Alumni Offer Advice to the Class of 2019

GW alumni offer words of wisdom to those poised to follow in their footsteps.

May 16, 2019

As undergraduate and graduate students in the Class of 2019 exhale after the George Washington University Commencement Sunday on the national mall, GW Today asked alumni to offer advice about achieving success in careers and in life. Alumni who have made impacts in government, science, media, entertainment and other industries responded.

Here, in their own words, are the final group of dispatches from GW alumni:

imageWhat I wish I knew when I graduated was the importance of just being nice. So many of us are caught up in having the best resume, strongest portfolio and background, and don’t get me wrong that’s all essential to your journey, but being genuine and nice will get you so much further. My two pieces of advice to graduates are to be nice and to be direct. Know what you want and make it clear to people. Both of those will get you what your heart desires.

Nana Agyemang, B.A. ‘16
Founder and CEO, EveryStylishGirl
Multimedia journalist

bj pennGraduating from GW gave me many great opportunities I otherwise would not have experienced. You have now opened the door, so go and change the world.

The Honorable B.J. Penn, M.S. ‘80
Former Assistant Secretary of the Navy

imageCongratulations Class of 2019!

Never be afraid to ask questions. The best time to learn and understand is now, and you will find that your employers are eager to help you grow personally and professionally. Find mentors who will challenge and guide you. You are not alone in this world and making connections with those around you is invaluable.

Don’t lose sight of your passions. All of the time you spent working in student organizations or volunteering while in college? Keep that up! Serving others is highly rewarding, especially serving those who helped you get to where you are now.

Best of luck as you embark on your next journey! #RaiseHigh

Kalpana Vissa, B.S. ‘18
GW Presidential Fellow and Master of Public Health Candidate

imageFocus your pursuit of excellence on identifying and executing your vision rather than worrying about if it is “the right way.” Little secret...often there is no right way.

Doug Zarkin, B.B.A. ’92
VP and Chief Marketing Officer Pearle Vision, Luxottica

imageLife is an adventure.  if you're not happy, don't get into the mindset that you're stuck in a bad situation. You CAN change everything and you will live through it. "Sometimes we live our lives in chains never knowing we have the key."  -The Eagles

Charles Frank, B.A. ’74
President, Z. Frank, Inc.

imageSuccess is most rewarding when it is grounded in personal integrity. Whatever you seek to achieve, think first about how you will do it and how proud you will be of yourself when you succeed.  Don't ever let your success be tainted by a compromise of your integrity.

Richard Blackburn, J.D. ’67
Retired General Counsel, EVP and Chief Administrative Officer
Duke Energy Corporation

imageGW was my laboratory for exploration and discovery. I took classes in several schools, joined various organizations and teams and started new clubs and activities. I learned how to fail and how to succeed. I developed as a person and as a leader and I continue to use, each and every day, the incredible lessons I learned at GW.

Paul Mamalian, B.A. ’91, J.D. ‘94
Executive Vice President and General Counsel, HMSHost

imageYou should be as excited to go to work as you are to leave the office—and as committed to leaving the office as you are going to work. Look forward to Monday mornings and look forward to getting home to family and loved ones. That’s the most important job you’ll ever have.

Mark D. Lerner, B.B.A. ‘75
Principal, Lerner Enterprises
Managing Principal Owner and Vice Chairman, Washington Nationals Baseball Club

imageWork hard, bring out the best in others and always be curious, kind and grateful.

Liz McCartney, M.A. '06
Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, SBP
2008 CNN Hero of the Year

imagePassion is important for success. I was a pre-med student because I wanted to be a doctor since I was six. I didn’t like the sight of blood and that should have been a clue. Fortunately, I was accepted into Macy’s Executive Training Program after graduation. I found my true passion. I rose up the ranks and became a buyer. Then, I became aware of my entrepreneurial streak and founded my own eyewear company. Follow your passion - you will find your success!

Corinne McCormack, B.A. ‘76
Consultant and Author
Founder, Corinne McCormack, Inc. and Corinne McCormack Consulting

imageMost people go with the flow, doing what’s asked of them but not much more. The key to elevating yourself is to go above and beyond expectations, no matter the task; whether you’ve been asked a question or given a new assignment, never miss an opportunity to go above and beyond what is presented to you.

Mark R. Shenkman, M.B.A. ‘67
Founder, President and Co-Chief Investment Officer
Shenkman Capital

imageSearch carefully for your special skills and define the kind of impact you want to make in life so that the world of work is your mission, your fulfillment, and your joy.


Henry Cisneros, Ph.D. ‘76, Hon. LL.D. ‘84
Chairman of the Executive Committee and Principal of Siebert, Cisneros, Shank & Co. LLC
Former Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

imageIn life, your best asset is your reputation. Protect it as a valuable asset.

Joseph Corbett, B.B.A. ‘82
Chief Financial Officer, U.S. Postal Service



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