Commencement Speaker Amanda Gioia

Amanda GioiaI am so pleased to be here to share in the joy – and relief – that comes with graduating. It's certainly a day of celebration- one for which you've worked hard.

With graduation also comes the need to think about what's next for you.   If your next step is getting a job, what do you want that to be? If you're already working full-time, are you looking to expand your skill set?

It's never been a more interesting time to be in this field of Communications. I imagine that during your time here, you've seen some substantial changes in the way we communicate in the past several years. And I'm sure that pace will only accelerate.

So, if I can, let me offer you a few thoughts on this ever-changing field that we've chosen – and what you can do to help manage your career path. Three quick thoughts:

  • First, today is the beginning of learning, not the end.
  • Second, put strength and energy into networking and relationships.
  • Third, don't forget to give back.

First, today is the beginning of learning, not the end.

I know the first thing you might be considering today is all the free time that you may have, now that you've graduated.   I am an advocate of taking a breather after working as hard as you have!

At the same time, I want to encourage you to continue to learn and grow each day. Whether you're in your dream job now, or you're in the process of getting there – learning is core to continuing to grow. Each day, it seems, there is a new technology, a new communication channel to leverage. Think about the channels you've seen really take off - Twitter, Pintrest, Facebook – and how long they're really been around. And whether you specialize in PR, Advertising, etc…you have to assume these changes. You've got an excellent foundation from your time here – and it's now up to you to keep your skills sharp, and grow them as your field changes.

And, as you advance in your field, think about how you get more comfortable with the skills that you haven't been as strong with, historically. Maybe you're terrific at writing, but struggle with math. I understand that – I've been there! I think for me, the infamous unknown “X” in a standard math equation was the number of times it was going to take me to pass college algebra.   (Three, by the way).

But, as my responsibilities grow to include budget management and other math-related areas, I realized I couldn't let what used to cause me to roll my eyes and tuck papers into the bottom of my backpack get in my way – and you shouldn't either. So, getting better at these skills is even more important, and I've sought ways to get more comfortable with these skills. And, by the way, I'm not afraid to ask for help when I need it – which is often.  There's also value in leveraging the talents of the smart people around you to help solve for the ‘x' you want to find.

If you're in a company that you like, don't feel like you always have to stay in communications. Lots of companies offer opportunities to take roles in other parts of the business to help you grow your skills. While it may not always be a promotion, a lateral move can strengthen your career and skills just as strongly. Don't shy away from opportunities like these – embrace them. Or take a temporary assignment outside of your day to day role. I had a chance to do this with a philanthropy project, and I came to a new appreciation for the work that the team does in this space. It's hard work – but it's terrific to see the impact of that work on a school or community that needs it.

Second, put strength and energy into networking and relationships.

When you're working challenging hours toward a project goal (whether in school or business), it can be easy to forget how important things like relationships and networking are. Often, they're the first thing you cut out of a busy day.

Don't do that. Make networking and building relationships in the communications and business industry a priority.

There's the obvious reasons for this – if you're trying to find a new job, or if you need some advice on how to handle a project – you need a network to reach out to for help. Incidentally, don't make your first connection with someone an ask about getting a job. Build a rapport with your connections before you ask for a favor…and you'll likely be surprised about how helpful people will be, and how they want to see you succeed!

And, networking is more than the number of connections you might have on a social network. Your network should contain:

-   People you can go to when you're considering a career move,

-   people who will give you open and honest feedback on your skills, and your opportunities for improvement,

-   they'll help you find jobs,

-   they'll introduce you to people who will be good mentors, and

-   they're celebrating with you when something good happens or a voice on the other end of the phone when you are struggling with something.

And you'll need all of these at some point in your career- and so will your peers. And, think about what you're giving back to the people in your network – as there are times when you need help, and times to give help. Be prepared for both.

Third, don't forget to give back.

Based on the experiences each one of us has in our careers, it becomes more and more important to be able to share that, especially with students who are thinking about communications as a career. What can you do to help them?

  • Do you have an internship that you can offer?
  • Will you speak at a class about what you do?
  • How about informational interviews with students who want to know what the real world of communications is like?

You'll be amazed at what you hear – and what you learn in the process.

At the same time, look for ways to get involved in giving back to the community. Maybe your company has a philanthropy approach that you can support if your time outside of work is tight.   I love the example of the JA program we offer at my company – getting to teach key curriculum to elementary students. Talk about thinking about your audience – you have to structure your comments a bit differently when you're talking to a classroom of second graders vs. an auditorium full of technologists! But opportunities like these develop me in a different way than my “regular” job – and may help discover causes that I want to support outside of work.


So, this is certainly a day of celebration. Take the time to celebrate, take some time to relax, but also, spend some time thinking about where you'd like to take your career, and the steps that it's going to take to get there.  

And, ask yourself, what is the next thing that you're going to do so that you continue to learn, and grow your network, and of course, what you can do to give back?




Amanda Gioia is a 1997 alumna of the School of Communications where she completed a master's of arts degree in media communications. She is a senior business leader at MasterCard. Gioia is a member of the St. Louis Business Journal Class of 2012's "Most Influential Businesswomen." She is active in the community and has received numerous awards for her work.