Courtney Graziano, Saint Consulting’s Director of Saint Digital, met a classroom of high school students near Denver this week to discuss careers, empowerment and finding passion in what they do.
“When you go to college, it’s not necessarily about the grades, it’s what you do outside the classroom, the extracurricular activities where you can find out what your passion is,” she told a business class of students at Sheridan High School
For a political and environmental activist who now runs Saint Consulting’s social media campaigns for land use politics, it was an eye opener for Courtney as well as the students.
At Sheridan, she found a low-income minority group with whom she related as a woman who in business can often be treated as a minority. “They were the most polite kids I’ve ever met, kids who expect to go perhaps to community college but who recently figured out they can do better,” she said.
She told them the hardest part of her entire career “is being a loud aggressive woman in a male-dominated world… so I told them that as a woman and a minority, it’s important to stand up for yourself and not be afraid to not apologize. You’re going to make mistakes, that doesn’t mean you can’t fix them, but don’t ever apologize for being a woman.”
Courtney has worked for conservation and environmental causes since 2007, and the result has been positive all around. At Vanderbilt, Courtney worked hard to register people to vote. In 2007, she organized a rally (StepItUpDC) of 1,100 people on the National Mall in front of the US Capitol to raise awareness of carbon issues, she worked for the League of Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood and the Colorado Environmental Coalition over the next four years. She joined Saint Consulting last year.
The students asked about her major in college – a double major in political science and American and Southern Studies at Vanderbilt and her master’s degree in organizational leadership, also at Vanderbilt.
They asked how the studies relate to her current job. “I told them it doesn’t directly relate, but it’s the lessons I learned about cultural implications of everyday tasks that helped me in micro-targeting and micro-marketing, using social media to target specific groups,” Courtney said. “If I build a website for a group on the West Coast, it will be very different from one I might build in Boston. I do apply the cultural aspects of our country to decisions I make in building campaigns.”
She also encouraged the students, particularly the girls, that when they go to college, don’t sit in the back of the classroom and let something go by. “When you’re in a discussion group, speak up. It’s empowering and it’s how the world actually works. If you don’t speak up, you’re left behind. I fully believe the only way women will ever truly be treated as equals is if we speak up,” Courtney said.
In a world where virtually every major social media platform – Facebook, Twitter, even Pinterest – was founded by a man, “I encouraged the girls to take positions that may be out of their comfort zone,” she said.
A year ago Courtney said she wouldn’t have talked the same way, “because I wasn’t feeling passionate about my work. I told them I work more hours now than I ever have before, but I’m happier than I ever have been because it hits all the notes of the things I love, it allows me to be creative, it allows me to be political, it allows me to be my outspoken self, I need to be constantly learning, for my mental health, it allows me to interact with people who do great things and who believe in what I’m doing.”
Courtney plans to mentor two of the students.
Courtney Graziano is director of Saint Digital at The Saint Consulting Group, email firstname.lastname@example.org