Distinguished Alumni Gala

A sampling of North Allegheny's 2020 distinguished alumni.

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Every year NA holds a gala to honor North Allegheny alumni who have accomplished great things in various fields.  On January 23rd I was lucky enough to attend the gala and speak to a few of the honorees about their careers and any advice they can share.

 

STEVEN D’ACHILLE (‘01)

What is one thing you remember about your time at NA?

I think a lot of people go away to college and then, when they get older, they say “Oh it was the best time of your life.”  And so many people say college. But, I think, for myself, and for a lot of my friends from NA, from elementary all the way up to high school graduation was the best time of their lives.

What sort of work do you do now?

I do a lot of work.  I run my foundation (the Alexis Joy Foundation), which is why I’m here tonight.  But I have restaurants. My family owns Italian restaurants in the area.  And I have a medical cannabis dispensary, two of them. One in Greensburg and one in Lawrenceville.  And then I stay busy. I have a car lot. I’m interested in real estate, you know, I stay busy.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to high school students graduating now?

I would say to never let money dictate your decisions.  You have to be passionate about what you do if you want to be successful.  And you have to do it every day for the rest of your life, so you better like it.  I think that’s good advice, and I would also say that I think it’s important, at least I know its true in my life that, for every good deed you do, God will pay you back ten times.  The more good you do, the more opportunities you’ll have. That’s part of the reason I do so much now, because good opportunities always come across my plate. So, if you do good, good comes your way, and opportunities come your way, and it brings good people into your life.

When you graduated from high school, you probably had an idea of what you wanted to do with your life, or at least some sort of plan.  How has your actual career compared to that?

Completely different.  I was going to feed people for the rest of my life.  And I was doing that for a long time until tragedy struck and I felt like I could create change, and I went down that road.  And starting that process has caused so many amazing people and opportunities to come into my life that has opened doors for so many other things, like the cannabis business.  Now, I watch from the backseat what I should have been doing with my life, but I’m more passionate about the work I do now than I ever could have been while doing what I thought I should have been doing in high school.

 

DAVE ROBBINS (‘78)

What sort of work do you do now?

I haven’t worked for two years.  I stopped working. I’m lucky enough to be able to make that decision.  But I worked in high-tech for thirty years in all different kinds of software and hardware product companies.  In the last fifteen years I’ve been CEO of three or four different companies.

What is one thing you remember about your time at NA?

You know, the thing about North Allegheny is the opportunity.  Even then, because it’s a very different school today than it was then.  But the programs, the very dedicated teachers, the educational opportunities.  And you could be as successful as you wanted to be. And I probably didn’t realize it until about ten years after the fact, but that is absolutely what North Allegheny did for me.  It put me in a position where if I couldn’t outthink the problem I could outwork it, and the values and things I learned from NA were with me the whole time.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to high school students graduating now?

Find things that are not in your comfort zone.  Stretch. Fail. And recover. If you’re an artist, keep doing it, and go try to play the clarinet, or get involved in a sport, or take a chemistry class.  Get uncomfortable. Because life is about taking risks and failing, and realizing that the next thing beyond failure is success. You can’t get there until you fail a little bit.  And I think kids are so pressured today. You know, “Get that 4.0 or 4.3! Get that 2500 on the SAT!” Fail a little bit. Stretch yourself. Get uncomfortable. And get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

When you graduated from high school, you probably had an idea of what you wanted to do with your life, or at least some sort of plan.  How has your actual career compared to that?

When I graduated, Pittsburgh was in the middle of a de-industrialization period where the steel mills were going away.  So, working in this area was not very opportunistic. I fairly quickly ended up heading to California. So, I only knew one thing: I wanted to be a leader and work with and through other people.  I didn’t want to be in a business where it was just about me or any activity. I didn’t want to be an accountant just sitting in a cube. So, as long as I can find those types of environments, I was going to be happy.  It just happened to be high-tech. Because I was in California, and that wave was just starting to hit us. So, it all worked out. I don’t think anybody goes through school and says, “I want to be in business.” That’s not naturally something you think of, and it wasn’t for me, either.  But I knew that I wanted some leadership and teamwork, somewhere where people had to come together to achieve a goal. So that’s what I was looking for.

 

MELISSA HART (‘80)

What sort of work do you do now?

I do a lot.  I was a congressman and a state senator, and I’m being honored for a lot of the work that I did then, but now I’m an attorney, and I do some political media consulting, and I’m on a bank board.  I’m a busy person.

What is one thing you remember about your time at NA?

One thing?  I remember a lot of things.  I had a lot of friends from all different municipalities.  But back then it wasn’t as developed as it is now, and one of my best friends lived in Bradford Woods, and another one lived in Marshall, and I lived in McCandless.  My mom wouldn’t let me take the car because she said that it was too far to drive. I had great teachers, and I had a lot of fun.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to high school students graduating now?

I took a lot of different kinds of classes.  I would say to not take slacker classes. If you have a hobby or something that you’re really interested in and there’s a class for it, even if your friends think it’s a slacker class, take it, because it could lead you into something else.  I took a lot of academic courses, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for sure, but I knew that I wanted to do something on the business side of things. We had a wonderful economics class, and I think a lot of young people don’t understand how economics and trade work, so I would say that everyone should take it.  And I learned so much at a young age about it that it really put my ahead in understanding why America’s economic system is better than other systems. The other thing I would say is to not be afraid of math.

When you graduated from high school, you probably had an idea of what you wanted to do with your life, or at least some sort of plan.  How has your actual career compared to that?

I wasn’t sure, but I thought that I wanted to go into business.  I went to Washington and Jefferson college down the road, which gave me a lot of options because it’s a liberal arts school.  So, I could get a really strong foundation and then decide while I was there what I wanted to do. We had a 4-1-4 schedule, which means that you have a first semester then a shorter term (about a month long) and then you have a second semester.  That short term allowed me to do internships and things, and I did an internship for a judge, and that’s when I decided to go to law school. But that wasn’t until my junior year. But the lawyer thing, while I was in high school, wasn’t the plan.  It was business. And I studied business. I double majored in business and German because my German background was so good from going to North Allegheny. Our teacher was a native of Germany, a guy named Bruno Schwartz – a fabulous guy.

 

MARK LANASA (‘91)

What sort of work do you do now?

I am a physician.  I work for AstraZeneca, and what I do now is design large, global clinical trials in oncology.

What is one thing you remember about your time at NA?

Can I say two things?  I remember running a lot.  I ran cross country and track.  What I remember about classes was how much I enjoyed science.  I took chemistry for three different years: chemistry at the intermediate high school, AP chemistry, and then organic chemistry, and I loved it.  I had wonderful teachers, and I ended up going on to major in chemistry at Penn State, so it was a wonderful experience.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to high school students graduating now?

The most important thing I can tell you is just to try to enjoy every day.  I think that when you’re young, it’s natural to look forward to the next milestone because you have so many wonderful things in front of you.  But that shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying the moments that you have everyday. The other thing I can tell you is to have a plan of what your goals are, but to also be flexible.  You’ll have experiences, and you’ll see things and learn things along the way. So, if you’re flexible but still have a destination in mind, you’ll hopefully come up with the best possible scenario for your future.

When you graduated from high school, you probably had an idea of what you wanted to do with your life, or at least some sort of plan.  How has your actual career compared to that?

I had some notion that I might go into medicine, and I thought that I wanted to do medical research.  I suppose that I have ended up doing medical research, but the way that I do it is very different. I have, basically, a desk job where I’m designing these large clinical studies, so I don’t see or interact with patients on a daily basis.  The way that I impact patients, I hope, is through the work that I do, rather than having face-to-face interactions with patients. So, it’s sort of what I thought would happen, but in day-to-day experiences it’s actually quite different. I’m not in a wet lab and I’m not seeing patients.  But I still feel really happy about the choice I’ve made and the place where I’ve landed.

 

TOM BRAUN (‘65)

What sort of work do you do now?

I was mostly a surgeon, but I taught.  Ultimately, I became an administrator and a Dean at the dental school at Pitt.  

What is one thing you remember about your time at NA?

It was a good environment.  Back 55 years ago it was excellent for a high school, and it has obviously grown since then.  I’m proud of it in every way.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to high school students graduating now?

Keep an open mind, and enter those doors which open for you.  Not every door that you think you want to enter is the right one to enter.  And, when they open, go through them and give it a try. You’ll be surprised at what great things you can accomplish.

When you graduated from high school, you probably had an idea of what you wanted to do with your life, or at least some sort of plan.  How has your actual career compared to that?

When I graduated from high school I was thinking that I might want to go into the ministry.  And then the doors opened for me, in terms of science and in terms of healthcare, to follow that path instead.  Hence, keep the doors open.