ELIZABETH — Students returning to classes at Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth on Sept. 5 heard a message that was energizing and optimistic, yet challenging, during a school assembly held to initiate the academic year at the all-female Catholic college prep high school. Guest speaker Julienne Brazinski Simpson, an alumna of the Academy’s Class of 1970, and a legend in the history of women’s basketball, used her enthusiasm, wit and honesty to speak from her heart to the students gathered in the school auditorium.
Simpson, a Roselle Park native who is a 1976 Olympic Games Silver Medalist and member of the Class of 2000 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, is currently the Director of Athletics and Assistant to the Vice President for Student Life at the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station. Following the Olympics, she coached Division I and Division II basketball teams including Arizona State, Bucknell and East Stroudsburg University. She compiled over 300 collegiate coaching victories over a thirty-year track record of continued success as a player, head coach, and an administrator. As a motivational speaker, she engaged the Benedictine Academy students for nearly an hour, earning their rapt attention.
Simpson expanded upon this year’s Benedictine Academy school theme: “go… do not be afraid… and serve…,” based on the directive of Pope Francis I at the World Youth Day convocation held over the summer. In order to not be afraid, “young people need to have faith,” Simpson stated. And, “to do service, you have to be a builder. Builders of buildings use materials; builders of communities build each other,” Simpson said. “When you build community, you build each other,” she emphasized.
“You will all be ‘Benedictine builders’ this year,” Simpson added, suggesting the young women can make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others by “serving. What is your value, your ethic…how will you serve?” she asked all.
She challenged the students to “build” on what they each bring to their new school year from past experiences. “When you are building, you start seeing opportunities you missed or may desire now, your focus opens up more, you become concerned about others,” she noted. Commenting that each student has a “lens” — a way of looking at and perceiving the world — Simpson explained that “each year, your lens opens up a little more.” However, “you have to build inside before you can see what’s out there,” she added.
Simpson offered words of advice such as, “continue to look for positive people and things;” “take the confidence you have now and start to mold who you want to be and serve others;” and, “you have to be a big dreamer — plan how you can make your dreams come true.” Noting that her journey to success was not easy, Simpson encouraged the young women to work hard, stating, “It’s the level of work that makes the difference in what can be achieved.” “Find something that really makes you passionate,” Simpson told the students. “There will be so many things that get in the way, but say to yourselves, ‘here I am now — there’s where I want to be.’ Get someone to help you.”
“There will be a time in your life when it is just you, and something more powerful than you,” Simpson said in concluding remarks. “Whatever you want to be, work at it and become who you want to be.”
Benedictine Academy was founded by the Benedictine Sisters of Elizabeth in 1915 to serve young women in Elizabeth and the surrounding communities. A Catholic, college preparatory high school, the mission of the Academy is to educate young women to be responsible leaders of the 21st Century.