BRCC Speaker: Adversity Breeds Growth, Strength

9/11 Survivor Tells Community College Grads To Prepare For The Unexpected

Posted: May 13, 2013

A graduate of Blue Ridge Community College’s veterinary technician track takes pride in her accomplishment, as evidence by the message on her mortarboard. The college held its spring commencement on Saturday at JMU. (Photos by Rob Longley)
Blue Ridge Community College graduates high-five one another as they make their way onto the floor of the JMU Convocation Center before Saturday’s commencement ceremony.
HARRISONBURG — Rosalie Nicosia had worked on Wall Street for years before she decided to attend Blue Ridge Community College.

Inspired by her sister, who earned a bachelor’s degree from James Madison University, Nicosia moved from New York City to the Valley in the early 1990s to attend BRCC.

“I worked on Wall Street, and I thought Blue Ridge would be easy,” Nicosia told about 200 BRCC students participating in spring commencement ceremonies Saturday at JMU’s Convocation Center. “I was wrong.”

Though the curriculum was challenging, Nicosia persevered, and she said the lessons she learned at the college have stayed with her ever since.

“Twenty years ago I was in your seat graduating with an associate’s degree, on fire for my next goal,” she said.

Her next goal was a bachelor’s, which she earned from JMU in computer information systems.

Nicosia then went on to earn a master’s in international business from Hofstra University.

She’s now chief operating officer and compliance officer for Whitaker Securities, a New York City brokerage firm.

“As you go forward, I want you to take three things with you,” Nicosia told the students. “Three things you worked for and earned: honor, confidence and courage.”

Nicosia told the students they must be prepared to deal with adversity and unexpected events that come up in life.

For her, adversity found her in a big way  on Sept. 11, 2001. An employee at Morgan Stanley, Nicosia was in her office on the 60th floor at 2 World Trade Center when the second plane to hit the Twin Towers that day slammed into her building 20 floors above.

“That day threw our lives into chaos,” she said. “We escaped the building alive, but many of our friends didn’t. We still had jobs, but no building.”

But she didn’t let the traumatic experience keep her down.

“Sometimes, you have to leave that which is familiar to grow,” she said, explaining how she went on to become partner at a firm of more than 50 members.

Making A Difference

BRCC President John Downey told the students to remember those who helped them succeed in school, including family members and faculty.

“This ceremony offers us the opportunity to celebrate our students who have worked so hard inside and outside of the classroom,” Downey said.

Though only about 200 students participated in commencement exercises, the college conferred more than 500 degrees following the spring semester.

Brooke Bailey, the ceremony’s student speaker and a Spotswood High School graduate, encouraged her peers to use their education and find their calling.

“If you have passion for it,” she said, “then you’ll make all the difference in the world to someone.”

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