ELIZABETH — Students returning to classes at Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth on Sept. 8 heard a message that was energizing and optimistic, yet challenging, during a school assembly to begin the academic year at the all-female Catholic college prep high school.
Guest speaker Julienne Brazinski Simpson, an alumna of the Academy’s Class of 1970 and a legend in the history of women’s basketball, used her enthusiasm, wit and honesty to speak from her heart to the students gathered in the school auditorium.
Simpson, a Roselle Park native who was a 1976 Olympic Games silver medalist, and who was inducted into the Class of 2000 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, challenged the students to “start to develop your story”, so that they can “make a difference” in their own lives. Currently the director of athletics and assistant to the vice president for student life at the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, Simpson engaged the Benedictine Academy students for nearly an hour, earning their rapt attention. At one point, she addressed each of the four grades individually, giving each a different challenge as she spoke about her four ingredients of success- “Dream”, “Plan”, “Work”, and “Believe”.
“Every single person here has value,” she told the freshmen, wishing them “good luck” and encouraging them to develop their “work commitment.” Sophomores were told they now are able to “mentor and lead”, and she challenged them to “step out of your box” and use their talents to the fullest. Juniors were advised to “take a greater leadership role” to help further develop the school. And, seniors were reminded that they should celebrate their three years of “commitment and leadership at the Academy” and “remember…you are only a senior once…enjoy this year.”
Recollecting that the highlight of her basketball career came in 1976 when she was co-captain of the women’s team that won the silver medal at the Montreal Olympics, Simpson said her passion always was “to play basketball, practice, develop a work ethic and have discipline.” Following the Olympics, she coached Division I and Division II basketball teams including Arizona State, Bucknell and East Stroudsburg University. She compiled over 300 collegiate coaching victories over a thirty-year track record of continued success as a player, head coach, and an administrator.
Simpson noted that Benedictine Academy is a “family” to which all its students belong, pointing out that the faculty and staff are totally committed to students’ well-being. Simpson told the students she owed her success in part “to the people I surrounded myself with”. “Take advantage of the group that you have here,” she counseled. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future,” she said, making reference to her constant faith in God. “You can all write your own story,” Simpson said.
She encouraged the students to communicate with one another more personally. “You want to be influential to one another”, she pointed out. “You need to know things about one another- make a connection through verbal, personal communication,” she advised. Noting how one-to-one interaction can be diminished through the use of technology- emails, texting, etc., Simpson demonstrated what can be gained through personal interaction by calling student volunteers into the spotlight with her and chatting about their goals, and other thoughts they were willing to express. “You can lose the personal aspect through technology,” Simpson said.
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