Good morning, everyone. I am so thrilled to be here. What a totally unexpected honor it is to receive this degree. And it is even more sweet to receive it with my husband, John, to whom I’ve been married for almost 48 years.
Interestingly enough, we did not date here at St. Lawrence…that would have been impossible. I was a Kappa and John was a Phi Sig. On Sundays, I sang at his fraternity with a girls group, The Sinners, and John and his roommate, Bob, threw beer cans down the stairs at us.
I’ve been thinking for a while now on what to say today. Wow, at 70..(something), I’ve had many chapters in my life and I’ve worn many hats. But, by far the most important thing I’ve ever done (besides marrying John, In spite of the many beer can incidents) is being a mother. Therefore, I feel qualified to pass on to you today some motherly advice: ALWAYS SAY, “PLEASE” AND “THANK YOU.”
Let me explain: I was born lucky. Our Irish home was filled with love and music. Accompanied by my father playing banjo, our family danced and sang in 4 part harmony. My father worked on an assembly line in downtown Detroit, went to night school and sold used cars on the weekend. Every day of my life, my parents told me that I was “the greatest thing since sliced bread”. I totally bought it!
I was a waitress at the Bear Mountain Inn the summer before senior year, and the cutest boy I ever saw went to St. Lawrence. BINGO! I applied. I got in. I was the first person in my family to go to college.
The most remarkable thing that happened to me at St. Lawrence was studying French with Dr. Oliver Andrews. To me, hearing French spoken was like listening to one long beautiful song. I found that I had a great ear for it and speaking it came easily to me.
Dr. Andrews took two others and me under his wing. He had us apply to a Junior Year Abroad program, run by his friend at Hamilton College. In 1962 there were no programs here for any off campus study. Genia Anderson, Ginni Wolfe and I were the first students ever to do this from St. Lawrence.
By the way, neither my parents, nor I, had ever traveled outside of the United States before, and here I was boarding the S.S. France, on my way to attend The Sorbonne in Paris! Amazing! I went to theater, museums, the opera, all for the first time. I was in heaven! My life changed forever. After Paris, I knew I had to live in a big city.
Right after graduation, my two best friends and I — Jane Breckenridge (who is here today) and Karen Urciuoli (who sadly, is not) took a Greyhound Bus to New York City. We sat down in the Port Authority Terminal and circled jobs in the New York Times Classified. The first thing we were asked when we arrived for interviews was “How fast can you type?”. I typed 90 words a minute. I was a hot commodity. It was the “Mad Men” era and women had jobs, not careers. Didn’t matter to us, we never had a better time!
Soon after, I re-met John. We were introduced by Jane’s boyfriend, Michael Eisner, also here today, whom she met at a party given by fellow St Lawrence alums, Mary and Jeff Bijur, and they are both here today as well. John and Michael were best friends and Jane and I were best friends. Two best friends married two best friends. Talk about good luck!
John was beginning a successful life on Wall Street and I happily stayed at home having babies. I had everything I ever wanted and more.
Once my three kids were all in school, with John’s encouragement, I started to think about going back to work. It was the first time in my life I asked myself, “What did I really want to do?” And then I realized…what was missing in my life was music.
I started working at Media Sound, which was the hottest recording studio in New York. I met everyone: Donna Summers; The Rolling Stones; The Muppets; Cissy Houston; with her young daughter, Whitney, in tow; and Madonna, doing her first song demos to get a record deal. It was beyond exciting.
Working there, I discovered that I had a musical skill that I never knew I had - writing pop songs. I never had so much fun in my life.
One night, at a business dinner with my husband, I met two theater producers looking for someone to write songs for their Broadway musical, “PREPPIES”. When they found out I worked at a famous recording studio, they asked if I knew anyone who could write the songs for their show. And I said, “Yes -I can!”
John and I looked at each other. “Did I just say that?” Later that night, John said, “Do you know anything about writing a Broadway musical?” and I said, “Nope, but, I think I can.”
At that time, I had written a few songs with Gary Portnoy, a brilliant young artist that I had met at the studio, and we started writing music…lots of music. Many, many years of awards and success followed from my crazy outburst at that random dinner party.
We did write that Broadway show and the music came to the attention of the Hollywood producers of a new TV show about a friendly local bar, called “CHEERS”. They asked us to write the theme song and the rest is history. “WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME” was born.
In the fall of 2012, there was a big splashy party in Hollywood for the 30th anniversary of “CHEERS.” Woody Harrelson, who was somewhere shooting “The Hunger Games”, sent in a video of him playing the ukulele and singing “WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME”. Clips of the party were on Entertainment Tonight 5 nights in a row. It was a BIG DEAL.
I knew everyone at the party and introduced my husband, John, to all of them. Since in New York, in the financial world, I am mostly known as “John’s wife”, it was a sweet moment, at the end of the night, when my husband turned to me and said: “This is the first time I’m at a party where “NOBODY Knows MY Name”!.
All of this brings me back to my original point, my motherly advice — always say “Please”, and “Thank You”. At every turn in my story, I said, “Yes, please.” even when things were scary or daunting.
“Do you want to be the first one in our family to college?” “Yes, please.”
“Do you want to be the first student ever to study abroad from St. Lawrence?”
“Uh, yeah! “
“Do you want a typing job that is a mundane gig but could possibly lead to something else?”
“Can you write a Broadway Play?”
“Yes - I can!”
“Can you co-write an iconic theme song that people still sing today?”
Always, do the thing that is a little scary. Trust yourself. Trust what you’ve learned here at St Lawrence. Trust that all of your experiences will line up with your God-given gifts and take you on a journey that you couldn’t possibly plan, even if you tried. Don’t think too much. Just get going!
Which brings me to the equally important, “Thank You.” With every success comes gratitude. Always say “Thank you”. Always give back in gratitude.
John and I, and Jane and Michael Eisner created the St. Lawrence Karen Urciuoli Scholarship Fund in 1981, in honor of our dear friend, Karen, who died tragically. To date, it has been awarded 85 times to 35 young women. We could not be more proud.
In the spring of 2012, John and I set up the St. Lawrence, New York City Intern Program. So far, 91 students have come to The Big Apple to work and study: 59 in Finance and 32 in The Arts. This fall will be the 8th semester.
We know, from the many letters we have received, that setting up the Intern Program, and thus providing a viable work opportunity, has been a transformative experience and has changed many of the students’ lives forever —just like living and studying in Paris changed mine. And that’s John’s and my way of saying “Thank you.”
Always say “Thank You”. Thank your parents today. They’ve given so much for you to be here.
I know how your parents feel about you, because that’s how I feel about my kids, whom I want to thank for being here today. Jack, Kate and Jesse, I adore you and I am thankful for you every minute of every day.
And Jack, I’m especially thinking of you today, because 46 years ago, this very morning, you were born. Happy Birthday!
Most of all, I would like to thank my husband, John, the one true love of my life. He has always been my biggest fan - the launch pad of all my dreams.
Almost 50 years ago, he asked me on a date: “Do you wanna have dinner and go to the movies to see “Mary Poppins”? and I said “Oh, yes - I do”.
And now, after this glorious lifetime together, filled with love and family, and way- way too many good things to count, all I can say, is “Thank You.”