May 20th would have been my grandmother’s 88th birthday so my Darden graduation on that date has a dual-significance for me: it is the celebration of my greatest academic accomplishment and of a woman whom I consider to be my greatest teacher. She was born Sarah Louise Gagliardi, though I knew her as Sadie Lupinacci. She was born to blue collar immigrant parents on Barber Street in Hartford, Connecticut. She was a life-long employee of Traveler’s Insurance Company. She had two children: my mother, Sandy, and my uncle, Tom. She was married to my grandfather, Alfonso Lupinacci, for over 40 years until his untimely death in 1982. They were childhood sweethearts and grew up around the corner from one another. She led an ordinary life. Nothing extravagant. Nothing extraordinary.
Yet she was an extraordinary person – the kindest, most loving person I have ever known. She had a remarkable sense of forgiveness and an endless supply of support for those she loved. When anyone asks me what kind of person I aspire to be, I consider that I wish to love and be loved the way my grandmother was, and still is. She came from so little, and I have so much which is why I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of this community and this graduating class.
I came to Darden to attain traditional financial skills because that was a clear hole in my resume. This was the explicit learning. While I was able to reach this goal, there were implicit learnings that I did not expect to find which are just as valuable, if not more. I learned about the idea of lifting as we rise, that there is so much more satisfaction in climbing the ladder with people we admire and care about along aside us rather than climbing over others and being alone.
I spent a lot of time here considering the idea of happiness, of accomplishment. Defining it, setting benchmarks, reflecting on what’s working in my life and what’s not, and then taking on the responsibility to change, even when that change is painful or frightening. And I am continually reminded of the idea that what we wish to have in our own lives we set about attaining by providing that very thing for someone else. So if it is happiness we seek, we can begin to have it by providing happiness for another. The same goes for success, personal and professional, for peace of mind, for friendship, and, as my grandmother showed me, for love.
I learned how devastating it can be to think I’m on a road that I built going one way, and all of a sudden the bottom falls out and I end up on a path I never knew existed and probably would not have chosen by my own volition. Surprisingly, I learned to love the new road, and even became grateful that the Universe presented it to me. Resiliency and the ability to see possibility in all opportunities are great blessings that I found here.
And most importantly, I learned about the power of place. I have a friend who talks about the metaphor of a great vein of life running just beneath the Earth’s surface. Sometimes we come upon physical places that have special significance though we cannot pinpoint the underlying reason for that feeling. She says that at those points, the vein of life emerges for us to grab a hold of and experience an intensity of emotion that we do not find in the course of our everyday lives. The places where the vein emerges makes us feel alive; make us feel connected to one another and at cause with the world around us. Darden has been one of those places for me, and I hope it has been for everyone who has the privilege to call this beautiful place home, even just for a little while. I look forward to returning again and again in the years to come, and I am so excited to see how our lives unfold, intertwine, and connect.