In 1972, my parents made the courageous decision to leave behind the country of their birth, their family and friends, and sacrifice all that was familiar to them, in the hopes of finding a new and better life for our family in the United States of America. There was precious little opportunity for a young girl in 1970’s Palermo, Sicily. However, our translocation to Canarsie Brooklyn didn’t seem like much of an opportunity to a five-year-old; for me it was terrifying.
In kindergarten, I spent each day sitting alone in silence. Hampered by a frustrating inability to communicate, I knew enough to know that I was the object of ridicule for being different, for dressing unlike anyone around me, and for having a name that people found difficult to spell and struggled to pronounce. My afternoons were spent watching the children’s television workshop. I mimicked the words I heard and practiced in the glare of the screen until their pronunciation became second nature to me. I credit Bob, Gordon, Susan, and Luis from Sesame Street, Carole and Paula from the Magic Garden, and Morgan and Rita from the Electric Company, for teaching me how to read, write, and speak the English language.
By second grade, the quiet girl was quiet no longer. I immersed myself in my studies and joined as many clubs as I could, determined to make my parents’ sacrifices worthwhile and to fulfill the aspirations they had for their children.
On June 21, 1983, the same week as my graduation from I.S. 25 Junior High School, our Naturalization process became complete as we proudly took the Oath of Allegiance at the United States District Court of the Eastern District in Brooklyn, becoming United States Citizens.
Like many of you, I have often been asked to select the moment in time I decided to be an attorney. For me, that decision was made at seven years old when I found my voice and the empowerment that comes from effective communication.
Now, 50 years after an Alitalia flight carrying my family landed at JFK International Airport, a girl from Palermo, Sicily, has the honor and privilege of being installed the 120th President of the Nassau County Bar Association, the largest suburban bar association in the country.
I am mindful that I am only the 10th woman in the 123-year history of this association to be installed as President. In fact, it was not until 1951 that the Association amended its bylaws to permit women to be admitted as members. Another 43 years would pass until Grace Moran became the first woman installed as President in 1994—a mere 28 years ago.
I am quite possibly the first immigrant to serve as President, certainly the first immigrant of the modern era.
It was only 15 years ago, in 2007, that Lance Clarke was the first African American man to be installed as President. And it will be another four years from now, until our newly installed Secretary, the Hon. Maxine Broderick, will become the first African American woman to be installed as President in the year 2026, a glass ceiling that will have taken 127 years to shatter. At what point in our journey will our members gather to bear witness to the installation of its first Asian American President? Or a LatinX President? Or a President who is a proud member of the LGBT community?
The tapestry of our Association becomes richer because of diversity. Diversity encompasses not only gender, race, and sexual orientation, but also ethnic and national origin, religion, geographic location, work experience, economic background, age, and disability. As diversity increases, so does our strength and capability as a bar association. Through increased diversity, our organization can more effectively address societal and member needs through a collection of varied perspectives, experiences, knowledge and understanding.
It is critical that our organization as a whole—and all of its components—including the Nassau Academy of Law, WE CARE Fund, Lawyers Assistance Program, Mortgage Foreclosure Assistance Project, Nassau Lawyer, and the dozens of Committees under this grand umbrella that we call Domus, strive to reflect the diversity of our profession and our society within its membership, leadership, program involvement, and community outreach.
As an immigrant, I have always sensed a duality in myself—while one half is deeply rooted in tradition, the other half seeks innovation. Such concepts are not mutually exclusive but, rather, harmonious. In preparation for assuming the mantle of the presidency, I engaged in a “listening tour” over a series of lunches at the bar association with many of our esteemed Past Presidents. I am eternally grateful to Past Presidents John McEntee, Christopher McGrath, Grace Moran, Steven Leventhal, Richard Collins, Dorian Glover, Greg Lisi, Marc Gann, Kathryn Meng, Andrew Simons, Peter Mancuso, Lance Clarke, Elena Karabatos, Stephen Gassman, Marian Rice, Joseph Ryan, William Savino, Emily Franchina, Susan Katz Richman, and Martha Krisel for sharing their wisdom, providing their support, and being a source of inspiration. While each had a unique perspective, there is little doubt that all of them share a deep and abiding love for this Association, as do I.
I am fortunate to serve alongside President Elect Sanford Strenger, Vice President Daniel Russo, Treasurer James Joseph, and Secretary Maxine Broderick, and for the unparalleled passion, dedication, and commitment they bring to our Association.
I am grateful for the staff at NCBA, especially Executive Director Elizabeth Post, Director of CLE and NAL Jennifer Groh, NAL Executive Assistant and Judiciary Committee Liaison Patti Anderson, Assigned Counsel Defender Plan Administrator Robert Nigro, Director of Pro Bono Activities Madeline Mullane, Director of LAP Elizabeth Eckhardt, Communications Manager and Nassau Lawyer Production Manager Ann Burkowsky, Special Events and WE CARE Coordinator Bridget Ryan, Membership Coordinator and Committee Liaison Stephanie Pagano, Membership Services Coordinator Donna Gerdik, Lawyer Referral Information Service Coordinator Carolyn Bonino, and of course, our House Management Director and Photographer Hector Herrera.
I am hopeful for the year ahead, and the opportunity to add a bit more texture to the rich fabric of this Association.