2015 Convocation Address



Brian Agnew '03Brian Agnew '03

Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Health System

August 25, 2014

D r. Johnsen,  I waited until you said my name and Class of 2003 to make sure you were talking about me. Thank you for that incredible introduction.

Before I begin I’d like to thank Mark Kovacs, Anthony Villanti, Laura Casamento and Kelly Adams for their role in my selection and for keeping me connected to my UC roots!

I’d also like to take a moment to extend a sincere heartfelt, thank you to President Todd Hutton not only for his leadership, vision and tenacity through some challenging times for this institution but for his friendship, mentorship and guidance in helping me breakdown barriers to be on this stage today. As you complete this chapter of your career, please know that you have inspired thousands of UC Pioneers on their journeys!

I had breakfast with some friends this morning and they all made it clear, that I am way more excited to be here than you are to listen to me right now so I’ll do my best to keep it interesting so you can get back to unpacking, finding out where to park if you are a commuter and meeting your 2 new roommates if you are one of the “lucky” few to be tripled in North or South.

So I’ve probably labored over this speech more than I needed to because I’m not exactly sure what you are ready to hear. I could tell you how excited I was in August of my freshman year, when I came up from Brooklyn ready to take on a new adventure. Or I could tell you how scared I was sitting in that seat like you are not knowing anyone to my left or to my right. Not one friend or teammate from high school, no one I grew up with was coming to a school 4 and a half hours away. I remember sitting there listening to some random speaker telling me something similar to what I’m about to tell you now and all I could think about was can you believe I’m in a damn triple?, what time does Walmart close because I need the bed risers and how much are you charging me for textbooks, are they made of gold? So listen up because I know you will NEEEEVEEEERRR forget any of these profound lessons I’m about to share.

In all seriousness, these next few years will be the most unforgettable of your life. I vividly remember moving into the basement of North Hall room 12 (at the end of the hallway outside of the fire exit door)- a helpful noise barrier during quiet hours. Anyone here in North Hall?

As the last box was unpacked and my family was leaving, I realized that this was for real. This wasn’t my overnight senior trip, or summer camp that I would be home from in 2 weeks. This was my first taste of reality and freedom. Freedom to decide when to wake up, when to eat, when to study, when to cut class (although that NEVER happened), which friends to choose, which parties to go to, which clubs to join, who to date (we won’t talk about that because my fiancée is here) and most importantly the person I wanted to become!

It seems crazy to say but many of you are in the Class of 2019, and you are about to embark on the most unforgettable 4 years of your life. For some of you I just met at the picnic it may be the most unforgettable 6, 7 or 8 years if you don’t listen to what I’m telling you. If any of you would have seen me in August of my freshman year, I don’t think you would have voted me most likely to be standing in front of you in 2015 as your Convocation Speaker!

You will be faced with situations that seem world-ending like failing the first test in Anatomy and Physiology (Lesson #1-everyone fails that first test!), you may find out that the love of your life today isn’t the person you are meant to spend the rest of your life with, and you might be stuck on which major to choose because you don’t know what to do with the rest of your life. (Lesson #2-No one in here really knows how the rest of their life is going to turn out and if they have that crystal ball ask them to borrow it, go across the street, buy a mega millions ticket and give it to me).

In each of those examples, your true test is in how you deal with the challenge in front of you. Will you see and understand that the A&P test wasn’t really a test of your knowledge but of your resolve to understand it was a giant wake-up call that you’re in the big leagues now. Should a relationship break-up occur, will you understand that your emotional response when challenged will shape how colleagues perceive you when you are in your career. And when you are listening to your friends tell you a story do you pause to “Trust and verify” before you accept it as gospel and make decisions on misinformation that will make you look foolish?

It is such a privilege and an honor to have been invited to kick off Utica College’s campus theme of Breaking Barriers because if I had to choose a theme for my life, it would be just that. I grew up in a single parent household, needed every penny AND MORE of the financial aid UC gave me, [show of hands…how many of you wish you had more financial aid], I worked 48 hours a week every summer to save up and still had to take out loans, but all I can remember is my mother telling me every day that I had to go to college. Growing up in NYC one becomes accustomed to reliable public transportation. You know that stores are within walking distance and remain open all hours of the night. Imagine my surprise when I came to the Mohawk Valley, to the city of Utica, with no use for my Metrocard, no car and at the time there was no Subway in Strebel!

I remember sitting in my room the first week of classes feeling so lost and alone and questioning whether I was ready, whether I was good enough, whether I had what it takes… This was my reality, my challenge and one of my first barriers to breakdown. There is an anonymous quote that reads “the world will provide you with stones everyday; what you build out of it is your outlook- a bridge or a wall-- it’s up to you.” The single most important thing that I learned at UC was how to turn anxiety and fear of the unknown into progressive forward movement. (Lesson #3- Don’t let fear become a barrier to your success). I had to figure out how to become comfortable in new environments [which by the way is going to be critical when you start your careers, so take these next few years to master it.] Joining organizations like the Black Student Union taught me how to plan events like the annual Kwanzaa dinner that happens in December, as President of the Public Relations Student Society of America, our eboard teamed up to get Student Government funding for an unforgettable trip to the annual conference in San Francisco and while working with the Programming Board we were able to bring artists like John Legend and Kanye West to perform here in Utica. Yes, Kanye and John Legend were here!

So while my specific experiences may not be yours, I have no doubt that each of you have faced barriers and I promise you that they will pale in comparison to what you will face in the future. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” My hope is that you will soon see and understand the relevance of this quote to why you have found yourself at Utica College… This is the time to take risks, try new things, play hard but study harder, push yourself to do what is right and not what is popular…I’m going to repeat that one, push yourself to do what is right and not what is popular. Join every club/sport/organization that interests you so you can learn the importance of time management. Get out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to people who don’t look, talk, or act like you because the sooner you do that, the sooner you will realize that you have more in common than what you saw on the surface and these will probably be your most important life-long friendships.

UC’s Faculty and staff are all ready and waiting for you to take the opportunity to learn both in and out of the classroom. Be assertive, don’t sit idle on the sidelines, seize every moment to roll up your sleeves to make a difference and learn from the diversity that surrounds you (your peers represent 45 of the 50 states and 39 different countries).

As I close I leave you with one of my favorite motivational poems that while written over 140 years ago by William Ernest Henley still inspires countless leaders to break down barriers today titled, Invictus;

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

So to the newest members of the Pioneer family, the world will provide you with stones every day; what you build out of it is your outlook- a bridge or a barrier-- it’s up to you. I wish you all the best in your journey of breaking barriers and look forward to seeing you all walk across the stage as you receive your Utica College degree. Good Luck and God Bless!


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