ST. BONAVENTURE, NY -- Entering the John J. Murphy Professional Building at St. Bonaventure University for the first time, then-high school junior Hannah Gordon toured the first floor with Denny Wilkins, a professor of journalism and mass communication. At one point during the tour, Wilkins stopped to point at the Dr. Mary A. Hamilton Woman of Promise Award plaque.
“The burning image of him just pointing and peering ominously over his glasses, as he’s known to do, is just in my head,” said Gordon, now in pursuit of a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications at the university. “I take that moment now as oddly prophetic.”
Gordon received that Woman of Promise award Thursday in a ceremony in the Dresser Auditorium in the Murphy Building.
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Caroline Wojtaszek, the first woman elected to the office of Niagara County District Attorney, opened the event with a keynote speech about her path to success. Wojtaszek chose to mention her time spent studying at Oxford University, referencing the fact that Gordon plans to study there this summer.
Dr. Pauline Hoffmann, the dean of the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure, introduced Gordon before she and Hamilton, a retired journalism faculty member, presented the award to Gordon.
“Her professionalism, enthusiasm and work ethic are impressive to me,” Hoffmann said.
Gordon started her eight-minute speech by thanking those who attended the event as well as the faculty members who considered her worthy to receive the award.
She then told the audience that she rarely left the journalism building as an undergraduate and had become known for getting caught up in her work.
“As many of the J-School professors can attest, I throw myself into my laptop, and I don’t come out for days,” Gordon said.
Prior to her graduation in December 2016, Gordon taught herself Adobe Muse and Adobe Illustrator overnight solely because she wanted to use these programs in her second attempt at creating a digital portfolio.
Gordon added that respectable work can be completed without overthinking and indecisiveness. She compared the process to a road map, asserting that one’s path through life does not always bring one quickly and smoothly to a scheduled destination.
“It wants to take you up the mountain and fall into the valley and sift through a jungle and swim an ocean,” Gordon said.
She said some people might wallow in the mistakes that dragged them off their planned courses. However, she prefers a different line of thinking.
“You can look at that and you can say 'Well, that was a hell of a ride' and turn around and look at what beautiful adventure awaits you next,” Gordon said.
In her life, Gordon, who hails from Lackawanna, has looked up to and learned from different people. She said her older sister served as her first role model.
“I’ve always watched her work hard, and now she owns a successful restaurant, and I couldn’t be prouder of her,” Gordon said. “But, it took longer than she thought to get there. I respect that she has persevered and kept going.”
She said her parents instilled a strong work ethic in her from a young age.
“My father never made me feel like I couldn’t do something because I was a girl,” she said. “I never felt left out because I was a girl.”
Gordon’s father encouraged her to play sports—no matter her skill level—and do yard work alongside her brother while growing up.
She often watched her mother sit at a sewing machine for hours, crafting prom dresses and Halloween costumes for the children in the family.
“I’ve always been amazed at her ability to make beautiful ensembles out of a pile of fabric and some thread,” Gordon said.
Gordon pointed to her grandmother sitting in the audience and said she fills the role of family’s matriarch and taught her to command attention and speak her mind at all times. And she gave as an example of speaking her mind the delivery of a strongly worded letter to a congressman.
Gordon added that her other grandmother, now deceased, taught her the value of compassion and expressing love for others.
And Gordon said she tries to learn something from each new person she meets, whether it’s a 7-11 employee or a New York Times columnist.
“Most of the time, it’s not new knowledge I’m accruing or a skill that I can develop,” said Gordon. “It’s identifying something about interpersonal reactions and interactions between people. That means judging less and asking more and giving help when you don’t think people deserve your help.”
Gordon concluded her speech by circling back to her metaphor of the road map.
“Let your road map wind and pull you up the mountain, because it’s always a beautiful view when you get there,” she said.