I Know What You Are Going Through!

2015 OCC Alumna Alena Cerro. She is a Film & TV major at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and a Writer’s Research Intern for NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

If you are a month away from earning your degree and trying to figure out where to transfer to, Alena Cerro knows exactly what you are going through. Two years ago she was in your position. Alena was on the brink of earning her Electronic Media Communications degree from OCC. She had options, some more expensive than others. In the end she chose to make a significant investment in herself and her future. Below are Alena’s reflections on her decision of 2015 and advice she is happy to share with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

Two years ago, Ithaca College, Syracuse University, and Emerson College had all said yes to me. All three schools accepted me as a transfer student into their programs in Film and Television. I anxiously awaited the response from one last school, New York University.

Ithaca, Syracuse and Emerson needed a decision by May 1st. I was pressed for time. Should I accept or not accept? Which should I choose? I considered the pros and cons of each.

  • Ithaca College: “Ithaca offered the most generous aid. I’m smart, I’ll make the most of my time there.”
  • Syracuse University: “I could commute to Syracuse and save money. I would still get to cuddle with my dog every night!”
  • Emerson University: “I’ve lived in Syracuse my whole life. Should I just go to Boston? But I’m a Yankee fan!

May 5th, 2015 I was accepted into NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. It wasn’t the best financial choice but it was the one I went with.

As you make your decision it’s important to think about the future rather than the present. If you feel something that’s hard to explain pulling you in a certain direction, go with it. OCC has prepared you more than you know.

Two years ago I was anxious and frustrated but my OCC experience helped me make better financial, academic and career decisions at my next institution. If the road ahead looks difficult, look a little closer.

Finances are extremely important to consider. I don’t advocate for completely ignoring them based on your financial circumstances. What’s most important to you as you make your next college choice? Where do you see yourself in the two years after you graduate?

While this time of life is anxious and at times frustrating, don’t be dismayed by what’s right in front of you. Think about the bigger picture. What’s going to fulfill you as a human being? What opportunities lie ahead? What new people or experiences will you encounter?

Your abilities at whatever institution you choose will open doors for you wherever you go. The amount of money you owe when you finish is important but don’t let the bottom line be your bottom line. There is plenty of assistance out there. When it’s over you will have a degree to fall back on and a bright career ahead of you.

Have a question about your college decision? Want to run it past someone who has been in your position? Contact Alena via email at askalenanyc@gmail.com.

Emmy Award Winning Director: JD DelVecchio, ’79

“15 seconds to air.”

“Stand by all cameras.”

“Stand by video tape.”

“Stand by slo mo.”

“Stand by to roll video tape in five.”

“And roll tape!”

“Five, four, three, two, one.”

“Take tape!”

When John “JD” DelVecchio was growing up in Syracuse those were the words that inspired him. They were commands being given by a television sports director to his crew. When viewers tuned in to Monday Night Football in the 1960s and 70s, the beginning of every telecast included those words coupled with a behind-the-scenes glimpse into a broadcast production truck. “I remember being 10 years old watching that and thinking it was the coolest thing,” said DelVecchio. “I decided I wanted to become a ‘TV guy.’” Today DelVecchio is one of the best “TV guys” in the business. He’s an Emmy award winning director who has overseen coverage of some of the world’s biggest sporting events.

Vincent Spadafora, '73
Vincent “Vinny” Spadafora, ’73

During DelVecchio’s senior year at Syracuse’s Corcoran High School he applied to several colleges. When he visited OCC and was given a tour by a professor in the Radio & TV major, he knew it was the perfect fit for him. “Vinny Spadafora took me around and showed me I could get my hands on the equipment and begin learning right away. I was pulled in immediately.”

DelVecchio started taking classes at OCC in the fall of 1977 and knew he had made the right choice. “I loved it there. Vinny Spadafora and (professors) Cathy Hawkins and Robert Gaurnier were very honest and open and really great teachers. They related to us and it made a big difference.”

The hands-on experience promised during his visit turned out to be true. “The first week in radio classes we were learning how to edit tape and mixing turntables. Instead of spending our first year in a book we were working. Getting involved right away really hooked us.”

DelVecchio stayed busy outside of class as well. “I got involved in the college radio station, calling play-by-play of basketball games.” He would also shadow Spadafora who often broadcast high school basketball games on the radio. “We loved to go with him, watch him set up, work with him and learn from him.” DelVecchio also found opportunities working on telecasts of a local minor league football team, the Syracuse Aces.

DelVecchio graduated from OCC in 1979 and transferred to SUNY Fredonia where he would earn a bachelor’s degree two years later. DelVecchio returned to Syracuse, spent a year working in production at WTVH TV in Syracuse, then moved to New York City for a position with the brand new Satellite News Channel. That job would evaporate when CNN bought out Satellite News Channel after only one year in business.

As quickly as one door closed, another opened which would provide a lifetime of memories. DelVecchio was hired at NBC Television as an audio engineer. “I remember my first day there they put 10 of us on a subway and sent us to Brooklyn where we had to set up a stage for a show Bill Cosby was going to do. I remember running cables through rafters and doing whatever needed to be done.” The stage they built turned into the home of one of television’s most popular situation comedies, “The Cosby Show.” DelVecchio worked on some of the first episodes.

DelVecchio was also a part of Saturday Night Live throughout the 1984-85 season. The show had just lost its biggest cast member, Eddie Murphy, at the end of the previous season. Murphy would return several times to guest host. Regular cast members that season included Jim Belushi, Billy Crystal, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Christopher Guest and Martin Short. During his time at NBC he also worked on the Today Show and the David Letterman Show.

DelVecchio (left) with golf legends Jack Nicklaus (center) and Lee Trevino (right).
DelVecchio (left) with golf legends Jack Nicklaus (center) and Lee Trevino (right).

In 1985 DelVecchio got his foot in the door in the world of sports and has been there ever since. He was hired by a company now known as PGA (Professional Golf Association) Tour Productions as a videotape editor. “I always loved golf dating back to when I was on the Corcoran High School golf team.  I didn’t set out with the goal of being in golf but when I got the opportunity I loved it.”

DelVecchio has been a director for ESPN and ABC’s golf coverage since the early 1990s. His first live lead directing opportunity came in 1994 when Tiger Woods won his first U.S. Amateur Championship at the Tournament Players Club in Ponte Vedra, Florida. DelVecchio also directs more than 20 events annually for NBC and the Golf Channel including the NCAA Golf Championships, the Solheim Cup and various major championships. “The structure of how golf is done can be very challenging. At any moment, you can have 30 golfers taking shots. It’s a challenge to capture everything that’s going on all at once and I enjoy it.” DelVecchio’s next high-profile challenge will come in July when he is the lead director at the British Open in St. Andrews.

While directing college football telecasts DelVecchio (left) worked with former Miami quarterback Gino Toretta (center) and former Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson (right).
While directing college football telecasts DelVecchio (left) worked with former Miami quarterback Gino Toretta (center) and former Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson (right).

While golf has been the constant on his resume for the last 30 years he’s also directed coverage of several other sports. DelVecchio won an Emmy Award for his work at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. He’s also been a regular on the college football scene, directing numerous primetime games on ABC and bowl games. DelVecchio owns the distinction of broadcasting the two longest games in college football history, the longest of which lasted seven overtimes. “It was amazing and ultimately very tiring. In the moment, the adrenaline gets you through it.”

With the growth of cable and the exponential increase in the number of channels, longer work days have become part of the job. “When I started doing golf we’d be on for two hours. Now with the cable networks we are on for eight or nine hours. You get breaks within that time but it’s a long day. The excitement of the moments and the adrenaline that kicks in really carries you through. It’s as close to being on a team as we experience.”

Working long hours and traveling constantly with two children (daughter Jessica and son Alex) and his wife, Kathleen can be challenging. DelVecchio stays connected and involved in their sports at home and continues to manage Alex’s Travel Ice Hockey teams. Father and son also bond an old fashioned way. “We collect sports trading cards just like I did when I was a kid. It’s something we talk about regularly and it has really kept the fan in me alive.”

Throughout his decades in an ever-changing industry DelVecchio has lived by basic principles which are as relevant today as they were when he was hired for his first job in 1981:

  • Make the best of every opportunity every time you get one. The opportunities to be judged and move up are few and far between.
  • The broadcasting industry is a very small world. The person working for you this week may be your boss two years down the road.

Discussions about career growth and advice for future students inevitably bring DelVecchio back to his time at OCC. “We had a very close group when I was there and many of us still stay in touch to this day and are working in the industry. We are very fortunate to have had such a talented group.” As for DelVecchio’s own success it all comes back to Spadafora whom he met when he visited OCC. “I give Vinny a lot of credit for where I wound up. He was a good friend. I miss him.”

Spadafora passed away in a car accident in March 2013. OCC’s Foundation has set up a scholarship in his honor.

Guitar Hero

From his garage band to Lionel Richie’s band, Ben Mauro uses lessons learned at Onondaga and a tireless work ethic to climb to the top.
From his garage band to Lionel Richie’s band, Ben Mauro uses lessons learned at Onondaga and a tireless work ethic to climb to the top.

Music has always been part of former Onondaga student Ben Mauro’s life. In middle school he played French horn and was a member of All-County Band. At age 16 he started playing guitar wherever and whenever he could and never stopped. Today he’s at the top of his profession, a highly sought-after live guitar player who has performed in some of the world’s biggest arenas on-stage with industry giants.

During a break in his hectic touring schedule Mauro returned to the Onondaga campus in May. He visited the new Academic II building, home of the College’s signature Music program, and spent time with students, sharing his stories and answering their questions. “Anything’s possible,” Mauro told students. “Through persistence, hard work, and love of playing guitar, I was able to make a career out of being a musician. You can do it too.”

Mauro poses for a picture with his parents, Dolores (left) and John (right) after speaking with students at Onondaga.
Mauro and his parents, Dolores (left) and John (right) in Onondaga’s Academic II building.

Mauro grew up in Camillus, the son of two teachers. His mother Dolores was a professor in the Nursing department at Onondaga, and his father John taught in the Liverpool School District. While Mauro was a student at West Genesee High School he formed a garage band. “We’d play at my dad’s parties and high school variety shows,” Mauro said. Despite occasional noise complaints from neighbors, he kept rehearsing late into the night. “My parents were behind me with one condition. They said, ‘If you make it your career, you make it your job, you have our support.’”


Mauro calls Dr. Joe Jewell (above) one of the most important people in his development. Jewell taught classical guitar at Onondaga for nine years. He is now Associate Professor of Guitar and Commercial Music Studies at Fullerton College in California.
Mauro calls Dr. Joe Jewell (above) one of the most important people in his development. Jewell taught classical guitar at Onondaga for nine years. He is now Associate Professor of Guitar and Commercial Music Studies at Fullerton College in California.

Mauro came to Onondaga in 1987 and began building what would be the foundation for his career. “The training I got here really prepared me to do anything.” Mauro studied classical guitar under Professor Joe Jewell and discovered he loved it. “If you can master classical music you can play anything. You need proper technique to play it well.” Jewell turned out to be one of the most influential people in Mauro’s development. “He didn’t give compliments easily. When he told you you sounded good, you knew youreally sounded good. His compliments meant a lot.”

Mauro had a strong bond with fellow music students at Onondaga. “We all had the same dreams, passion, and desire to get better. It felt like home. We were part of a community. I remember all of us hanging out in the cafeteria after class with our guitars out. We were all inspired by each other. It was very memorable.”

If you were in a band in the Syracuse area, one of the top local places to play was Shifty’s Bar and Grill on Burnet Avenue. One night a week Shifty’s was reserved for open mic night. “If you had the courage to perform solo and perform well, it was a great opportunity,” Mauro said. Eventually he got up the nerve to play solo there, and it had a significant impact on him. “It was huge in my development. It’s where I learned how to perform alone, and I met someone there I wound up forming a bigger band with.”

Eventually Mauro left Syracuse and went out on his own, playing with whomever he could, whenever and wherever he could. His goal was to play every night, and at one point he was a member of 10 bands simultaneously. “I was always happy playing guitar, no matter how much I was struggling financially. I was happy to be able to support myself.” For more than a decade Mauro would make his living crisscrossing the country, his life an endless string of hotels and highways.

Everywhere Mauro goes he shoots video and interviews on his cell phone and uses them in a show he posts on YouTube called “Let’s Go.” Mauro put together an entire episode on his return to the Syracuse area. You can watch it here. It includes visits to Onondaga, West Genesee High School, Liverpool Elementary, the Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park, Gannon’s Isle Ice Cream, Heid’s, and the Dinosaur Restaurant.

Mauro often scoured classified ads, searching for bands in need of a guitarist. In 1999 one of those ads turned into an audition to play with music icon Lionel Richie. His illustrious career included more than 100 million albums sold worldwide, and he was one of only two songwriters in history to have number one records for nine consecutive years. Mauro’s audition was in the theater next to New York City’s Madison Square Garden. He played “Brickhouse,” a hit song by the Commodores. Richie belonged to the Commodores before going solo, and Mauro was familiar with “Brickhouse” having played several Commodores songs during his days in Syracuse.

The audition went well and Mauro was invited to come see that night’s show. When he arrived Mauro was surprised to be asked to play live on stage! When the concert was over Richie passed Mauro backstage and said to him, “See you on the next one.” Just like that Mauro was a member of the band, packing up and heading to Dubai for their next concert. “Lionel has a reputation for hiring great musicians. Getting hired by him was validation of my entire career.”

Fifteen years later Mauro is still touring with Richie. But as was the case in the 1990s when he was in as many as 10 different bands at the same time, Mauro needs a steady income, and that means working when Richie isn’t. In his “spare time” he’s toured with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Prince, Peter Frampton, Don Felder of the Eagles, John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the first American Idol tour featuring Kelly Clarkson. He’s also been able to showcase his talents on numerous network television shows including Saturday Night Live, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The View, and Good Morning America.

Mauro’s return to Central New York in May also included a return to Shifty’s where he held a release party for his second EP, “Take Your Time.” Despite the tens of thousands of miles he’s traveled and the countless bars, nightclubs, and arenas he’s played in, places like Shifty’s and Onondaga still feel like home. “Seeing the College now and what it’s grown into is amazing. It wasn’t anything like this when I was a student here.”

Mauro speaks with students in the instrument and choral rehearsal room in Academic II.
Mauro speaks with students in the instrument and choral rehearsal room in Academic II.

During his conversation with students, they were very attentive and hung on his every word. Greg Terrill, a guitar player who came to Onondaga from Cicero-North Syracuse High School, found himself inspired by Mauro’s message. “I learned to succeed you have to make it your life. He gave me a much clearer focus on what I need to do. He came through here and experienced success. There’s no reason I can’t do the same.”