Monday, February 25, 2013

The Speech

Since September, I've been a participant of Leadership Adirondack, a program sponsored by the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce in upstate New York.

For years, I've admired the LADK program from afar; the classes are comprised of bright, philanthropic professionals eager to make a positive mark on the world. Though my heart has yearned to join this crew for awhile, year after year my hearing impaired self questioned if I was good enough to even apply.

While life with a cochlear implant is by no means perfect, I know my confidence has grown from the journey-- partially because I AM hearing better, but more so because I've shared my true self with so many. And you know what? I'm okay.

2012 was my year to join the program, and I am ecstatic to have learned what I've learned and to have met some of the greatest people I've ever encountered.

To top this all off, my LADK classmates selected me to speak at our graduation dinner, held February 21st in Lake George.

What a program, what a night, and what an honor. The speech was a game-changer for me, increasing my hopes to reach a higher level of self-acceptance than ever before.

I've received several requests for a transcript of my speech, so here it is.

Thanks to all who cheered me on and those continuing to route for me. I promise-- I'm routing for you too. 

Leadership Adirondack Graduation Speech, February 21, 2013

Thank you Chamber Board of Directors and Chamber staff.  Thank you to all of our supervisors, colleagues, and sponsors, to Leadership Adirondack alumni and presenters.  To our family members and friends, and of course, my inspiring and talented Leadership Adirondack classmates.  Thank you for trusting me to represent our class.  This is a very happy evening.

Before I begin, my classmates and I want to be sure to acknowledge a person who truly stood out throughout this experience.  That person is Carrie Sullivan.  As a graduate of last year’s class, Carrie took over facilitation of this year’s program, and though it was her first time in this position, you would have thought Carrie had been running this show for years.  She has offered excellent communication and support to all of us, and proved to a focused, dependable, and thoughtful coordinator.  Carrie, thank you for going above and beyond. YOU have definitely shown us what it is to be a LEADER.

Some of the LADK class with The Chamber's Carrie Sullivan, center
In preparing this speech, I asked my classmates for their insights as to what Leadership Adirondack has meant for them.  We had all hoped by entering this program we would build connections with area businesses.   That certainly happened. However,even with our high hopes for the program, we agree our expectations have been surpassed.  We learned so much about the role many of our local companies play in global business, and without a doubt the role they play in the well being of our community. We were sometimes surprised but extremely grateful for the open and candid discussions we had with business leaders.  We learned of the obstacles they face and gained inspiration from their secrets to success. 

Better yet, my classmates and I have grown pretty connected to one another, and I believe we always will be.

LADK Class 2012-2013

This year’s Leadership class was an excellent mix— Still, as we met for our various leadership sessions, one of the ongoing observations from presenters was:

“Wow, there are a lot of bankers here.”

It’s true.  Our community banks are well-represented here.  Still the 2013 Leadership Adirondack class includes professionals from global industries, individuals in hospitality, in healthcare, in sales, and a handful, like me, working for nonprofit agencies.

I admit though, when I first received the list of my classmates, the names of those bankers stuck out to me,perhaps because I see the bankers in our community as some of the most influential leaders. I knew I did not fit the mold of a banker, and in learning of my acceptance to this prestigious program, I questioned MY ROLE under this umbrella of leadership. 

In addition, I was also entering Leadership Adirondack following a major personal and professional challenge. I have been hearing impaired since I was nine years old, and in recent years, myhearing loss progressed to a point where interactions with others proved to be difficult and exhausting. Just last year, in April 2012, I received a cochlear implant. Over ten months, and throughout my entire time in this program, my brain has been re-learning to hear and to make sense of the world around me.

My circumstances certainly brought forth a set of challenges, but I’ve found there is a universal component to my story. None of us in this room can say our journeys have been seamless and smooth, and it is human nature to occasionally question whether we have the strength and the willpower to move forward, and to truly lead and inspire those around us.

Time and again, I have said to myself, “I want to lead. I want to make a difference, but do I really have what it takes?”

During the communications and media portion of Leadership Adirondack, Mark Frost, Editor of The Chronicle, said something so true of the Greater Glens Falls region. 

“In our community,” Mark said, “Anyone- ANYONE- can be a leader.”

If my class didn’t realize this before,having gone through Leadership Adirondack, we NOW KNOW this to be true. We witnessed it. 

We saw leadership in agriculture throughout Washington County, in the arts and culture champions of Glens Falls.  We saw leaders in our elected officials, in our law enforcement officers, in our healthcare professionals and in our educators who strive every day to make our region a safe place to work,live, and play.

We met heroes behind nonprofit organizations such as The Red Cross and the Glens Falls Youth Center and our eyes opened to some of the quiet, yet heartbreaking needs in our community. We were reminded of our absolute responsibility to ensure that we do whatever we can to help, however we can, whenever we can.

Anyone.   Anyone can be a leader.

Throughout Leadership Adirondack, we had OUR chance to lead.  My classmates and I selected a community project-- one in which we could make a positive impact in our region.  We discovered early our shared interest in preparing future generations for the world of work. And so we decided to partner with Junior Achievement of Northeastern New York, an organization that places volunteer business professionals in classrooms throughout the region.

Junior Achievement, or JA, enabled each of us as business leaders to give back. We talked with area students about what it's really like in our careers,how to be best prepared for employment, and financial literacy skills criticalto a successful future.

Collectively, we worked with twelve schools throughout Saratoga, Warren, and Washington Counties, enabling 449 students in our region to successfully complete Junior Achievement.

Once again, our expectations were surpassed.  We had hoped the kids would become more entrepreneurial intheir thinking, and have hands on opportunities in budgeting and investing.What we didn’t realize is the unforgettable impact JA would have on US.

I want to share with you a few stories from our Junior Achievement experiences.                                                                                             
Karen Rappleyea of the Glens Falls Hospital Foundation worked with a first grade class.   Said Karen of her experience, “When we did our wrap-up lesson the last step was to display needs versus wants pictures. I asked the students if they should buy items with their 'paycheck' or save their money. After they all shouted, "SAVE IT!" There's hope!!!

Eric Rentz, Operations Manager of Six Flags, offered this story when he was talking with his class abouttechnological advances.  Eric said, “We were discussing current game systems like the Wii and Xbox. I asked the class if they knew what one of the first gaming systems was. One said Nintendo 64 followed by another student saying, “Oh my gosh, that’s SOOO old…” I wanted to pass out. When did I become a dinosaur?!

Nasar Khan, Associate Administrator of Fort Hudson Healthcare System, was surprised by the intelligence among hisgroup of second graders.  This group of 8 year olds were particularly concerned about the fiscal cliff.   

Josh Engel of Glens Falls National Bank, taught a class of seventh graders.  He spoke with his class about proper interview and work attire,and explained some companies have uniforms and some require professional attire.  Josh was asked why he was wearing a suit.  He explained he wore a suit as this was what was expected at the bank. At the start of his next lesson one of the students was wearing a shirt and tie and wanted to know if he was professionally dressed too. Josh told him he did a very good job. 

Many of us received personalized thank you cards and letters, hand-drawn pictures, and great big hugs that will always remind us of our students’ enthusiasm to learn.  Volunteering for JA was a blast.

My Junior Achievement Class of Kindergarten Students

But we didn’t stop there.  We also wanted to promote this great program, and encourage others to get involved.  So we held fundraiser at the January Chamber mixer.  We raised $1500 that evening, bringing us to grand total of $3500 for the program.  We hope that these funds encourage our region’s talent to share their individual gifts with Junior Achievement.

Because really, this is what leadership is all about—offering our knowledge and experiences to serve others.

I’ve only touched upon an inkling of what we covered in Leadership Adirondack, but through all of our experiences,there is a standout lesson I take with me, not just as a leader in my career,but as a parent, as a friend, and as a community member.  

That lesson is: To move forward, you have to giveback.  

What I’ve learned is if you choose to offer your skills and your talents in service, your job, whatever it might be, turns into a gift.  You see, THIS is why those bankers are so important.  During our session on board of director responsibilities, Rick Fuller, CPA, spoke with my class about serving as a board treasurer.   One thing I know for sure is I am not likely a candidate to serve as a treasurer on aboard!   My great friends, the bankers though… they’d be perfect!  

Anyway, I’ve learned that whatever skills you have, to truly make a mark on the world, you have to share your abundance with others.  

To move forward, you have to give back.

This is really why ANYONE can be a leader, because each and every person has something to share, something to stand for, some way of contributing to the greater good of society.

It’s funny… if you had told me a year ago, I would be speaking to all of you tonight, I would have thought you were crazy.   This time last year, I was struggling horribly to hearand because of my disability, I questioned what I should be doing professionally.  I ended up leaving a job, and I remember driving to the Chamber office and asking the advice of my dear friend, John Marcantonio. At the time- this is just a year ago- very few people knew how badly I struggled with my hearing, but John was one of them.  John shared his gifts with me- everyone knows what a great networker John is- and he recommended some local professionals who he felt I should meet, in an effort to gain some ideas and hopefully inspiration for my future.  

At Graduation: Me and my dear friend, John Marcantonio
With this advice, I embarked on my own intimate version of Leadership Adirondack, setting up coffee dates with some of my professional heroes.

Now here I was, my life full of uncertainty.  During this time, however, I was fortunate to remain opento self-improvement.  I stayed open to wanting to evolve.  And I often asked myself, even in the midst of my troubles, WHAT IS THIS HERE TO TEACH ME?

During one of my meetings, someone suggested I write about my hearing.    I knew I wanted to write, but I wanted to write about anything besides THAT.  I feared that if I shared my experiences and who I truly am, I would be exposing an appearance of weakness I’d been avoiding my whole life. 

But I DID decide to share, and I told my story to the world through my blog.  I was not prepared for the events that followed.  Instead of rejection, I was embraced in acceptance.  I realize now that because I shared my truth, I’ve been able to grow more into myself, and slowly and surely I am reaching a new level of compassion and growth.

I think my classmates would agree that Leadership Adirondack is similar in this way.  We have opened ourselves to the wisdom and experience of so many professional mentors. We might recognize our vulnerabilities, but we are also more aware of our strengths.  We also graduate with a much deeper connection and sense of responsibility for our beautiful corner of the world.  We believe in our regional leaders, and we look forward to following in your footsteps.

On behalf of the Class of 2013, THANK YOU for believing in US. 


  1. AWESOME-thank you for sharing-it will help anyone who reads it!

  2. Wow Pam! You are such an inspirational person and a transformational leader- you have and will create more leaders out of all of us! Thank you for allowing us all to read your speech.

    1. Thank you for reading it, Kelli. Lucky for me, I'm surrounded by tons of inspirational people, and I'm constantly watching and learning. There have been plenty of times I have channeled my "inner Kelli." I learn from the best!