Multi-ethnic Celebration Remarks
Charmaine S. Torma ’99
President and Owner
Charmaine Torma Consulting LLC
Thank you for the wonderful introduction. It is a honor to be back on campus to celebrate this milestone achievement with you. As someone who has benefited from the Saint Mary’s educational experience, I understand the time and energy you have put forth to earn this degree. I am here this evening to tell you that the sacrifices you and your loved ones have made are completely worth it. You’ve made a wise investment on your future and you should be proud of this accomplishment.
Since departing from the Avenue in 1999, I have had some hills, valleys, and even a mountain or two. As I prepared to speak with you this evening, I took time to reflect on my journey, and of course there are numerous lessons that I could share with you, from professional words of wisdom to personal growth. I was able to pinpoint, 5 life lessons that I think are important to share with you, my Saint Mary’s sisters.
Life Lesson #1 You have a strong community willing and able to support you.
Even though you are leaving Saint Mary’s, Saint Mary’s isn’t leaving you. During your time on campus, you’ve cultivated some great relationships with your peers, as well as with faculty and staff; continue to nurture these relationships. And if you haven’t started building relationships with alumnae, now is the time. We are your sisters, we are your family, and we support one another. Our network of alumnae extends globally, and we truly are willing to help in whatever way possible. When I left Saint Mary’s, I moved to Washington, DC where I had no network. I reached out to the alumnae club and an alumna took me under her wings. She not only provided me with professional contacts, but she also gave me a social network. Without her, I would have felt lost and lonely in an unknown city. Years later, I was able to pay it forward by offering my home in DC and later in Minneapolis to students and young alumnae searching for internships, jobs, or even living accommodations. Ladies, don’t miss out on having this strong community of women willing to support you. All you have to do is reach out to us and we will be there.
Life Lesson #2: Your goals of today, don’t have to be your achievements of tomorrow.
When I entered Saint Mary’s, my professional goal was to become a child psychologist. I understood that graduate schools didn’t want individuals coming straight from undergrad, so I had planned on taking a 2 year gap to work and then go back to school to earn my doctorate in clinical psychology. During my gap, I learned that I wasn’t interested in being a clinical psychologist. I think I had always thought I would go that route, because my parents had their heart set on my being in the medical profession, but since I faint at the sight of blood and gag at the smell of bodily fluid, the medical profession, really wasn’t an option and so I decided to opt for the mental health field, specifically through psychology. But during that gap, the prospect of going to school in clinical psychology wasn’t inspiring, and I was enjoying the nonprofit work I was doing. Now most South Asians would be compelled to reach the goal even if the motivation for it was no longer there and some would even feel inadequate for not achieving a goal. But not me, even though I didn’t accomplish my goal of becoming a child psychologist, I am able to recognize that my achievements are just as strong as that original goal. For instance: In 10 months, I raised $4.4 million for my parish. Within 4 years of going back to the professional world after being a stay-at-home parent, I became VP at Holy Cross College. I currently own and operate a successful boutique consulting firm, helping my clients raise millions of dollars.
And most importantly, I have found a way to live a balanced life surrounded by my loved ones. Sometimes, our achievements won’t match our original goals, and that is okay. Your path is not going to be straight but it will bring you some of the most challenging and fulfilling accomplishments.
Life Lesson #3: Don’t be afraid to be a change agent.
As a South Asian, I was raised to be the best that I can be, while not drawing attention to myself. This means, that under no circumstances should I ever rock the boat. Saint Mary’s changed that long-ingrained philosophy. Because of the College, I wasn’t scared to speak up about something being unjust or even questionable. For example, I was working at a nonprofit where there was a tradition that the offices are closed from Christmas Eve through New Years Day. Unfortunately, the advancement team (fundraisers and gift processors) had to work during that time because of the large volume of gifts that are donated by high level donors in order to get a tax break before the end of the calendar year. I was happy to work during that time, but I couldn’t understand why my direct supervisor wouldn’t allow our team to receive compensated days for the time that we had worked. Since she wasn’t willing to give us those comp days, I went to the HR department to inquire about this matter and was told that legally, we were supposed to be given comp days. I later found out, that there were individuals who had worked at the organization for years without getting comp days and even though they knew the situation was unjust they didn’t want to question authority or the organizational culture. You are strong women, and if you see an injustice or discrepancy within a system, don’t be afraid to question and if needed, be that catalyst for change, because we have been taught to be change agents.
Life Lesson #4: You don’t know everything.
Saint Mary’s has taught you a lot, but it hasn’t taught you everything. And, that’s okay. Saint Mary’s should have instilled in you a love of learning and as an individual on the path for life-long learning, it is important that you are continuing to expand your knowledge base. You can do this by reading scholarly articles, attending professional conferences, and going on to graduate school. In my profession, the trends are constantly changing and I find that it is necessary to stay-up-to-date with the research for marketing, constituent engagement, and fundraising. Since many of my clients are interested in direct mail fundraising, I attended a seminar on the subject matter. The seminar was conducted by an individual who had been in the marketing profession for over 30 years, and is known as the guru of nonprofit marketing. During his presentation, he stated that all nonprofits need to include a self-addressed envelope with postage for all of their solicitations. Without any kind of data, this statement makes sense. However, I had just attended a national conference where the professional organization had conducted national research on the subject. The study found no evidence that an envelope with postage brought in more gifts than an envelope without. I questioned the presenter on where he obtained his statistics, and he said “I don’t have stats; this is just common sense.” Since I didn’t want the smaller nonprofits in the room to go back and worry about expanding their budgets to include postage for return envelopes, I brought up the study to the presenter and the group. Ladies, if I hadn’t attend the national conference, I wouldn’t have known that this individual was providing incorrect information. And the only reason I attended the conference is because I believe in investing in my professional development through continuing education. Some employers think professional development and continuing education are time sucks and money wasters, but this is a major misconception. You will do better at your job, if you are able to learn new things. And for those people who say that conferences don’t teach them anything new, let me say, I have always, always walked away from each conference with a new nugget. And, as an added bonus, these conferences will re-energize you in the work that you’re doing and can be the catalyst in sparking new and creative strategies for your work. I have made the commitment to attend 2 continuing educational opportunities a year. Ladies, if your employer isn’t willing to invest in your growth and development, you need to make that commitment. You’ll be surprised not only by what you learn, but how it will energize you in the work that you’re doing.
Life Lesson #5: You are your strongest advocate.
We’ve all heard of Sheryl Sandberg and her book Lean In, right? Well Ladies, Sheryl had the right idea. In order to “lean in” you have to believe in your strengths and understand your worth. Do your research, strategize, and practice expressing yourself clearly. The sad truth is, because we are women and we are ethnically considered a minority, we have to advocate for ourselves or opportunities will never present themselves to us. Over the past seven years, I have been a strong self-advocate and am proud of what I have advocated for: salary, position, and even clients. However, my proudest self-advocacy moment, was when Holy Cross College was “wooing” me to be their Development Director. I was able to negotiate the ability to work remotely, have flex-time, and unlimited vacation/personal time. For me, time with my loved ones is precious, and with a child with special needs, I wasn’t going to flounder it away by being at the office 50+ hours a week. However, I love working and being challenged. The beauty of my arrangement with Holy Cross was that, I was pulling, on average 60 hours a week, but I could do the majority of my job remotely. I was able to sit in on meetings through web conferencing and still be around for the important moments with my family. This all happened because I knew my worth and was able to articulate how I would be an asset to the College. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself.
This College that I hold near and dear to my heart has prepared you to enter the ever-changing work place. The technical aspects for jobs are constantly changing and employers need individuals who are able to learn the necessary skills while on the job. They are looking for people who are prepared to deal with problems and anticipate future needs and potential issues. They want their employees to be innovative, creative, and analytical, all while being able to communicate effectively with all types of individuals using different mediums. Thanks to the dedicated faculty and staff here at Saint Mary’s, each one of you has been provided the tools to help you soar to new heights and I’m confident that you will achieve your dreams. I hope that my sharing my top 5 life-lessons with you tonight will help you on your journey.
Congratulations on becoming a Saint Mary’s graduate. I am proud to welcome you into the sisterhood of alumnae. Thank you.