By Kim Bolduc
On Jan. 26, the Pre-Law Society and Messa House Council hosted a dinner and discussion with Frank Messa ’73, who is a lifetime member of Union’s Board of Trustees.
Messa spoke proudly of Union’s reputation and of the college’s continued ability to educate graduates with an incredible aptitude for success.
In particular, he praised the school’s close community, as well as how the college’s atmosphere fosters a development of interpersonal skills.
“Davidson was the place to be when I was here,” Messa recalled over dinner. Messa was one of the first students to live in the new residence hall.
He remains close friends with his suitemates from those years. “One year, we reunited by visiting our old room in Davidson,” Messa recalled fondly.
After graduating from Union, Messa attended Albany Law School and eventually branched out into the business world.
Messa rapidly achieved success as an entrepreneur, for which he heavily credits the college and law school teaching practices.
“Undergraduate education isn’t about the substance of what you learn,” Messa mused, “but the mental processes of what you learn.”
Through his liberal arts education, Messa learned technical skills, such as reading, writing, critical thinking and time management.
“These are highly prized skills in the business world,” Messa told students.
Many of the same benefits come with a law school education. Law school differs from other graduate schools, such as medical school, where the substance is important.
According to Messa, law school emphasizes the importance of mental processes gained through training under extreme pressure and adverse conditions.
These conditions teach discipline and other translatable skills that apply to various career paths.
“The versatility of a law degree is unlike any other. I went to law school knowing that I did not want to be a lawyer,” Messa explained.
Messa cited the success of the writer John Grisham, who holds a law degree from the University of Mississippi, and sports figure Tony Larussa, who earned a law degree from Florida State Law School, as evidence for the opportunities offered by obtaining a law degree.
In his own life, Messa was able to use his law education to build an eight-person financial consulting company based in Schenectady into a multibillion-dollar national business.
Eventually, Messa and other co-founders sold Ayco Company to Goldman Sachs for half a billion dollars.
During his time at Ayco Company, Messa aimed to hire one Union graduate per year.
“The Union College landscape is littered with tales of entrepreneurs, people who went out on a limb. It’s no accident that Union alums hold high-placed positions,” Messa affirmed.
Messa observed that the average age of people in law school has been gradually increasing, which implies that people take some time between undergraduate and graduate school to determine what they want to get out of a law degree.
Messa suggested that holding a job with a law firm before going to law school might provide a good foundation for financial help from the employer.
Messa spoke to the vision of the Minerva System in view of the 10th anniversary of the Minerva Houses at Union. He explained that the Minerva System initially served as an alternative to the Greek life system.
However, it has grown into a way to integrate professors and students in an atmosphere that promotes intellectual growth and social interactions.
Messa shared that other colleges have approached Union to inquire about the efficacy and implementation of the Minerva System.
Messa emphasized the qualities of successful people as inextricably linked with excellent interpersonal skills.
Messa observed, “At Union, you get the opportunity to interact with some of the smartest people in the country. This rubs off and allows you to learn to think critically and analytically.”
Messa stated students need to distinguish themselves among dedicated peers through over-preparation and overwork, which is very good practice for surviving and succeeding in the business world.