Words of Inspiration

On June 6, 2018, we hosted our annual Scholar Celebration. Troy High School alumnus and RPI graduate Jay Yaskanich was our alumni speaker.

Here are his remarks.


Good Evening Everyone,

Thank you to all in attendance tonight as we celebrate the college-bound students, their loving families, and the amazing sponsors and mentors here tonight. Without all of you none of this is possible. Before I dive in tonight i want to share a little background on myself. My name is Jay Yaskanich and although I look great in this suit tonight that was not always the case. I grew up in North Central Troy; for those of you who don’t know, it’s one of the lowest socio-economic neighborhoods in Troy. We struggled, a single mother of three who would choose not to eat that night so my brother and I could go to the movies with friends. Flash forward to 2011 and I walked across the stage at Troy High School, head held high on top of the world. From here my journey took me across the street to RPI, where I graduated in 2015 with a degree in Management Information Systems. How many people can say they went to Middle School, High School, and College on the same city block? From there, my journey took me to EY and that has become my home for the last 3 years. So I know you guys are probably asking yourselves why is any of this is relevant? Well I’m sure many of you have been through similar struggles whether financially, physically, emotionally, or mentally. We all struggle at times. The part that defines you is how you overcome this adversity. The people you choose to surround yourself with, the programs you immerse yourself in, and the various priorities and goals you orient for yourself are all ways to combat this adversity. For myself, Sponsor-A-Scholar became one of those outlets. 

A lot of my friends, family, and co-workers often look to me for guidance. They often look up to me and ask one simple question."How?" How did I get to where I am today from where I came from? Now it is very easy for me to stand here in front of all of you today and rattle off all my accomplishments, awards, and recognitions but how will this help any of you today? The answer is simple, it won’t. So I would rather share with you my failures, shortcomings, and struggles that made me the man I am today. 

One of the greatest things SAS helped me to learn is how to develop and build soft skills. So many times throughout the program and now that I am an alum they presented me with an opportunity to network. To meet people, to climb out of my shell. This skill is easily one of the most transferable skills anyone can learn. It doesn’t matter if you are the smartest, fastest, strongest person in the room as long as you are able to connect with a person. To see the individual person standing in front of you and talk to them with the same respect as any other person you meet. I mention this because one of my struggles is social anxiety.  I am an extremely introverted person and prefer the isolation of my own mind. SAS helped me recognize this and build on it. If you would have told me 10 years ago I would be standing here talking to a room of 200 plus people I would have laughed and hid in my room for weeks and yet here I stand. I have fallen flat on my face several times networking, bumbling like an idiot in front of partners at my firm but at the end of the day I got back up, dusted myself off and tried again. This is how I built my self-confidence and I have SAS to thank for that. 

I often get asked the question what was the biggest challenge you had to overcome to earn your degree? Now this is going to sound very cliché but time management. You hear it talked about constantly in school but no one addresses how to manage time effectively. This is because no one has the right answer. Time management is all about balance. How to balance all of your priorities and determining what is important to you. You will face many tough decisions between hanging out with friends and class work but once you determine what is important to you, it becomes easier to prioritize. Again, I bring up what was a driving force behind my decisions and it wasn’t to have people know my name or to make the most money. I was able to prioritize my time based on where I have been in life and where I know I never want to be again. I grew up around drug and alcohol abuse. It was the norm for people around me at one point. I knew I never wanted that to become my life. So when I needed to decide to study for finals or go bar-hopping with my friends I knew what I wanted and the decision became easier for me. Now don’t get me wrong, please enjoy yourself--but everything must be done in moderation and with the proper balance. 

I have shared with you all tonight many of my struggles and events that define the man before you today. But I would be lying to you if I said I did it all alone. Without a support system I would not be where I am today. Surround yourself with people who truly care about you despite your flaws. Surround yourself with people who will fully support every dream, every goal, and every decision. For me my support system came in many different ways. From my mom who I sometimes felt was the only person who actually believed in me. To my co-workers who speak open and honestly with me when I start to get down on myself. To SAS who at the end of every semester would tell me how great I am doing and to keep going. They would push me to be better because they believed in me. There will be people who stand in your way and try to interfere with your dreams, people who are jealous of your success. For me this came in the form of my own family. My own family would tell me what I was doing was pointless and I would never amount to anything. They wanted me to fall into the vicious cycle they had fallen victim to and I chose to break the mold. I could have shut down but instead I worked harder. I found new people who did believe in me. It was very hard to move past those people but when you find a true support system, people who love you for you, new doors open in life. 

I hold Sponsor-A-Scholar very close to my heart as it has been an essential part in my early life successes. Sponsor-A-Scholar means a lot to me as it provided so many opportunities and opened so many doors throughout my life. I truly believe that Sponsor-A-Scholar offered an essential stepping- stone into the development of my career. Sponsor-A-Scholar has been there for me with many large milestones in my life from helping pick the right college all the way to helping weigh my options for different career offers. SAS provided so much financial support that evened the playing field financially for my mom and me. From paying for SATs and ACTs all the way to something small like a graphing calculator and for this we are eternally grateful. 

So I leave you all with these closing remarks. Failure is ok. Never be afraid to fall. It doesn’t matter how far or how hard you fall because if you can get back up and overcome that adversity you have learned to become a better person. Don’t weigh yourself on your successes. Weigh yourself on your failures. Wisdom is gained through learning experiences and the greatest learning experiences in life is failing and learning to stand back up. Surround yourself with people who love you, surround yourself with people who believe in you. Be the change you want to see in the world.