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The Class of 2019

Project Planner, Tighe & Bond; Age 27
Education: UMass Amherst (BS, MRP)

Sarah Adams

Sarah Adams

What did you want to be when you grew up? Definitely not a planner! I’ve always loved animals, so I wanted to be a veterinarian. I didn’t know what planning was until I got to college, but I immediately connected with the idea that the built environment should balance impacts to economy, environment, and social justice. I get to do work every day that helps animals (and humans) on a more macro scale by protecting important habitats and reducing GHG emissions.

How do you define success? One of my favorite quotes is “what matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” The most successful people I know can meet adversity head-on with no forfeiture of passion or energy.

What person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why? David Bowie. I grew up listening to Bowie with my dad, and I’ve always been fascinated by how incomparably influential he was in music, fashion, and art in general. Bowie is a testament to the virtues of strangeness, and I’d like to tell him how grateful I am for the mark he left on the world. Although, instead of lunch, I’d rather take advantage of his discerning yet adventurous eye for style and go shopping!

What fictional character do you relate to most, and why? Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Matilda is an embodiment of the authority that girls have to control their education, and a reminder that knowledge truly is a superpower. Books and characters like Matilda taught me, when I was a little girl, that I should crave knowledge. Now, as an adult, I try to teach that message to my Girls on the Run team and remind students at NEWIEE (New England Women in Energy and the Environment) on Campus events that their education doesn’t stop when they graduate.

What goal do you set for yourself at the start of each day? I try to find time every day to run, stretch, or get outside with my dogs. My workouts are often the only time I fully give my attention to myself and how I’m feeling, and I find that I feel more focused in the afternoon on the days I get out for a few miles at lunch. I also feel my strongest when I’m running, so I try to carry that confidence into my next meeting or whatever else I have going on that day.

 

 

Photography by Leah Martin Photography

The Class of 2019

Senior Vice President, PeoplesBank; Age 38
Education: Westfield State University (BS), Western New England University (MBA)

Aleda Amistadi

Aleda Amistadi

How do you define success? Being proud of my achievements, both personally and professionally, and being able to learn something about myself when there are shortcomings. In my professional life, success can create lasting change for our customers, our associates, and our communities, which motivates me every day.

What are you passionate about? First, I am passionate about being a mom to my 5-year-old daughter, who is incredibly smart and makes me laugh every day, even if she doesn’t intend to. She keeps me grounded and brings me back to reality when I need it the most. I am also passionate about my work, and I feel incredibly blessed to love what I do every day. I am so fortunate to have a career in which I can constantly grow and challenge myself on many levels.

Who has been your best mentor, and why? I am very lucky to have a solid support network of family, close friends, and constructive co-workers. They help guide me when I need it, correct my path when I’m going in a direction that isn’t true to who I am, and offer amazing and honest guidance when I ask — or even sometimes when I don’t ask. I know it all comes from a place of love and respect, and together, they make a strong (and often comical) advisory group.

What goal do you set for yourself at the start of each day? I wake up every morning and set out to do my best. If I look back on the day and can think of one or more accomplishments — personally or professionally — that I put my heart into, then I know I have had a good day.

What person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why? As a huge Duke basketball fan, I would love to have lunch with Mike Krzyzewski. I would love to ask Coach K why he feels he has been successful in his field and how he has been able to command respect from his players, fans, and peers, all from a variety of backgrounds and talents. His ability to lead and be a role model in such a diverse environment is inspiring.

What actress would play you in a movie about your life? Gal Gadot, because my daughter adores Wonder Woman, and I would get cool parent points if Wonder Woman pretended to be mommy.

 

Photography by Leah Martin Photography

The Class of 2019

Founder and Director, Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop; Age 33
Education: Bard College (BA), the New School (MFA)

Joy Baglio

Joy Baglio

What did you want to be when you grew up? I’ve always wanted to be a writer. My sister and I grew up surrounded by the most magical collection of children’s books, all curated and read to us on a daily basis by my mother. Before I could write, I’d dictate stories to her, and later on I’d make my own ‘books’ with illustrations. One was called “Horse of the Mountains,” about a horse who goes rogue and forms a community of woodland animals.

How do you define success? My definition is a bit of a contradiction. I’m working on finishing a novel and short-story collection and have big plans for both, yet I also try to steer myself away from the world’s definition of success — however loud. I think real success — regardless of what concrete and external goals we may and should have — is about living in a way that’s truest to ourselves: discovering what that is, and learning to hear and trust that inner guidance.

What are you passionate about? Writing. Stories. Studying and teaching craft. Sentences that feel alive. Voice-driven fiction. Speculative fiction. Creating literary community. Animals. Birds. Veganism. Adventure.

Whom do you look up to, and why? As both a writer and literary entrepreneur, I’m inspired by authors who simultaneously write while also creating literary community. My former mentor, Rebecca Makkai, is inspirational as an award-winning author, writing instructor, and director of Chicago’s StoryStudio. Julia Fierro of Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop — a wonderful writer, instructor, and savvy business leader — is also someone I admire.

What person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why? One of my favorite (deceased) writers, Angela Carter, who wrote deliciously ornate fabulist stories and fairytale retellings about beasts and vampire countesses in prose that feels electric.

Who has been your best mentor, and why? Throughout my journey as a writer, I’ve studied with some amazing authors: Aimee Bender, Rebecca Makkai, Mary Gaitskill, Brad Morrow, Julia Fierro, Caitlin Horrocks, Laura Van Den Berg, and Mary Caponegro, just to name a few. Most writers’ paths are filled with all kinds of discouragements, rejections, and loneliness, and having mentors who helped me focus on the work itself — how I could best develop both concrete craft skills and a trust in my own creativity and vision — has been life-changing. I feel immensely grateful for their generosity and brilliance.

 

 

Photography by Leah Martin Photography

The Class of 2019

Director of Bands, Springfield High School of Science and Technology; Age 36
Education: UMass Amherst (BM, MM)

Gary Bernice

Gary Bernice

How do you define success? “Seek to serve, not to be served” is our SciTech Band commandment. My students and I post this motto on the entrance of our classroom door, write it on our chalkboard, print it on our band handbooks, embroider it on our band jackets, and flash it on our band website. Most importantly, we try to live out this commandment as a band family. We define true success as an action, not a status — the commitment to consistently and willingly put the needs of other people before ourselves in all that we do.

With 500 students, we are the largest band in the state of Massachusetts. Despite the challenges of an urban school district like ours, and the fact that 99% of our students have never played an instrument before, they are still able to inspire audiences throughout the region. Our students are three times more likely to stay in school and were the recipients of the Massachusetts Commonwealth Award, the state’s highest honor given for achievement in the arts. Our band even received a personal letter from President Obama praising them for dreaming big dreams and improving our community.

Most people would describe these accomplishments as our success story. However, our real success story is about who we are and who we strive to be — a band family that serves each other and our school, shares the joy of music with our city, cares for the people around us, takes a stand for justice, and empowers students to become leaders and make a lasting difference in our community.

What goal do you set for yourself at the start of each day? Never give up and always believe in my students.

What person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why? Jesus. I would love to hear his guidance in person. As of 2019, deaths from alcohol, drugs, and suicide — so-called ‘deaths of despair’ — are destroying people and contributing to our nation’s declining life expectancy. As a teacher, I see these symptoms of despair and hopelessness every day in my classroom. It breaks my heart to see people (especially my students) believe they are not loved or valued. I know that Jesus, in his compassion, would share some insightful words to give me strength and encouragement as I try to build up the people around me.

Photography by Leah Martin Photography

The Class of 2019

Construction Manager and Healthy Homes Assessor, Revitalize CDC; Owner, K&M Enterprises; Age 29
Education: Springfield College (BS)

Myles Callender

Myles Callender

What did you want to be when you grew up? I know it’s one of the classic cliché answers, but I wanted to be a firefighter when I grew up. But not just any firefighter — the one who steered the back of the rig. I know it’s an outdated position nowadays with modern fire trucks, but I remember being a kid and seeing that guy back there in his own little booth steering the truck, and I really looked forward to having that job one day. It also probably helped that the elementary school I attended had firemen visit every year and give us a tour of their fire engines and equipment.

How do you define success? The concept of success is relative, so for me, it’s being content. It’s knowing that my hard work has led to the happiness of myself and my family. I also feel that success is being able to contribute to society in a way that helps others who may be less fortunate attain their goals and reach what they consider to be success.

Whom do you look up to, and why? For me, it’s my family. My parents did an awesome job of instilling core values and being a crucial example of what hard work can lead to. Also, all of my brothers are successful in their respective fields, so it is quite easy to look up to them and be inspired by what they do.

What actor would play you in a movie about your life? Is there any other answer besides Denzel Washington?

What goal do you set for yourself at the start of each day? I actually don’t set goals at the start of my day. The goals I set for myself tend to come the night before. I often go through my day completing each goal I set for myself the previous night. I understand there are some goals that may rely upon external forces to be completed; however, I always seek to ensure that whatever goals are solely dependent upon myself are fully achieved before the end of the day. Then, usually on my drive home or just before I go to sleep, I’ll think of everything I want to accomplish the next day, then wake up and do it all over again.

 

 

Photography by Leah Martin Photography

The Class of 2019

Assistant Provost for Academic Programs, Online Education, UMass Amherst; Age 39
Education: UMass Amherst (BA, MBA)

Nicole Carlson

Nicole Carlson

What did you want to be when you grew up? A flight attendant. I remember pronouncing stewardess as ‘hewardess’ when I was young. I think it was because I wanted to travel. Ironically, I haven’t traveled much, but hope to in my retirement, only now I’d rather take an RV across the country and make stops along the way and camp outside.

What three words best describe you? Trustworthy, respectful, adaptable.

What are you passionate about? Learning. Every day is an opportunity for learning. Every interaction, experience, and conversation we have is an opportunity for learning.

What goal do you set for yourself at the start of each day? Reflection. I remember to reflect on who I am and what I’ve done. We are not perfect, and I am not perfect, as a mother, wife, employee, daughter, friend, or sister. Reflection allows us to recognize our deficiencies, but reflection also helps us realize and be proud of what we have overcome and accomplished.

What fictional character do you relate to most, and why? Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Not only because it is my favorite movie, but because Dorothy, while initially seen as meek, is actually strong, direct, and ready to take on a challenge with everything she’s got. She is also generous and loyal to her friends and family.

What person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why? It is hard to pick just one. I would want to have lunch with each of my grandparents and my husband’s grandparents. I want to hear about their lives as young children, the struggles our families had to overcome, the successes they achieved — all the things that make up our family history and our families today. I would then tell these stories to my son.

What will work colleagues say at your funeral? “She had a calm confidence, worked hard, but didn’t take work too seriously. She was a problem solver, a good listener, dependable, realistic about what to expect, and had an ‘it’s all going to be fine’ mentality.”

How do you define success? By trying. It doesn’t matter whether the outcome is positive or not, the fact that you tried is a success. We learn more from our failures than our successes.

 

Photography by Leah Martin Photography

The Class of 2019

Senior Vice President for Human Resources and Chief of Staff, American International College; Age 39
Education: Mount Holyoke College (BA), University of West Florida (MA)

Nicolle Cestero

Nicolle Cestero

What did you want to be when you grew up? A teacher. While in college, I worked two jobs, as a nanny and in the offices of a nonprofit organization. Both of these experiences made me realize my skill set was more focused on organization and coordination. Of course, as my career developed, I was able to add to this base skill set in other ways.

What three words best describe you? High emotional intelligence.

What goal do you set for yourself at the start of each day? Stay positive, focus on what’s really important, and work hard. It’s easy to let the day-to-day minutiae bring you down or have the focus shift to the non-essentials. At the end of the day, your outlook on life and your focus can really make a difference. When I’m contemplating an issue or problem, I try to find a silver lining around it while looking for a solution. That helps me and those around me move forward in a more positive manner. Derek Jeter said, “there may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.” If I start each day staying positive, focusing on what’s important, and working hard, then I feel a sense of accomplishment at day’s end despite the challenges that may have occurred throughout the day.

What fictional character do you relate to most, and why? Wonder Woman, for her intelligence, inner strength, confidence, lack of ego, sense of right and wrong, strong work ethic, and kindness.

What will work colleagues say at your funeral? This question intrigued me, so I asked a few colleagues. Highlights included: “She laughed easily. She had an instinctive sense for right, wrong, and how to treat people. She could talk with anyone. She had a self-assurance far beyond her years. She had all the soft and hard skills — she read people well, developed and grew them, worked well with others, could think big, and could also manage details. She was organized, managed time well, and held people and herself accountable. She was someone you wanted on your team because she would ensure the work got done, but also that everyone had fun doing it. She is a spirit animal. She likes to eat. She is raising her children to be strong and courageous and to treat people properly.”

 

Photography by Leah Martin Photography

The Class of 2019

Senior Engineer, Tighe & Bond Inc.; Age 39
Education: UMass Amherst (BS)

Jean Christy

Jean Christy

What did you want to be when you grew up? An architect — so, not too far off. I have always been a very technical person with a tendency toward drawing and design, and math and science always came easy to me. I started my college career in architecture, but quickly changed to civil engineering. It’s been a rewarding field for me; I have the opportunity to explore my creativity in design work while having the tried and true engineering principles and practices as my foundation.

What are you passionate about? Type 1 diabetes awareness and our nonprofit, Three’s Company T1D Support. Having three children with type 1 diabetes is a daily challenge. The kids feel ostracized, as they have different needs than their peers, and we often hear them say they hate diabetes (we all do!). Our goal is to allow kids with type 1 diabetes feel equal and not labeled ‘the diabetic kid.’ While we are still in our infancy, our mission is to assist with sending kids to diabetes camp and raising awareness in local sports programs so diabetes is less of an identifier. The type 1 diabetes population is ever-growing, and, while it is a serious disease with potential deadly repercussions, it is manageable with education.

What fictional character do you relate to most, and why? This may sound silly, but it’s Hermione Granger. We’re big Harry Potter fans in our house, and even though she’s young when we meet her, we can imagine that she becomes a strong-willed and motivated woman who is confident in her abilities but understands there are times when you need help from your friends. She’s an advocate for those without a voice or social status to elevate a cause. She’s a perfectionist and a pleaser, but fearless in the face of adversity when forced to make a choice between right and wrong.

Whom do you look up to, and why? It’s a pretty standard answer, but my parents. It’s because of them I have my work ethic and integrity. I saw my parents balance careers, higher education, community involvement, and active children. I learn by example, and both my parents, and their parents before them, set excellent examples for me, which I am trying to pass on to my children.

 

Photography by Leah Martin Photography

The Class of 2019

Existing Business Sales Manager, Health New England; Age 37
Education: Florida Southern College (BS)

Liane Comeau

Liane Comeau

What did you want to be when you grew up? A detective, to follow in my father’s footsteps.

How do you define success? To persevere, no matter how difficult the hurdle, and leave a dent in the universe.

What three words best describe you? Determined, loyal, infectious.

What goal do you set for yourself at the start of each day? To smile, listen, treat people with respect, and be as positive and present as often as possible.

What are you passionate about? Finding the good, uplifting others, and trying my best to make a difference. My goal in life is to open a grief relief and wellness center to help families and friends who are grieving, with a focus on those who have lost a loved one to drug addiction or overdose.

What person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why? My brother, because I’d do anything to hear his laugh one more time.

What will work colleagues say at your funeral? That I brought laughter to the workplace, brought realness to each situation, and tried to lead by example, keeping focus on what was in my control and practicing perspective.

What actress would play you in a movie about your life? Jennifer Lawrence.

Who has been your best mentor, and why? My immediate family members all serve as mentors to me. Collectively, we have been through more than any family should have to bear, but we stand by each other, lift each other up, and somehow find a way to continue to work hard, play hard, laugh with each other, and support one another at a level most may not even understand. They are my foundation; they ground me and allow me to be the best version of me I can be.

 

 

Photography by Leah Martin Photography

The Class of 2019

General Manager, MGM Springfield; Age 38
Education: Howard University (BBA)

Alex Dixon

Alex Dixon

What did you want to be when you grew up? Governor of Nevada, an Alvin Ailey dancer, or running back for the Washington Redskins.

How do you define success? Success is defined by how hard you laugh, cry, and dance in celebration of the challenges you choose to tackle.

What three words best describe you? Passionate, thoughtful, humble.

What are you passionate about? Helping people achieve their dreams.

What person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why? Frederick Douglass literally changed the world and was a driving force for the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

What fictional character do you relate to most, and why? Definitely some sort of mashup of Eddie Murphy in Boomerang, Pierce Brosnan in The Thomas Crown Affair, and Al Bundy in Married … with Children. Life is lived somewhere in between your aspirations and reality.

What actor would play you in a movie about your life? Chadwick Boseman of Black Panther fame and I were contemporaries at Howard University. Wakanda forever! Halle Berry would play my wife, Yindra.

Who has been your best mentor, and why? My father, Frank Dixon, has been and continues to be my best mentor in life. From an early age, Dad sparked an intellectual curiosity within me that has raged ever since. My parents have provided a sense of stability that has propelled me to take risks throughout my personal and professional life.

Whom do you look up to, and why? Vernon Jordan is an iconic business, government-affairs, and civil-rights professional. He plays behind the scenes and has opened doors for an untold number of young professionals to this day.

What goal do you set for yourself at the start of each day? Carpe diem until I hit snooze again.

What will work colleagues say at your funeral? “Here lies a good and decent man.”

 

Photography by Leah Martin Photography