Hello Graduates, Parents, Family and Friends, Sister Elizabeth, Mrs. Martinez, Ms. Radigan, Dr. Minson and Faculty,
I’m thrilled to be speaking to you this morning. It’s hard to believe that it has been almost 40 years since I graduated from Bishop Kearny, and I was sitting in your seat thinking that I would become a nurse. Boy, it has been quite a ride. The Sisters of St. Joseph educated me for both grade school and high school, as I also attended St. Athanasius grammar school. They left an indelible impression on me, and I have carried the mission of Bishop Kearney my entire life: “Empowering young women to develop their unique gifts.”
The world was very different for women 40 years ago, and Bishop Kearney was a very different place than it is today. During my time at Bishop Kearney, there were two curriculum tracks to choose from: Academic, if you were planning to attend college, or Commercial. The Commercial track would prepare you for a job, not a “career”—a job as a secretary. The coursework included typing and steno, so you could take shorthand from your male boss to type his memos. In addition, we had electives such as home economics, where we were taught how to cook and diaper babies. This was the standard curriculum in most high schools. Well, girls, lucky for you that we have come a long way.
My parents were divorced, and my mother, who was a homemaker, raised me alone. We had little to no resources and lived in a four-room apartment. However, she was a very strong woman who pushed me to move ahead. In addition, my aunt and uncle helped and encouraged me to pursue my ambitions and continue to do so to this day. I learned to be independent, and my first job was working at McDonald’s on Bay P’way so I could pay for the Senior Prom and take Driver’s Education with Mr. Franza. While this was definitely a tough job, it was my first experience with taking the initiative and being rewarded for hard work and diligence. I often stayed after my shift and volunteered to “cash out” the registers so I could learn a new skill. It was my desire to gain all the knowledge that I could, to improve my skill set that started with that first job and has served me well throughout my life. So as I tell my two children “when you think you are finished do I more thing”.
I attended Pace University and majored in public accounting, and here I really blossomed. I stepped out of my comfort zone and became active in extracurricular activities. I was elected to the student government as a senator, served as associate editor of the yearbook, and was active in various other activities. In addition, I worked part time for the Dean for Students, and as a benefit I received some free classes to help pay for my tuition. I truly believe that my experience attending an all-girls school, run by strong female role models, gave me the confidence to pursue endeavors I might not otherwise have thought possible.
Upon graduation I began my career at what was then known as one of the “Big 8” accounting firms, Ernst and Whinney. Trust me: In the early 1980s, this was a big deal for a girl from Bensonhurst. My next job was working for Goldman Sachs. Talk about being out of your comfort zone; I was not only one of the few women who were hired, but I was definitely one of a few who wasn’t from an Ivy League school.
One day a friend contacted me and urged me to interview at Havas, with the tempting suggestion that I would be able to double my present salary. Again, without hesitating, I thought “Why not?” I’ve had a very successful career since joining Havas Worldwide in 1987, moving through the ranks from that very first position to Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, and finally Global CEO. Along the way, each and every success was built upon the granite of the education and moral foundation that I received as a “Kearney girl.”
I have benefitted from the nurturing guidance of strong women my entire life, and I have made it a personal mission to, as we say in the current vernacular, “lean in” and nurture and guide other young women. In that vein, I stand before you today hoping to share some pearls of wisdom that might help you on the road to your future success.
First, have a plan. Always have a plan, and then have a Plan B. Life is full of twists and turns, and if you are able to ride the tide of uncertainty you will thrive, because you will be able to adapt. Yes, sometimes luck plays a role in success, but as Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
Next, when considering that plan, don’t forget to follow your passion. When you follow your passion, as they say, you never work a day in your life. Following your passion leads to finding your purpose, and purpose makes life fulfilling.
It’s OK to make mistakes and start over. That’s why the world has erasers, and lawyers. It’s not how many times you might stumble or fall, but how many times you dust yourself off and get back on your feet that count.
Never forget that no one, absolutely no one, gets anywhere in life without someone else’s help. So, whenever you can, express your gratitude. But more importantly, pay it forward. Many people and especially your parents have invested in helping you to succeed so take advantage of the gift.
While you are preparing for that future, don’t forget to live in the present. Even when you are feeling overwhelmed—especially when you are feeling overwhelmed—stop, take a deep breath, look around you and remember that life is good, and that putting positivity into the world will reap positive dividends.
Finally, my cousin Dr. Mary Dawson who is with us today and is also a successful Kearney Girl and the Chairperson of the Kingsborough Community College Biological Department posted this to her Facebook page and it really hit home for me: On the roller coaster of life you can choose to sit in the front row or the third row. I will always take the front row and so should you.
Of all my achievements to date, being asked to come back to the place it all began, to share some of my life lessons with the community of women who set me on my path, is truly one of my greatest honors. My Mom would be very proud. I hope that wherever life takes you, you too will be lucky enough to look back upon your days at Bishop Kearney as a time when the foundation of your future was first laid.
Congratulations, God Bless You and good luck to the Class of 2017.