Honorary degree recipient Tony Gagliano tells grads anything is possible

Chancellor Greg Sorbara, honorary degree recipient Tony Gagliano and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton
Chancellor Greg Sorbara, honorary degree recipient Tony Gagliano and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton

With heart and soul behind your dreams, anything is possible, said York University honorary degree recipient Tony Gagliano, during his address at the June 19 Spring Convocation ceremony.

Tony Gagliano
Tony Gagliano

Gagliano, a Toronto-born entrepreneur, communications leader and philanthropist, received an honorary doctorate of laws degree from York University and delivered an inspiring address to graduands from the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies.

Gagliano was introduced by Chancellor Greg Sorbara, who described him as a longtime friend, and “one of the province’s and country’s great entrepreneurs who dedicates 12 hours a day to his business … and another 12 hours a day to the good of the community.”

A driving force in the field of communications, Gagliano built his family-run business, St. Joseph Communications, into one of Canada’s largest communications firms. Also passionate about the arts, Gagliano is a co-founder of the internationally recognized Luminato festival, held annually in Toronto.

He has dedicated time to the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Conservatory of Music, as well as the Young Presidents’ Organization, St. Michael’s Hospital, Ryerson University, Scouts Canada, Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall.

Gagliano was named the 2008 Canadian of the Year by the Canadian Club. He received the Words and Deeds Leadership Award from the Jewish-Toronto community. In 2010, he received the Outstanding Volunteer Award by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Toronto Chapter.

“I am so proud to be here with all of you today at one of Canada’s most important and finest universities,” said Gagliano. “As you enjoy your special day, I am sure you will note how this day weaves together all the important things in your life up to this point: education, friends and most important, family.”

Gagliano told graduands that in life “anything is possible” with determination, heart and soul to fuel dreams. His own life experiences reflect that, he said, including his parents’ journey as immigrants from Italy 64 years ago. Within two years of arriving, his father started a small print business – St. Joseph Printing – in the basement of a home he was renting. Today, it is the largest independently owned print, media and communications company in Canada with more than 1,400 employees.

From being a farmer in southern Italy, to receiving the Order of Canada, Gagliano’s father is an example of making anything happen, noted his son.

He also spoke of his passion to develop a global multi-arts festival to re-invigorate Toronto after the SARS epidemic, and how he came up against many people who told him it could not happen. But, he said, he also met remarkable, inspiring people that believed that “anything is possible.”

The festival launched 12 years ago, and since then more than 20,000 artists have performed at Luminato.

“Anything is possible,” he said. “Please never forget that, please do not allow anyone, anywhere, to convince you otherwise. Believe always that anything is possible if you try to achieve it with your heart and soul.”

Chancellor Greg Sorbara, honorary degree recipient Tony Gagliano and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton
From left: York University Chancellor Greg Sorbara, honorary degree recipient Tony Gagliano and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton

He continued with a message for graduands to start a life of service as early as possible.

“Beyond what dreams you have for your career and personal success, what are the ways you can make a difference in the life of another person, a community group, a city, a country or humanity in general?” he asked.

Success is built on a foundation of life experiences, career and community, he said, adding the things that matter most cannot be measured or weighed. Within the realm of service to others, and contributing to a cause greater than one’s self-interest, he said, is where to find happiness.

Through these pillars for success, and putting faith and family at the centre of their lives, graduands may come to find their true purpose and path, noted Gagliano.

“Dream big, mighty big. Relentlessly pursue your passion and ambition, rise to every challenge you will undoubtedly face, take risks and don’t you ever, not even for a second, think about giving up,” he said.

“My wish for all of you is that you get the opportunity to experience what it is like to achieve something that almost everyone else thinks is impossible.”