Having journeyed through the same halls and classrooms as current Upper School students, a panel of Hamden Hall alumni offered valuable insight into their respective paths to professional success.
The virtual assembly featuring four alums was spearheaded by junior Michael Ferneini, co-founder of the Highschoolers into Business Club (along with fellow juniors Rahul Kapur and Joshua Tenedine). After introducing Duane Beasley 1992, Alexis Highsmith Smith 1997, Matthew Felice 2005, and Ilan Berman, who attended Hamden Hall from 1987 through 1991, Michael turned the assembly over to Upper School Co-Director Kim Porto, who served as moderator of the event.
Duane Beasley was asked how he decided on a major during his undergrad years at Stanford University. Duane relayed that from the age of 5, he always answered the “what do you want to be when you grow up” question the same: “a lawyer.”
After learning that to get to law school he could virtually major in anything, he opted for his interest in past presidents and began coursework in political science.
Duane is currently the General Counsel of Invictus Capital Partners, LP, a registered investment adviser that primarily manages private equity funds. Following his graduation from Stanford in 1996, he attended the UCLA School of Law, where he earned his juris doctorate in 2000.
Alexis Highsmith Smith is currently the Executive Director of New Haven Legal Assistance Association (NHLAA), one of the oldest non-profit legal aid organizations in the country. NHLAA provides civil legal assistance to low-income individuals living in the Greater New Haven area.
She encouraged students to get involved now with community service and non-profit work because of the wealth of experience you garner from such affiliations. Alexis noted that she learned about budgets, government funding, and the way organizations operate through her volunteer work.
“We also benefit from having conversations with a wide range of people,” said Alexis, who obtained her bachelor’s degree in history from Duke University and her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School.
As the only non-attorney on the panel, Matthew Felice cited a number of different opportunities that he took advantage of during both his Hamden Hall days and his time at Syracuse University. Besides an internship during his junior year at college, Matthew noted his May Project as a senior under the pines, which placed him at an architectural firm for a month.
At Syracuse, he went from majoring in engineering his freshman year to graduating with Bachelor of Science degree in finance and entrepreneurship. Out of college, he said he got excited about real estate and is now the Senior Vice President/Brokerage at Jones Lang LaSalle in New York.
He advised students to “be dedicated and try to work harder than the person next to you. Give maximum effort.”
Ilan Berman is Senior Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C., as well as an author of five books including 2020’s The Fight for Iran: Opposition Politics, Protest, and the Struggle for the Soul of a Nation.
From being on Capitol Hill for the past two decades, Ilan suggested that students look “broadly at career paths” and avoid being “linear.”
“Law school was not the path that I necessarily needed to take,” said Ilan, who holds a bachelor’s degree in politics from Brandeis University, a master’s in international politics from American University, and a Juris Doctorate from Washington College of Law.
Some final advice from the alums brought a mix of messaging – Alexis said she always knew she wanted to be an attorney (or a professional soccer player!) while Matthew maintained that “not everyone will know what you want to do.”
Duane explained the litmus test for career happiness.
“People who enjoy what they do for a living have realized that the key to a good match in a working environment is that what you’re willing to do needs to exceed what you’re expected to do.”