Members of alumni panel share common thread
GREENFIELD — The common thread between a restaurant owner, a technology operations manager and a television producer is Greenfield Community College — a place all three said instilled in them lessons that have impacted their lives and careers.
The three GCC alumni — Thom Beers, Denise DiPaolo and Daryl Shaw — shared their experiences Saturday in a panel portion of the college’s 50th anniversary celebration.
DiPaolo, owner of the Turners Falls eatery Ristorante DiPaolo, said she came to GCC in 1992 looking for a fresh start. At the time, she was a recently divorced 37-year-old mother of two, with limited resources and no higher education.
“My life was a wreck, but here I got really grounded,” said DiPaolo. “I felt supported, I got help putting things in perspective and I gained the confidence to move forward.”
She graduated two years later and continued her education at Vermont College at Norwich University. A decade later, she bought a condemned Turners Falls building for $1, convinced bankers to back her, reconstructed the property and successfully turned it into an Italian restaurant.
Shaw — who works in New York City’s Times Square as a manager of information technology support and operations for Black Entertainment Television — also came to GCC in the early 1990s, after serving for 14 years in the Army.
Born and raised in New York City, he was shocked by the difference that he found in Greenfield’s pace of life.
“Man, was this place scary. I’m used to hustle and bustle and this was just like dead stop,” he said.
But he formed relationships here, and learned how to learn — things he said he takes with him wherever he goes.
“Working at BET, I learn probably about 10 or 20 things every single day,” he said. “That’s the thing I got from GCC ... you’re never done learning.”
Television producer and executive Beers recounted his theater experiences at GCC during the 1970s.
“I walked in and (was given) the biggest part that was ever offered to me,” he said of his role of Don Quixote in the play “Man of La Mancha.”
Beers would continue as an actor and playwright in Colorado and New York, before making the transition into the television business.
Today, he is the CEO of FreeMantle Media North America and has produced reality television shows including “Deadliest Catch,” “Ice Road Truckers,” “Monster Garage” and “Storage Wars.”
“I’ve got a massive empire that I run ... (and) it all started from a little bit of insanity here,” said Beers. He attributed his success, in part, to being one of the first in the business to bring a theatrical mind set of storytelling into reality programming.
Both Beers and Shaw played video reels of their companies’ current projects. And DiPaolo showed pictures of her restaurant, both during the early stages of construction and how it exists today.
The three panel members were included among the college’s “50 Distinguished Alumni.”
A special selection committee, that had previously honored 13 alumni during the past 11 years, chose 37 more this year in honor of the college’s anniversary.
The entire list of alumni — which can be found on the college’s anniversary Web page, http://web.gcc.mass.edu/50 — was read Saturday night, immediately following the GCC Foundation’s annual meeting.
Each distinguished alumni in attendance Saturday was called to the stage at the front of the dining commons and given an award package.
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