Taking a quick break from family letters… here are notes from the speech I delivered at a Communication Alumni of Distinction Event on October 9, 2019, where I received a Communication Leadership Award.
Thank you to Hanson Hosein for the introduction and faculty at UW Dept. of Communication for this acknowledgement
I deeply appreciate the honor and to show that, I wore a suit! I am a foreign object right now to my friends and family. I can remember why I don’t wear suits. It’s likely I’m slowly being strangled. I am confident the Nordstrom’s shoe department will be the last stand for the suit. And then it will go the way of the buffalo and judicial wig.
The last time I wore this suit was for my grandfather’s funeral 9 years ago. I brought his hat because he was a huge Husky fan and I think would be pretty stoked to be here.
I’ve found that leadership is about surrounding yourself with people who create shared success and I have been blessed with that in spades. I’d like to acknowledge some people who I share this acknowledgement and success.
First, to my parents, Paolo Sr. and Vicki. This moment is the fruit of your labor. I simply have good genes, as the dentist reminded me yesterday when I had yet another cavity-free appointment. But in all seriousness, you created the opportunity and it’s my job to make the most of out it. The opportunity still feels early, and that’s the exciting part.
I moonlight as an educator but my sister Nina is the true educator, working in administration in the, let’s be honest, pretty cushy Bellingham school district. Nina is wicked smart and funny, and challenges me. She also has great teeth. The shame is that K-12 and administrators, in my mind are not as celebrated as people in business, and that needs to change. Because if all was fair, she’d be receiving this kind of award before me for the amazing work she has done.
My brother Sergio could not be here but like all good leaders sent a delegate. Thanks for coming, Riley. Sergio is wildly intelligent, innately argumentative and one of the most fun people in God’s creation that you could hang out with. He’s a little brother but a true peer.
I have to give a shoutout to my boys Scott Chaffee and Mike Benson. It’s Mike’s birthday today. Mike, for your birthday I wore a suit and UW pay for a party. Thanks for not wearing your birthday suit.
Both Scott and Mike get a piece of this recognition because they push me really hard in a ways outside of my job. I’d be less of an outdoorsman and I’d be a less well-rounded person. These guys help me balance, and I sometimes struggle with balance. Scott gets a special nod, my best friend since junior high. I hope you all have a best friend like Scott.
I have had awesome grandparents, aunts and uncles, including Marcello and Stephanie. I have awesome in-laws and they are watching my kids right now. Thank god.
Of course, my wife Amanda, my lifetime CEO, COO and occasionally irresponsible CFO. What can I say? All of my successes are possible because of you. You see, I started the Communication Leadership program a bachelor sharing an apartment. It seemed like I had a lot of time to get a graduate degree. Totally wrong. I underestimated my game. By the time I graduated I was married and a homeowner. In between that I met Amanda, demanded that she marry me. She sat in coffee shops on the Avenue, waiting for me to complete my 3-4 hours of classes on weeknights and we’d drive back to our new home in Tacoma together. She is everything opposite me: selfless, thoughtful, considerate, measured. She is the most self-realized person I know and I cannot get enough her. Let’s make out later.
It also seems appropriate to share this award with some educators through my academic journey.
Hanson Hosein, who I met 11 years ago when he welcomed me as he does students every year into the Communication Leadership program. I appreciate your mentorship and friendship.
John Harris, a Ph.D. graduate of this department, who teaches at the WWU Department of Journalism. He turned on the lightbulb for me to think of journalism as a career, and it has paid off.
Angela Thomas at Stadium HS in Tacoma. She was the English teacher who finished reading sentences that I struggled to complete reading aloud. Not because of some illiteracy but sheer nervousness and lack of confidence among my peers.
To the faculty of this department, I am sure you have students that hold you in this regard. I hope that motivates and energizes your work. Your students will next share this stage.
I cannot think of a more important time to be an educator and a leader.
I am here, in part, because I work at an amazing company called REI Co-op, where I have been a communications and digital marketing professional for the past 7 years.
I have been able to create a couple dozen communications jobs during that time, which I believe is my greatest legacy for the company -- the people’s lives I get to impact and who leave a lasting impact on the co-op and the outdoors doing exceptional work.
We have been able to launch a films program, start an online publication, steward the world’s largest free online outdoor education library, create a podcast network and launch the nation’s largest newsstand magazine, Uncommon Path.
All at an outdoor retail company.
At an outdoor retail company, we are creating journalism.
As I mentioned earlier, I was a journalism student at WWU and 2006 graduate facing a soon-to-be dire economic environment, and we were already in a crappy journalism economy.
But I believe in the power of stories, stubbornly.
I don’t believe my contribution to journalism is to be the storyteller, but to create a circumstance for great storytelling to exist and be economically viable. So we are creating journalism, and with integrity.
We create journalism in the interest of the health of the co-op and the outdoors.
At REI I cannot imagine a better fit where I can be creative, innovative, entrepreneurial and about things I am passionate about: helping people see themselves in a better, healthier quality of life, unlocked by the outdoors, and addressing the existential threat of our generation, climate change.
By my observations, we’ve spent the better part of the last 20-30 years litigating the causes of climate change, and all that did was delay action to create solutions.
We saw in climate strikes last month that the younger generations don’t see the same luxury of time, and I don’t see that luxury for my children.
I am surprised by the controversy here. The idea of thinking bigger about climate change is about as controversial as recycling a can. And if you don’t recycle a can, you’re a lazy asshole.
REI CEO Eric Artz said recently,
“If we do this right, [in our approach to improving our environmental impact], we will have a lasting impact on society. When the next generation asks us what we did when the world needed us the most, we’ll be able to say: we did our damn best." – Eric Artz, CEO
Take it from an Italian-American Catholic, the worst case scenario here is something akin to there being no God. Christians are guided by faith to live by the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. If there’s no heaven, no reward, the outcome is that people were motivated to treat each other with respect. People lived more purposeful lives.
If climate change isn’t caused by humans, then the worst case scenario is that you did something to leave the world better than you found it.
Leave it better than you found it. That sounds like a leadership trait to me and that’s what you’ll find me doing: In my family, my community in Tacoma, my workplace and teams I lead, and representing this academic institution.