PSUGA Alum provides Inspiration for the Class of 2011

On Wednesday, April 18, Penn State Greater Allegheny students, alums, faculty, and staff gathered to celebrate the new class of students and their families who will be arriving on campus this fall. Future students hailed from all over Pennsylvania as well as several states. 

One of the most inspirational events of the evening were the words Danielle Auretto, a Penn State Greater Allegheny alum, shared with our new students and families. Danielle was a 2000 graduate of Penn State, where she majored in political science. Danielle currently works in the Pittsburgh Area as a project manager at Ariba Inc. Danielle's powerful speech follows:

This is an interesting time to be a student. Each decade it seems to get just a little more difficult. The challenges faced are no longer just about which class to take or what major to pick. Students are entering college with more of a world understanding than even I had ten years ago. Global markets, unions and violence have re-shaped our youth and made them aware on a broader level.

Yet with all of the information sources at our fingertips...where anyone with a mobile phone is a photographer and access to YouTube is a director, students are still asking the same fundamental question. What should I be when I grow up? 

I don?t have the answer. I wish I did. I wish I could stand up here and tell you that you will make all the right decisions but we both know you will not. I know I didn?t. I know that after ten years, I still don?t know what I want to be when I grow up.

What I can tell you is where I have been and what I would do differently and maybe some part of this speech will make your decisions in education and career a little easier.

I?m a local - McKeesport born and raised. The first time I ever moved out of the house where I was born was my junior year of college. I applied to two colleges ? a small Catholic college and Penn State. I chose Penn State because I wanted to be around people less like me. I knew, had I gone to the small college, the exact person I would have become. I wanted to roll the dice a bit so I chose a large public school that wasn?t going to be a guarantee. I spent the first two years of college here and my final two at University Park. People often say public universities are places where you are just a number. I saw that as a challenge - the challenge to stand out in the crowd and make it on my own.

I never really chose a major. Technically I did, but really my major chose me. I always had an interest in history, but I didn?t want to be a history teacher. Instead I chose pre-law. I actually declared pre-law and then was told they were eliminating the major and most students were choosing political science or international politics instead. I really didn?t feel like adding more credits and I am not gifted in languages, so I chose political science. Graduated with exactly the amount of credits I needed and in exactly eight semesters. Last semester was all electives! I also never interned and trashed every e-mail I received from the political science department about jobs in Washington D.C.

Luckily, I worked at Penn State while a student and it was at Penn State that I was offered my first job. I began working in University Development (fundraising) and I stayed at Penn State for four years, half at University Park and the other half here at Penn State Greater Allegheny. It was the sense of family I felt on this campus that motivated me. Nearly every faculty and staff person here I knew by name - had since I was a student. It was the Penn State staff that recommended me for a scholarship that I received my sophomore year and the same wonderful people helped me get my first job. Everyone here always took the time to talk to me and make me smile as a student and as an employee. All I had to do was first introduce myself. I loved the people I worked with and the sense of purpose the job held, but it still wasn?t right. So many of the things I thought I would be doing out of college, I wasn?t. I had lost the passion for my job and I walked away.

Today I am a project manager for a spend management company in Pittsburgh. I took the position to understand the for-profit world. I have been given the opportunity to travel, gain responsibility and succeed in an arena I never imagined. I still, however, wish that I could go back and change some things. Since I can?t, I have decided to pass my wishes onto all of you.

Since so many books these days talk about the 6 steps to this or the 12 steps to that, I have put together the Danielle Auretto Five Steps to Making College Life a Little More Interesting (patent pending).

1. Think twice about your major. In your life, there are things you are passionate about and then there is the reality of growing up. Find a way to blend them. If your passion is music, but the reality is you can?t live off of the money you would make playing your guitar in your parent?s basement. Pick a major in acoustic engineering or music education. You don?t have to give up your dreams to grow up; you just need to make your dreams more of a reality. Most of us will spend more waking hours at their jobs than their homes. Make it worth it from the beginning.

2. Communication is Key. No matter what career you choose, you should know a second (or third) language. It will always make you the more desirable candidate for an employer. This is a global market and you need to be a global player. You also need to perfect the art of social communication. For me, this is a very difficult task and I struggle with it daily. I would much rather IM, e-mail or text someone than actually speak to them and I always prefer the wall to the center stage. Social communication is not about being the center of attention; it is about articulating your thoughts and representing yourself in an everyday scenario. You never know how the person sitting across the room or standing in front of you may someday impact your life. Why let that moment pass?

3. Travel. If you have the means and the permission to go to Daytona for Spring Break, think about going to the Badlands instead. See this country and this world while it will still amaze you. Nothing will teach you cultural respect like immersing yourself in a society that isn?t your own. There is no feeling like walking down a street in Eastern Europe and knowing no one speaks your language nor cares to speak your language. It is a humbling experience. Travel within this country as well and do it by car. There is a world between LA and New York and I promise you it is worth the drive.

4. Be Different. I have interviewed a lot of college graduates. Aside from the occasional anecdote, most of these interviews are the same. Similar resumes, stock answers learned in career explorations classes and similar suits. Look at the person sitting next to you. The people you are sitting near right now are the people you will one day compete for jobs. What makes you unique? What makes me remember you? In the time I have worked with students at Penn State and interviewed recent grads at my current job, there is one type of person that has always stood out. They are not always the leaders in their organizations or academics but they do have a similar trait. In the first five minutes of meeting these individuals, I know that they are dedicated. These are the people that think outside the clichéd box. They are not afraid to ask questions or share ideas. They are not afraid of work. You are going to find that in the next year, you will have a lot more free time on your hands. Classes run at odd times and not always everyday. I want to know what you do outside the classroom as much as what you do within.  

5. Make a Difference. One of the best experiences I have ever had was my sophomore year at Penn State when I volunteered for the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. I am very proud to say I helped a man learn to read. I encourage each of you to volunteer in some way throughout your life. It is so easy to be young and self-involved and believe me I am not judging you for it, but you are sitting here about to begin a new chapter in your life. A chapter many wish they could stay in or do over. Don?t waste this opportunity just sitting in the Student Community Center talking to your friends. Not when there are so many people on this campus willing to help you and so many people that you can help.

I wish you all great success in what you do. My experiences at Penn State have helped shape my life and yours will too. Penn State is a strong network and there will always be people here ? faculty, staff and alumni willing support and assist you, but it needs to begin with you.

Good luck and welcome to Penn State University!