Giovanna Cavagnaro ’17 – Winner of the CHS Senior Prize
The CHS Senior Prize (formerly known as the Joseph Drown Special Prize) is awarded to a Hotel School senior that has demonstrated academic excellence, extracurricular leadership, entrepreneurial spirit, social responsibility and well-conceived career goals and aspirations. The award is sponsored by the Cornell Hotel Society (CHS) and the CHS Foundation.
In May of 2017, the inaugural winner of the CHS Senior Prize was Ms. Giovanna Cavagnaro ’17, a Hotelie that meets, and exceeds, all the stated requirements of the award.
Giovanna was born in Brazil and spent the first 16 years of her life there. For her last two years of high school, she moved on her own to Alpharetta, Georgia to live with a relative and finish her schooling in the United States. When looking for a college, Giovanna said, “Might as well go to a good school since I moved all the way to the United States.”
After searching the internet, she found Cornell University. Then, while on the Cornell website, the Hotel School caught Giovanna’s eye. She knew the combination of travel and service fit her personality. During her admission interview Giovanna was asked to define leadership. Her answer was, “Influential Service,” not knowing that the school’s motto was “Life is Service.”
Before she arrived on campus Giovanna wanted to get some hospitality experience. Therefore, she reached out to Ed Levine – Hotel ’84 who conducted her admission interview. A few days later, Ed hooked her up with an internship at a local Holiday Inn. “This was my first experience of the Hotelie network and solidified my choice of the Hotel School.”
Once on campus, Giovanna became extremely active both inside, and outside of Statler. “My favorite course was Business Computing. Understanding technology is so essential, and I believe it will be my most useful class throughout life.” In an effort to gain a better understanding of computing, Giovanna took it upon herself to become a teaching assistant for the course. “I knew I would master it if I could teach it.”
While computing may be very practical, Giovanna found her true passion in another discipline. “After taking my first real estate and finance course, it suddenly clicked in my brain that this is what I want to do for my career.” Giovanna then parlayed several other real estate and finance courses, as well as teaching assistant positions, into a job at LaSalle Hotel Properties after graduation. “All the knowledge I gained in my real estate law course has already helped me negotiate the deal for my condo in Washington, DC!”
Giovanna did not spend all four years on campus. In the fall of her Junior year she took a semester abroad in Australia. Away from Statler, Giovanna took advantage of the opportunity and enrolled in courses that are not offered in the Hotel School. “During our forensic accounting course we had a case study that featured some Cornell professors. When the teacher found out I was a Cornell student, I was a rock star.” Upon returning to Ithaca she worked in the Human Resources department of the Statler Hotel.
When not in class, Giovanna acted on her spiritual and social-action passions. Following in her parents’ footsteps, Giovanna was both a leader, and singer, at Christian organizations on and off campus. One of Giovanna’s proudest achievements was her honors thesis on sex trafficking and the hotel industry’s role and responsibility. Based on her research, training on how to handle the issue became available for all Cornell students on Blackboard. Giovanna’s work was reported on by The Cornell Chronicle:
Now that she is leaving Cornell, Giovanna says it is the people (friends and faculty) that she will miss the most. “During my last few days on campus I also realized how much I will simply miss walking around campus. Each building has a special significance to me, especially Statler.”
While she is departing, Giovanna has a lot of advice for new students. “Don’t be scared to ‘pour yourself out.’ Give Cornell all your energy, because you will get back even more.” For freshman Hotelies, “Live out ‘Life is Service’ to the fullest. SHA is a school of opportunities. Know your limits, but don’t leave any opportunity behind.”
Looking forward, Giovanna wants to discover all the intricacies of her “adult, professional life.” She is happy there are a lot of Hotelies in the DC area, but looks forward to meeting new people as well.
When asked to describe what it means to be a Hotelie for Life, she responded, “You do whatever you can to help anther Hotelie.” This is yet another interpretation of Giovanna’s passion for the phrase, “Life is Service.”
Interview conducted by Robert Mandelbaum ’81.