A Busy Weekend Included Candles, Supper Club, Live Music, and a Graduation Party


It’s Monday morning, and I might need two cups of coffee. It was a busy weekend filled with socializing. And it began on Thursday, not Friday, as my friend Elizabeth invited me to dinner and candle making.

That’s right. Candle making.

We’ve been friends for 33 years, and we figured, why not? Let’s make some candles. We’ve done a hell of a lot of other things together, so why not add this to the list? (She says she’s now making a bucket list for us to do the next 33 years of our friendship…this will be interesting).

Candles Off Main in Annapolis offers workshops on candle making, and it’s replete with a little education on candles and their existence in today’s world. We got a short history lesson, along with some really cool facts about candles that may come in handy for a game of Jeopardy. Moreover, we made candles and the unlit one I brought home is smelling up my living room without even burning. It smells like black cherry.

On Friday night, it was my husband and my turn to host supper club. Our theme, thanks to our friend Jackie, was “Under the Tequila Sun” —Mexican night. Supper clubs are great and relatively easy. The folks that host at their house are responsible for the main course and drinks. Other club members bring appetizers, sides, and dessert. It works out to be fun for all, and we spend hours talking, eating, drinking, catching up, and having lots of laughs. I highly recommend creating one with your friends and neighbors if you don’t already do so. We get together every other month, and we take turns hosting.

On Saturday night, my husband and I went to see a band he loves called The Record Company. If you’re a blues and/or rock and roll fan, you would love this energetic band. They played at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., and we went early for dinner at Matchbox and then headed to the show. My husband loves seeing live music, and the band was high energy, and the volume was so loud in there that my ears were still ringing on Sunday morning (and I have bad hearing to begin with!).

Finally, on Sunday, we were invited to our friends’ daughter’s graduation party in Virginia. The Murrays know how to throw a party, and we’re so happy for their daughter, Erin, who will attend the University of Dayton in the fall.

And so here we are, folks, on Monday morning. I have a lot to accomplish this week, including some reading and writing and (hopefully) some relaxation by the pool.

Bring on the fairies…


Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.



For Graduates: There is Always A Place For You

The approach to campus | Stevenson University | October 27, 2015
The approach to campus | Stevenson University | October 27, 2015

* * *

At college and university graduations across the country, ceremonies will be chock full of great quotes, wonderful inspirational sentiments, and often excerpts of poetry. Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” is a popular favorite—and an amazing poem.

However, for my graduates who are about to enter the working world or continue on to graduate school, this little poem has always been one of my favorites by Anne Campbell. I share it with you now as I wish you well, hope you have wonderful successes and happiness ahead of you, and cherish the times we shared at Stevenson. Remember: there is always a place for you.

 There Is Always a Place for You
by Anne Campbell
There is always a place for you at my table,
—You never need be invited.
I’ll share every crust as long as I’m able,
—And know you will be delighted.
There is always a place for you by my fire,
—And though it may burn to embers,
If warmth and good cheer are your desire
—The friend of your heart remembers!
There is always a place for you by my side,
—And should the years tear us apart,
I will face lonely moments more satisfied
—With a place for you in my heart!
Congratulations, graduates!

My Speech to Graduates: Stevenson University

Photo credit: Stevenson University/Maumi Chatterton


I had the great honor of being tonight’s faculty speaker at Stevenson University’s Baccalaureate ceremony, which is scheduled only a few days before graduation. I was selected by the senior class, and I can’t tell you how that made me feel warm and fuzzy.

We gathered tonight in the Greenspring gym…it looked so beautiful in there. I was touched by the graduates sitting in the front row, and I tried my best to talk directly to them.

Andy Gepert was the student speaker, and Ellen Roskes was the celebrant.

To be completely honest, I’m on cloud nine. Despite having the jitters before I spoke (the waiting can get to me sometimes), I am so happy I was included and a part of the ceremony.

What follows is the speech I gave. Thank you, graduates, for making me feel wonderful tonight. I wish you all the best, and I’ll see you on Friday for graduation.

THE SPEECH: Reflections for Baccalaureate/Stephanie Verni: Break the Ice

Good evening, and thank you.

Graduates. This is your night, a celebration of you. I am here on behalf of the faculty at Stevenson University to congratulate you on four years of success and accomplishments. My name is Stephanie Verni, and I’m a full-time faculty member in Business Communication. I’m honored to be speaking to you all tonight.

Before I begin the daunting task of imparting a meaningful message to you, I’m going to ask you to indulge me. You see, before I came to Stevenson, I worked in corporate America for 15 years, and there’s one thing we love in the world of business, and that’s an ice-breaker activity.

So graduates, I’m going to ask you to participate in an ice-breaker and it comes in the form of Simon Says. I’m sure you all remember this game we played as a child. I’ll be Simon, and you’re to follow directions, but only if I say Simon Says. Got it? So channel your inner child now, graduates, and stand up. Good. You didn’t do it. Now, Simon Says, graduates please stand up.

Simon Says graduates turn to your right.
Simon Says, pat your classmate on the back.
Simon Says, graduates turn to your left.
Simon Says, pat your classmate on the back.
Great job.
Now, Simon Says, graduates face front.
Simon Says, reach your hand straight up. Simon says reach behind and pat yourself on the back.

Well done. You did it. Congratulations. Now sit down.
Ah! Simon Says, please sit down.

Parents and caretakers of these graduates, you also deserve a pat on the back. Tonight is a happy occasion and one to celebrate.

I began tonight’s talk with an icebreaker. So often in life what we have to do is break the ice. Do you remember your first days on campus? Do you remember wondering where your first classroom was or if you would know anyone in the room? Do you remember that first night in your dorm or commuting to campus and wondering where you would park? Do you remember your first class or the first time you talked to that person who is now your best friend?

Often, you have to break the ice in order to begin your journey. Your undergraduate journey is coming to a close. But what about the exciting journey that lies ahead? With so many new experiences and adventures to tackle, all you have to do is break the ice.

I teach a course here at Stevenson called “The Advertising Campaign,” and so I thought I would offer you some words of wisdom, in the form of Advertising slogans, as you move on to the next journey of your life. In the interest of time, I’ve created The Eight Commandments of Ad Slogans to live by, both old and new slogans. And don’t worry—these don’t come in the form of jingles, so you won’t have to endure my horrific singing. If you’re skeptical whether life’s wisdom can’t come in the form of ad campaigns, I’m here to persuade you that they certainly can…Let’s begin…

Number 8: As McDonald’s said many years ago in its most famous ad campaign, “You Deserve a Break Today.” Tonight, relax. Enjoy time with your family and friends as they are here to celebrate with you. It’s one of life’s lessons—there are times when you need to take a break. Stop and smell the roses and enjoy it.

Number 7: You Are Now Free To Move About the Country. (Southwest Airlines). It’s a big country, a big world. Take it on. Make the most of the jobs you get, the friends you make, the connections you hold dear. Visit people, tour the world. Now is the time to do it. When you earn an income, put a little money aside to explore and move about the country, the world.

Number 6: Never forget to Think Outside The Bun. (Taco Bell). I tell my writing and advertising students all the time—where would we be without creativity? Apple computers told us to think different. Think outside the box. Put aside some time to channel your creativity. Paint, draw, write, take photographs, journal, act, dance…whatever it is, your journey relies on your ability to unleash your creativity.

Number 5: The Road Will Never Be the Same. (Acura). Look back on your life and who you are today. Are you the same person you were four years ago? Your life at Stevenson has helped you grow as people, and though you are about to take a drive down a new road, what lessons and memories will you take with you from Stevenson that have changed you?

Number 4: East More Chikin’ (Chick Fil A)…I tried to find life’s wisdom in “Eat More Chickin’,” but…no…never mind…

Let’s move on to the real Number 4: Life is full of surprises. (Life cereal). We meet surprises along the way on our journeys, and guess what? They can be some of the best parts of life. I met one of my dear friends by chance in a doctor’s office when we took our babies in for check ups. I happened into a teaching career after working in the public relations field for years. I met my husband on the job. There are pleasant surprises ahead. Be ready. Life is full of them.

Number 3: Only Smarties Have the Answer. (Smarties candies). Look at all the smarties in the room about to graduate! You are older and wiser. It may be strange to hear me say “older” and “wiser,” but you are. Now what will you do with that knowledge? Put what you know to good use. Do this not only for yourself, but for others.

Number 2: As Nike says, “Just Do It,” so that you can, as the US Army said, “Be All You Can Be.” These two slogans can apply to anything you attempt to do in life. Whatever it is, whether it’s trying a new career…a move to another state…running a marathon…or becoming involved in civic or community activities, follow your gut, muster your drive and JUST DO IT.

And finally, we’ve reached number 1: As Coca-Cola says, “Open Happiness.” You deserve to be happy tonight and as you move ahead in life. Remember to break the ice, take a leap of faith. When one experience ends, a new one begins. Open that door. As Nissan says, “Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride.”

I wish you much joy and happiness as you move along into your next journey. On behalf of the faculty at Stevenson, congratulations, graduates, and thank you.

Guest Blogger-Amanda Gingery Hostalka: An Inspirational Speech to Graduates

The following speech has been generously made available to Steph’s Scribe by Stevenson University’s Professor of Art, Ms. Amanda Gingery Hostalka. Professor Hostalka gave this speech at Stevenson’s Baccalaureate Ceremonies on May 10, 2011, where she served as the celebrant for the occasion just three days prior to graduation. Her words were moving and inspirational, and at my request, she allowed me to publish her speech so that we can take it in one more time (for those of us who heard it) and share it with others who did not have the wonderful opportunity to do so.

Therefore, I present our first guest blogger, Amanda Gingery Hostalka, and her motivating, heartfelt speech.

Thank you, Amanda.

“What a joyous evening!

Graduates-to-be, when you invited me here to be the Celebrant, I was so excited. You see, I figured you’d asked me because you wanted to hear my deep and meaningful reflections upon your chosen theme: The future belongs to those who dream. So, of course, I gratefully said yes. But, after I said yes, something strange started to happen. When I imagined coming up here in front of all of you and your families, our distinguished guests and my esteemed colleagues, my heart began race, my palms became sweaty, and my breathing got a whole lot faster. Then, it dawned on me. Ah-ha! You were getting me back for all the tough critiques, tough love, and unsolicited advice I’ve given over these four years. Touché.

Despite my apprehensions, however, I did as I would advise any of you: I faced my fears and put it on my to-do list in big bold letters: “B-A-C-C-A-L-A-U-R-E-A-T-E.”

In the 19th century, Victor Hugo wrote, “He, who every morning plans the transactions of the day, and follows that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through a labyrinth of the most busy life.”

I make to-do lists, many of them—lists upon lists of all the things I must do each day. I write them out neatly in a notebook or on napkins, scraps of paper, post-its, or on my iPhone. And as I go through the day, I check items off one-by-one.

Yes. I come from a long line of to-do lists makers, mostly on my mother’s side. My mother makes to-do lists, my mother’s mother makes to do lists, and apparently, her mother’s mother made to-do lists too. I know many of you make lists as well. It would be difficult to earn a college degree without keeping track of your research, homework assignments, labs, papers, and projects.

Victor Hugo would be proud of us because our lists keep us productive and focused. There is very little question of what we will do from one day to the next. Put it all down, then cross it all off. As Hugo suggested, these plans help us steer a clear course through our hectic lives. Your lives have been pretty busy. It’s impressive the stuff you’ve managed to stay on top of: your academic calendars, your blackboard calendars, your social calendars, and your work calendars.

You have proven that success is possible when you prioritize and make lists.

But, one thing I have oft been reminded of in my adult life, the one reality that never fails to creep up through the cracks in my busy calendar: It’s that, for life to have meaning—to live a fulfilling life—one must do more than simply navigate (or survive) this busy life.

As you graduates-to-be have recently crossed off many items on your to-do list, you are probably thinking about what you will do next.

I am proposing a new to-do list: a list not for piloting through a busy life checking things off, but rather, a list to help you realize the satisfying life and future happiness you DREAM about.

The first item to write down on your new TO-DO list is:

Number One: Say thank you.

In the words of Epicurus, “Remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Rather than noting on your list what you WANT; try jotting down what you ALREADY have. You have received an amazing gift of a college education. You may think that everyone goes to college these days, but you have something that still only one of three Americans earn. For all the hard work and the sacrifices made by you and your families, you have come out ahead. If you are getting a master’s degree, it’s even more so. Despite the recession, the job market, and the loans, you have still come out ahead. Say thank you to those who have given to your effort. Say thank you to yourself for sticking with it. Say thank you to God and to your parents.

Number Two. Give.

Give back to those who helped you get where you are. Give to those less fortunate. Give to The United Way or Habitat for Humanity or your church. Sure, make a donation to Stevenson. But, don’t limit your gifts to money or material goods. The truest gift is the gift you give “OF YOURSELF”—of your whole heart. It is the gift of Love.

“Your most precious, valued possessions and your greatest powers are invisible and intangible. No one can take them. You, and you alone, can give them. You will receive abundance for your giving.”—Clement Stone

…in other words, an open heart and abounding love will lead you to your castle built in the sky.

Number Three: Pretend.

Yes. Pretend. When you’re scared out of your mind: fake it. Because your life will expand or contract relative to your ability to summon the courage to do the thing that scares you most. Sometimes, you’ll be afraid of failure. But more often, you’ll be afraid of success because, when you succeed, that’s when even more will be expected of you. We expect more of you now. When you have doubts as to whether you can deliver on these expectations: do what Corra Harris advised: “profess courage and act accordingly.” or, Fake it ’til you make it.

Number Four: Count on your raving fans & seek out tough critics.

The raving fans are the people who love you unconditionally. Always a soft place to land, these cheerleaders are important. They tell you that your bad haircut looks “wonderful.” They lift you when you’re down. You need them. Know who they are and let them protect you…but not too much. Because…you also need tough critics; people in your life who will ask you for more…who will tell you the truth about your haircut and your trespasses. They envision a better version of yourself than you sometimes want to be. They are your professors and your coaches who were never satisfied, and the mentors or family members that always asked the difficult questions. For many of you, that person is sitting here now. Please, don’t turn your back to the high standard they set for you. When you leave Stevenson, ask them to continue to lead you in the direction of your dreams by challenging you to reach for the impossible.

And when you get tired of chasing rainbows and start believing that giving up will be more fruitful than pushing on, call your biggest raving fan. Let him pour water on the seed of your dream, keeping it alive.

Number Five: Be wrong.

Or, maybe just don’t always have to be right, or don’t get the last word, or don’t always say the first word, or the loudest words. Don’t be that guy (or girl) who has to be the smartest person in the room.

It’s easy to speak-up when you are right or when you already know something. It’s much more difficult to quit talking and let someone else shine.

Let’s face it, at some basic level, we all want the same thing we wanted when we were four years old…love and attention. But, know this: the more light you shine on others, the more that will reflect back on you. Let your ego be penetrable, give credit and credence to those around you, and opportunities to shine will be presented to you beyond your wildest dreams.

Number Six: Invent something.

Yes. Invent something. Anything.

On second thought, let me suggest you start with a way to rid us of the invasive brown marmorated stink bugs. We are counting on you. No, really, we are counting on you.

Thomas Edison received his first patent at age 22

Ruth Wakefield, an Innkeeper in New England, invented Chocolate Chip Cookies at age 27.

..and Bill Gates was only 21 when he co-founded Microsoft.

Young people are the future of ingenuity and innovation. Whether you’re a foodie, a genius, a techie, or something else, you will be the ones forging new paths.

We are trying to keep up with the flickr, flixster, facetime, and foursquare, while you are auto-tuning the news. So, if you have an idea that none of your Professors or parents understand or find relevant, I say go with it.

Facebook (founded by a twenty-year old) now has more than 500 million users. On Skype, I can talk with my brother-in-law stationed in Africa as if he is in my living room. What problem will you solve? How many people will you bring together? Go ahead. Invent something we haven’t even imagined.

Number Seven: Make mistakes and fail.

Success is not forever. You will encounter obstacles, and you will —at times —be defeated. But, failure is only failure if you allow it to be fatal, which thankfully it rarely ever is. Turn every failure into action. Every failed chance is an opportunity to grow, to be better, and to learn about your self. Pay attention to your failures and what they are telling you. Don’t look outward to blame. Look inward to understand.

Know intimately your shortcomings. Work on those and they will lead you to success.

Number Eight: Dream BIG.

No Dream REALLY big. We are in difficult times.

We are engaged in three military conflicts abroad.

We are in the midst of a Great Recession, persistent unemployment, and declining home values.

And there’s a growing divide between the haves and have-nots.

Amid these realities, it may seem like imagining BIG dreams would not only be highly impractical, but downright foolish.

Your theme for tonight is derived from an Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” But, how can you believe in the beauty of your dreams for the future, when you look around and see such ugly realities in the present? 

Well, it’s easy to dream BIG if you consider the BIG dreams that once seemed impossible, which we now take for granted.

Let’s reflect on REALITY in 2007 when most of you had just graduated from High School:

  • In 371 years, Harvard University had never had a woman president.

Just four years ago,

  • Hosni Mubarack was the authoritarian ruler of Egypt for more than two decades.
  • There was no Hulu, no iPad, and no bionic hand.
  • The Villa Julie lacrosse team was up-and-coming.
  • And there had never been an African American President of the United States of America.

Overcoming these circumstances would have seemed impossible just a decade or two ago yet, as I stand here:

  • The Stevenson University Lacrosse Team is arguably the number 1 Division Three team in the country.
  • The current President of Harvard is Ms. Drew Gilpin Faust.
  • Our Nation’s President is Barak Obama.
  • Through the use of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, millions of ordinary citizens were able to topple a 30-year regime in Egypt in just 18 days.
  • And, now, when a soldier loses her hand, she can get a bionic prosthetic, controlled by her brain that feels real sensations.

As science and technology advance at ever-faster speeds, the distance between dreams and reality is shorter and shorter. The only way to eliminate the ugliness of today is to have the courage to dream BIG and set the current course in a new direction.

Finally, one last item for your new TO-DO list…

Number Nine: Be silent.

At times on your journey, you will feel lost…. and you might not even know what to dream. In fact, you may feel this way right now. You have just accomplished one of your wishes, and you could be wondering what TO-DO next. BE SILENT.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Let us become silent that we may hear the whispers of the Gods. There is guidance for each of us, and by lowly listening we shall hear the right word.”

If you get lost:

Become silent that you may hear the whispers of the gods.

By lowly listening you shall hear the right words.

When you do, write them down on your to-do list.

The future.

Your future…

is now.


“To-do” with….

as you dream.

Thank you.”

Letting Go.

Today, I hugged my students goodbye at the close of graduation ceremonies. It is not always easy. As a professor, I get attached to the students, especially those that I spend a lot of time with in classes, work together with through the public relations club, or collaborate on other events and projects that take place over the course of the semester. We spend a lot of time together. I will miss their smiling faces they wear, even as I layer on the writing projects and advertising pitches. I shouldn’t feel melancholy as I watch my students leave the nest, because, after all, it’s my job to prepare them to go out into the working world and become successful. And yet tonight, I do. Nevertheless, the primary reason for all this mild grieving is that it’s all a part of letting go.

Some of us are better at letting go than others. Some of us can let go of an argument and forgive quickly. Others of us let go by forgiving someone who has used our kindness and generosity. Some of us let go of hearing a belittling comment or whisper that was not intended for our ears. Some of us can let go of old loves, friends, and relations that cause us nothing but pain.

And still, some of us hold on.

We hold on to feelings of comfort, in knowing that our teachings have helped guide these students and mold them into what they may become. Some of us hold on to the pleasure of seeing that light bulb go off in their heads when a concept we’ve discussed finally makes sense. Some of us hold on to that one student who is determined to fight off that “C” and earn a “B” or an “A.” Some of us hold on to that email that says, “Thanks for making me read something I normally wouldn’t,” or “Happy Mother’s Day—you are like a mother to me.”

We have to do a lot of letting go in life. I often wonder how I will feel when my own son and daughter graduate from college and move along in their grown-up ways.

Yes, so often in life, we have to let go. It’s all part of the journey.

And I will let go. But today, just for a little longer, I’ve decided to hold on.