Q & A:
What was your favorite class, who was your favorite professor, or what is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
My favorite – and hardest – class was History of the Play with Professor Howard Siegman. He would sit behind a desk at the front of the classroom, reading out loud from plays and explaining their significance. The midterms were hellish – random quotes we had to identify and write about. But I still dig out my notes from that class from time to time. And I loved Dr. Richard Mason, who taught film and theater styles and directed me in productions. He treated me as an adult at precisely the moment I was trying to become one. We became great friends. In fact, earlier this year I helped scatter his ashes in Bermuda.
What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing you learned there?
A Hofstra alum arranged for me to be an au pair on Park Avenue right after graduation, which gave me a place to live in the city while I tried to break into theater. I learned quickly that it wasn't worth aspiring to live on Park Avenue – the people there weren't any happier than anyone else.
How did you come to work in the industry?
Fairly early on, I realized I could not live the life of a starving artist. I told myself I was taking a break, but in fact I gravitated quite naturally into the corporate world, into companies that specialize in communications and creativity, and instinctively into human resources/talent. But I still took a voice lesson every week!
What advice would you give Hofstra students?
Be resilient. And take good care of the relationships you are forming today. There's no way to predict where you will all go, but as the years go by the connections will become more and more valuable personally and professionally.
In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
What inspired your new album, You Can't Rush Spring?
You know, there are interesting studies about how some people can take the hardest moments in life and channel them into creative growth. That was certainly the case for me. After a series of losses, I had to decide whether they had left a hole or a space. I decided it was a space, and that I would fill it with music. From that point on, everything that felt so hard when I first graduated seemed possible and joyful. But as the title track of the album says, "It's taken me my whole life to learn to give each single moment its turn. You can't rush spring."
How do you balance your position at Young & Rubicam and your music?
The music happens at night, on weekends and instead of traditional vacations. And I like to think it has made me a more empathetic and effective chief talent officer.
Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?
I've had such wonderful mentors and guides. But I always say that the best advice I ever got was from my father. Early in my career, I was whining about how hard something was at work, and he simply said, "Tough." Believe me, I only had to hear that once. To this day, when things get difficult, I tell myself "Tough," and then I put one foot in front of the other and move forward.
Celia Berk is chief talent officer for Young & Rubicam Group. She works in partnership with its leaders to attract, develop and retain the best talent and promote collaboration across a global network composed of some of the most powerful brands in marketing communications. She was previously managing director, Human Resources Worldwide, for the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. Celia also spent 10 years at Reuters America, which she joined after some time at The Commonwealth Fund, where she was administrator of the Harkness Fellowships. Celia holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Hofstra University and serves on the school's Women in Leadership initiative. She is on the Advisory Council of the National Executive Service Corps and sits on the Global Advisory Board for the Future of Advertising Project at Wharton. She supports philanthropic ventures as a trustee of the Nina Abrams Fund. Celia began her professional life as a performing artist and is a member of the Screen Actors Guild, Actors Equity Association and The National Arts Club. Earlier this year, she released her first solo album, You Can't Rush Spring, arranged and conducted by Alex Rybeck and co-produced by Tony Award-winning sound designer Scott Lehrer. It has been warmly received by prominent proponents of The Great American Songbook, including Michael Feinstein ("Beautiful sound, style and taste in song choices"), Rex Reed ("One of the best singers I've heard in a long time") and songwriter Amanda McBroom ("Celia delivers the message and heart behind each song with velvet intelligence"). www.GramercyNightingale.com