Career Day: A Window on the World
Career Day at St. Michael’s College School turns 16 years old this year.
The event is an opportunity for Grade 11 students to hear from a keynote speaker and then participate in breakout sessions hosted by invited guests representing various industries and professions.
The 2019 roster of speakers range from an accounting professor, home design entrepreneur and technology executive to a vascular surgeon, employment lawyer and health technology CEO.
“Career Day is just an extension of what I feel is important in life, and that is to share what you know and what you have experienced so that you can help contribute in making things better for your community,” says Luciano Volpe ’93, co-founder of the event. He has been the event’s lead organizer since it began in 2003. The School’s Student Affairs Department also supports facilitation of the day’s activities.
“Our goal is to support students in making well-informed choices about their future working lives,” says Frank Trentadue ’84 Director, Student Affairs, St. Michael’s College School. “Career Day is one important vehicle to making this happen by providing them education, information, and guidance and a key opportunity to network,” he says.
Volpe, an entrepreneur himself, runs a food brand distribution and export business. He is also a father to two teenage boys, both of whom now attend SMCS.
Here is our Q&A with him.
1. How did Grade 11 Career Day begin at this school?
It started when I was 17 and had two years of homeroom with the late Mr. Eddy Narducci (Math).
He engaged us in a wide variety of discussion topics daily. He was so well respected, that alumni (mostly university-aged), would often drop into the class and speak to us about their current experiences.
I was a year or two into my career and I bumped into him (Mr. Narducci) at a Chapters and I let him know how much I appreciated his classroom talks years prior. And so he invited me to speak in one of his classes and I did. I found that my message really resonated with his students and it wasn’t all that special. It was a message from a young professional who had just started his career, but it was special in the sense that I was relaying my experience, which was of course very new to 16 and 17 year-olds at the time.
At the end of that session in class, I felt invigorated. I wanted to do more. I suggested to Mr. Narducci that we try to formalize something. We both presented the idea to Fr. (Daniel) Zorzi, CSB and the school administration at the time, and the rest is history.
2. Why is it important for you to continue to be involved in Career Day?
I still feel like that 17-year-old who is conscious of the fact that he knows very little, and would like to learn more from his community members. As a business owner, I make mistakes all the time and I try to learn from those mistakes in order to get bigger, better, and stronger. As a father, same thing applies. I am always in the pursuit of being a better dad: I have to listen better every day to what my kids want to know and need to know.
3. Looking back, what are some of the key takeaways from such an event?
We had mentors, and we had teachers, but we didn’t quite understand the power of forming networks, of asking questions, of reaching out to folks who were more experienced. Those lessons have become so important for me as a professional and as a Dad. I cannot see myself not continuing to do this sort of thing.
4. What advice would you give now to your 17-year-old self, back then?
Stay curious. Ask questions all the time.
5. In what ways can Grade 11 students prepare for Career Day?
Do not dismiss the opportunity to speak to somebody or listen to somebody who is in a profession that you think you are not interested in. The day is beyond learning about professions, but learning about how people have faced their challenges and how people have lived through failures and how people have surmounted both. They should listen to how these people are achieving success ---what they have accomplished and what they are doing now in order to be better, stronger, and faster.”
Inevitably that 17 year-old will be a 27-year-old, a 37-year-old, a 57-year-old and those lessons never change.”
6. How are guest speakers who participate in this day selected?
We like to choose speakers based on their character and their story. I like to have people involved in the day whom I look up to and who I admire and that is important to me because I like to learn from people. I listen to people’s stories and relating of their experience just like the Grade 11s do on Career Day. I’m just another audience member who looks to learn and to glean an understanding of lessons from someone else’s life journey.
7. Why is this event even more important and relevant today than when it started in 2003?
What I am finding is missing --- and I’m speaking now as a professional who runs his own business and has many clients that he needs to deal with --- what’s missing is the importance of the face-to-face. You can learn a great deal about somebody’s experience, needs, wants, and pain points by actually spending some time in a room with them and asking questions. There is a greater opportunity of understanding of someone’s perspectives both through verbal and non-verbal communication. There is just so much value you can miss from an interaction if you are missing the non-verbal contact. That is what the face-to-face represents in the learning process.
8. Is there a particular Career Day anecdote or feedback you have received that struck you?
Sergio Marchionne ’71, who was the CEO of Fiat Chrysler before he passed away last summer joined us as a keynote speaker in 2011. It took us about two years to get him to the school from our initial invite. There was one student who was very interested in speaking with him the day after the event, which was excellent to hear as an average 16 or 17-year-old may be too shy to ask for this type of introduction. But he asked and we did connect him with Sergio. Now remember he is the CEO of one of the largest auto companies in the world. Because of that connection, he was able to eventually have an opportunity to intern with Chrysler. We need to see more of this, to see more youth ask their questions, to ask for assistance and to ask for face-time. Most of them (students) are surprised that the response they receive from leaders is mostly positive. True leaders share.”
9. How was the 2019 Career Day keynote speaker, Ronan Benin, chosen?
He is a reflection of how this world is changing. He is very young, he works in tech, he has been courted by larger, potential acquisition partners in the U.S. and he is knocking it out of the park with institutional clients here in Canada. He is doing something very new. He is pioneering in the industry. And again, he’s not much older than the students to whom he will be presenting.
10. In what specific ways has Career Day impacted you?
My involvement with Career Day and in listening to all the stories of the alumni that we’ve invited to speak over the years eventually inspired us to found a not-for-profit. We decided (four alumni and one non-alumnus) in 2011 to found a not-for-profit that focused on the mission to impart the importance of leadership to Canadian youth. We have organized dozens of events since with high-profile leaders across all industries (business, medicine, sport, entertainment). Our not-for-profit is actually called “Inspire”. The five of us were once 17 and 18-year-olds. We see it as giving back to our former selves by contributing that little bit of wisdom from our present selves.