ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — ESPN executive Chris LaPlaca told 500 St. Bonaventure University graduates that the watershed moment in his career was a difficult decision he had to make in the same arena he gave his keynote address Sunday morning.
The Bonnies had beaten Villanova on a last-second shot at the Reilly Center in his senior year. His game work for SBU’s sports information office was complete, and a party was about to break out. But the Philly newspapers sent no one to cover the game, so the sports information director from Villanova desperately needed help.
“This conversation raged inside my head for probably 30 seconds but it seemed like 30 minutes,” said LaPlaca, ’79, senior vice president for corporate communications at ESPN, where’s he worked for 37 years.
“Help the guy, maybe get a job. We won … there’s beer.”
LaPlaca passed on the party and helped Ted Wolff, who later recommended LaPlaca to Rosa Gatti for the assistant sports information director job at Brown University. The Brown basketball coach called Billy Kalbaugh, SBU’s Hall of Fame point guard and an assistant coach for the Bonnies under Jim Satalin at the time.
Kalbaugh raved and Gatti hired LaPlaca. Nine months after working at Brown, Gatti was hired to be the first communications head at ESPN. She brought LaPlaca with her one week later.
“So here’s the takeaway,” LaPlaca said. “You are always being watched. You are always being judged by someone who can perhaps help you get to where you want to go. Make sure they like what they see.”
LaPlaca, who received an honorary doctorate of humane letters, encouraged the graduates to never forget from where they came.
“This group will ask of you only one thing: that you care for this place, and its people, as they do. That you remember and live the values you — and they — learned here. And, that you nurture the place from where you came,” LaPlaca said. “That group is the 32,000 alumni of St. Bonaventure University, and we need you now more than ever.”
Emma Stappenbeck, a marketing major from Rochester, gave the student address and talked about the power of the Bonaventure alumni network.
“Alumni far and wide reach their hands out in support,” Stappenbeck said. “It’s such a big thing for such a small place."
Board of Trustees Chair Bob Daugherty took a moment to thank Dr. Andrew Roth for his year of devoted service to the university as interim president, and to remind him that for the rest of his life, “You will be a Bonnie.”
Twenty-two honors students, seven ROTC graduates, and four students dedicating their first year of post-graduation life to service work were also recognized during the ceremony.
Dr. Charles J. Walker, retiring professor of psychology who began his teaching career at St. Bonaventure in 1973, and Dr. Xiao-Ning Zhang, associate professor of biology and a faculty member since 2009, were also recognized for winning faculty awards of excellence.