’s projects at the Campbell House involved transcribing and translating legal documents dating from the 1790s from French into English.
“At the same time, I was in Professor Anne-Sophie Blank’s French translation class as part of my program,” he says. “I was learning translation, and I got to put it into use in the class and also the internship, and it really got me interested in doing translations.
“So in January I’m flying up to Montreal to the University of Concordia and the University of Ottawa to check out their master’s in translation programs. I want to go get my master’s degree somewhere where they speak French. France is a bit further away obviously – Canada is more practical. So I’m looking at attending either of those universities. And my goal is to hopefully one day move to France.”
Bragado, who will serve in the honorary role of student marshal this weekend at commencement, has found many ways to combine his two programs of study at UMSL.
Most recently, for his final history term paper, he explored American participation in the French Resistance. And last year he was awarded the annual George Rawick Award in History for his essay “Revolution by Telegram,” which looks at how newspapers in St. Louis reported on a pivotal historical event that occurred in 1871.
“The Paris Commune took place shortly after the transatlantic cable was laid, so in the United States we could receive news from Europe by the next day,” Bragado says. “For this essay, I combed through two newspapers on microfilm from 1871 here in St. Louis – two full months of the St. Louis Globe Democrat and the St. Louis Republican – almost burning my eyes out looking at the microfilm.
“Surprisingly, most of St. Louis had more of a German background at that point. The French side of St. Louis had kind of faded into the background a bit. The Paris Commune took place shortly after a war between Germany and France, and I found that most of the St. Louis reporting was against these Communards. It was looked at as being anarchy, unruly – but there were a few things here and there that were pro-Paris Commune.”
Looking back at his time on campus and ahead to his next steps, Bragado adds that French – reading and studying the language, enjoying the culture and putting his research skills to use – has really become the love of his life. And whether he’s in St. Louis, Canada, France or somewhere else around the globe, his life will never be the same.
During his transition from UMSL to graduate school in the coming months, he plans to spend some of his time volunteering at the International Institute in town, teaching immigrants English skills and preparing them for the citizenship test. It’s something Bragado’s helped with before and that now feels especially timely.
“Immigrants are what made this country,” he says. “They’re definitely a strength, and I think helping them adjust to life in this country and become citizens is going to be a great thing.”