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Surveying the Political Spectrum: Students Meet Alumni in Albany

Monday, April 29, 2013

It’s a city of rich history, diverse politics and intense debate. But not only is Albany the capital of the Empire State – it’s also the home of a tremendous amount of St. John’s University alumni. And during the Alumni Insider’s View (AIV)… New York State Capital program, students got to travel to Albany to meet many of these accomplished professionals.

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“Our alumni are so eager to stay connected,” said Elisa Douglas ’05C, Assistant Director, Office of Alumni Relations. “We’re so grateful that so many of them take the time out of their day to meet with our students here in Albany and share their expertise during insightful panel discussions. And I would also like to thank Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC and Harrington, Ocko & Monk for their contributions and support of the program.”

The first panel, entitled “The Road to Albany…the Journey from St. John’s University to the New York State Capital,” featured a number of alumni politicians, including state senators and state assemblymen. Panelists spoke primarily about how to turn a St. John’s degree into a successful career in politics.

“Today, a St. John’s education means something so much different than what it meant when I graduated,” said Hon. Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. ’86CBA. “The University continues to improve, providing you with a global education, setting you on the perfect path to a great career. Whether you want to pursue politics or any related field, St. John’s will absolutely provide you with the tools you need.”

Hon. Mark Gjonaj ’90SVC, ’92CBA, meanwhile, shared his personal story with the students, explaining the awe he felt when first arriving in Albany as a newly-elected assemblyman.

“When I walked into the Capitol for the first time, it was a lot like my first day at St. John’s,” he joked. “Trying to find the right classrooms, not sure what floor to get off on in the elevator – a truly humbling experience.”

He added, “But, ultimately, it takes action to get here. When you see something you don’t like in this world, you can either accept it and do nothing, or roll up your sleeves and become part of the solution. St. John’s taught me to do the latter, and I recommend the same to you.”

The second panel of the day focused on the ancillary fields associated with politics, including governmental law, lobbying and consulting. One of the panelists, Patrick A. Lespinasse ’00C, currently serves as Deputy Director of Government and External Affairs for Verizon, and he discussed his personal philosophy – one that he developed at St. John’s – which allowed him to ultimately reach his career goals.

“Your reputation is everything,” he explained. “A St. John’s professor once told me that whatever you do in the professional world, you need to ask yourself: will I be comfortable if this made the front page of tomorrow’s New York Times? And if you live by that code, you’ll develop the right type of reputation in this town, one that will take you places.”

Other panelists, like Patricia Reilly ’74C, ’75G, commented on the unique role of being a female professional in Albany. A Consultant/Lobbyist at Bolton-St. John’s, LLC, Reilly discussed how her time at St. John’s prepared her for the traditionally male-dominated world of politics, in addition to instilling in her a strong sense of confidence.


“I was one of only five women in my class at St. John’s who majored in Government and Politics,” she noted. “A lot has changed since then, but I always say that I am where I am in life only because the good men and women of St. John’s helped me get there. The bottom line is, politics is a profession that allows you to assist people – regardless of gender, race or creed – and 95% of those in the field serve morally and competently.”

Students got a firsthand look at Albany in action during a tour of the Capitol building and the New York Court of Appeals, sitting in on a session of the State Assembly as politicians debated a number of hot-button topics, such as education reform and healthcare. For many students, it was an eye-opening experience.

“It’s the type of opportunity that you can’t replicate,” said Robert Pino ’13GEd, an aspiring teacher. “Being there in person is completely different from simply watching C-SPAN. And we even got to speak directly with some of the politicians, discussing issues that are important, like standardized testing.”

At a networking reception afterward, students handed out their business cards to alumni. They chatted about their time at St. John’s and discussed why networking is so important in today’s professional world.

“I’ve always felt that politics is my calling,” said Sibil Jacob ’13CPS, who hopes to one day work in state politics. “To meet so many alumni – people who we share a real connection with – was tremendous. These are genuine people, and their stories and advice have inspired me to pursue politics now more than ever.”

She added, “Here in Albany, speaking with our alumni: I know now that this is where I’m supposed to be.”