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Monday, July 19, 2010


Posted Jul 19, 2010 @ 06:54 PM
Penny Semaia was a standout football player for Thomas R. Proctor High School in the late 1990s. He went on to a collegiate football career at the University of Pittsburgh. He liked it so much at Pitt, and the university liked him so much, that he’s still there. He counsels athletes as director of life skills.

Question: I heard you speak after receiving the Distinguished Alumnus Award at the Thomas R. Proctor Class of 2010 commencement. You seemed to be honored by the award and the chance to speak. Describe what was going on in your mind that day?

Answer: First, I thought the commencement ceremony was fabulous. Principal Falchi and the Proctor teachers/administration did a wonderful job. As for what was going on in my head, I was really anxious all day, not because I was nervous, but because I was excited to see former teachers and classmates. Also, I really wanted to deliver a quality message to the graduates that can help them in their journey.

Q: Your Proctor years apparently were very important to you.

A: My time at Proctor was priceless. I had a great experience. My education, my development as a young man and preparation for life is credited to all the fabulous teachers, administrators, counselors, coaches and classmates/friends at Proctor. I couldn’t think of a better school and environment to prepare for what life had in store for me after graduation.

Q: What are your fondest memories of that time?

A: Wow, I don’t know if there will be enough space for me to add all my fondest memories. What I will share is that the common theme is I was able to share those moments with great friends.

Q: You mentioned at the Proctor graduation that you, of course, are Samoan and that if Uticans saw any Samoan on the street they probably were related to you. Did you ever face any hostility or problems because of your background?

A: No. My mother instilled in my brothers, sisters and me a great pride in our heritage. She also taught us to respect everyone we come across and treat them the way we would want to be treated. My family and I have a great network of friends in the Utica area because of how our mother raised us.

Q: Who was the biggest influence during your formative years?

A: I was fortunate to have many influences in my life growing up in Utica. My mother, aunt and older sister had a great impact on raising me. I thank them for instilling in me great values. In addition, I am a firm believer in that it takes a community to raise a child. From my family, to my neighbors in the Cornhill community to all of my coaches and my teachers, I was able to take something away from interacting with all of these people.

Q: What are your thoughts looking back on your years on the Proctor football team?

A: I took great pride in being on the Proctor football team. Although we did not have many wins, I learned the value of representing something bigger than myself, the importance of team work, the importance of hard work and facing adversity. My coaches (Guy Puleo, Paul Filetti and Jerry Fiorini) didn’t allow us to focus on what we were lacking but rather what we had. By my senior year the entire community gave us tremendous support and you felt the “Proctor Pride” everywhere. My teammates and I had a blast that season because of it.

Q: Did playing for four years at Pitt live up to your expectations?

A: In answering this question, I am reminded of the late CMU professor Randy Pausch. He stated, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” Like all high school student-athletes, I had high goals and big dreams for playing Division I football. Unfortunately, athletically, I was not able to accomplish my individual goals, but I learned how to adjust. I was able to reset those goals and contribute in other areas (leadership and support to teammates). Academically, I earned a degree from a great institution. It took a lot of work, but I was able to accomplish that goal. Socially, I learned life lessons that helped shape who I am today. I am very proud of what I accomplished as an individual and what my teammates and I accomplished as a team. So, to answer your question fairly, no – playing four years at Pitt did not live up to my expectations — it exceeded them.

Q: You’re now director of life skills at Pitt. What exactly do you do?
A: I oversee a program (Panther Game Plan life skills program) that helps prepare student-athletes for success while in college and success for life after college. I create and administer workshops, programs, presentations and exercises in a number of topics (financial education, leadership and character development, etiquette, health and wellness, community service, and career/graduate school preparation). In a nutshell, I help prepare young adults for life.

Q: Complete the following sentence: “If there is one lesson I learned being raised in Utica and educated at Proctor, it was …

A: Life is about choices. It is up to us to solidify a thinking process that will allow us to make the right choice — not the popular one.

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