Restaurateur: ‘Keep it simple; keep it focused’

PAUL SMITHS – Wally Ganzi celebrated the 50-year anniversary of his Paul Smith’s College graduation by sharing life lessons with the college’s new crop of graduates.

About 320 students and their friends and family braved winds and rain Saturday to attend the college’s 66th graduation ceremony.

The co-owner of The Palm Restaurants, which operates 28 fine-dining restaurants across the U.S., the U.K. and Mexico, said he still uses lessons he learned at Paul Smith’s every day.

He told the graduates about how he and his friends saw a need and started a business selling sandwiches and milk late night on campus. He said it helped pay most of his tuition, but he had to learn strong organizational skills, which he said he often stresses are hugely important.

He told graduates that it’s important to always make fair deals, rather than one-sided ones that only serve a single person.

“It’ll always work out,” he said.

He also advised students to not live complicated lives.

“Keep it simple, and keep it focused,” Ganzi said.

He suggested that students follow their gut instincts, to practice human interaction rather than texting and email – when they go for a job interview, they will have to sit down and talk to the person face to face – and to have mutual respect for everyone, even employees. Ganzi said he rarely uses the term employee when he speaks about people who work for him.

“We’re a team,” Ganzi said. “We work together.”

Ganzi told students to always listen to people, which he said he did when he made decisions about what to serve at his restaurants and where to open new ones.

He told students about how his grandfather opened The Palm with a colleague in the 1920s, and the business has survived through decades of difficult times. He noted that many say it’s hard to make a living today, but he told the graduates he has faith in them.

“If the Palm can survive and persevere, you can too,” Ganzi said.

Senior Class President Ashley Rokjer also talked about the kinds of lessons she and her classmates learned at Paul Smith’s. She said in her address that Smitties learn reason, practicality and resourcefulness while they live out their college careers in the “snowglobe” that is Paul Smith’s. She said that while there may be inconveniences living in such a rural area, students there grow to love the beauty and benefits of the Adirondacks and the college.

She compared Smitties to the Algonquin Indians, who were made fun of by the Iroquois for living in the Adirondacks. The Iroquois called the Algonquins “bark eaters,” or Adirondack in their language.

Rokjer said people who live in the area today have it a little easier than back then, but they still have to be tough.

She noted that while there are a variety of types of students in her class, they could easily unite over a single song or a party. She helped organize a party the weekend before graduation to celebrate the life of George Deets, a classmate who died in a car crash in March 2011, and she said everyone danced and had a great time in his honor.

Rokjer said it’s scary to be thrown back into “orientation” again, to start life over in the real world, but she said the qualities she and her classmates learned at Paul Smith’s will help them succeed.

“Today, we embark on a new adventure,” Rokjer said. “Live. Don’t hold back.”

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or