Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling gave an inspiring speech on the power of education at the Irish American Partnership’s Business Leaders breakfast in New York recently.
Below is an article I wrote for the Irish Voice on the event:
The Irish American Partnership held their second annual Business Leaders breakfast at the Union League Club of New York last Wednesday morning.
The Partnership has supported educational initiatives and community development programs in Ireland for the last 32 years and has disbursed more than $32 million to the island.
While the morning rays of sunlight illuminated the magnificent setting, nothing could uplift attendees more than the inspirational speech given by keynote speaker Michael Dowling, President and CEO of Northwell Health.
Dowling, a native of Knockadery in County Limerick, recalled his humble upbringings and career passage to date, re-enforcing one of life’s most pertinent themes – the power of education.
“There is no limit to what you can learn and the more you learn the more opportunities show up, the more possibilities arise”
Living in a home without heating and running water, Dowling remarked:
“I remember reading Shakespeare as kid, where my mother got the money for those books I don’t know, but she instilled this unbelievable desire to learn, to go beyond your common circumstance, to extend yourself, to know that what you know is only a small fraction of what you should know, to understand that there is no limit to what you can learn and the more you learn the more opportunities show up, the more possibilities arise.”
He began his career as a professor and assistant dean at the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Services and in 1983 served as deputy secretary and director of Health, Education, and Human Services under Governor Mario Cuomo. He then became executive vice president and COO of Northwell in 1997, and was named president and CEO in 2002. In 2017, he was grand marshall of the New York City St. Patricks Day parade.
Dowling articulated how only farmer’s children were given the opportunity to attend university in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s and such perceived constraints only reinforced his desire to learn when one day a farmer spitefully echoed those sentiments to him.
“Adversity is wonderful if you take advantage of it”
“Adversity is wonderful if you take advantage of it,” said Dowling. “Because he said to me, and I quote, because I’ll never forget it, ‘someone like you can never go to university.’”
“That was the best and most motivating statement that was ever made to me because I left there thinking, ‘the hell with you I’m going to university!’
“And so I left home at 15 I went to England working in a steel factory for a few summers because I also had to help out at home, it was pretty bad.”
Dowling spent some summers in the US before completing his studies at UCC, “all because of the motivation provided to me at home,” he said.
Tommy Dwyer of Clune Construction (left) and Chairman of the Irish American Partnership Mike Clune (right) presenting a special grant of $10,000 to Ahalin National School in Co. Limerick, Ireland to Keynote Speaker and Honoree Michael Dowling. With this grant, the school will purchase 49 new instruments for students to use during music lessons, creating a more inclusive environment where all students can enjoy the benefits of learning a musical instrument.
“If I hadn’t been opened up to the possibility of learning at a very young age, who knows, so the grants that you give the schools today, to the kids, to broaden their perspective and give them this idea that there are other things out there, you know that there are kids that will succeed and be leaders in the future and take on responsibilities that my never ever be possible.
“I came back to the United States and worked on the docks, then worked in construction and then as a plumber and because I wanted to continue my education I went to Fordham University. During that time I also went to Columbia to pursue my doctorate.
akin to “winning the lottery”
CEO Mary Sugrue described the Partnership’s core programmes: direct grants to schools, science, education, university access scholarship, job training, and community development, and explained the significant impact they are having noting that one school principal described a $10,000 grant as akin to “winning the lottery”.
Michael Dorgan and Irish American Partnership CEO Mary Sugrue at the Business Leaders breakfast.
“These programmes are having a tremendous impact on communities in Ireland and are greatly appreciated by students, teachers, and parents,” she said.
“They are regarded not only as a means to upgrade school materials, help disadvantaged students through university, or train unemployed individuals in marketable tech skills—but an affirmation of Irish America’s commitment to Ireland.”
“Our mission is to foster this connection by linking you back to the people and places you hold dear. We do this by building relationships with schools and community programs that are charting a path towards a peaceful and prosperous future – one that protects the Irish way of life we love while also creating a more inclusive and equitable society for all.
Consul General Ciaran Madden of the Consulate General of Ireland and Lorraine Turner, Head of Northern Ireland Bureau New York also gave remarks to the 160 attendees.
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