Volunteer Spotlight
NIUAA Board President Peter Garrity Calls Campus Experiences Transformative 

By Eva Richards

peter-garrityPeter Garrity believes opportunities and friendships he made on campus helped him to find success in his business career.

When Peter Garrity, ’71, M.B.A. ’76, was on campus studying marketing and business, he wasn’t sure about his career path at first. However, pretty quickly, Garrity began to have important experiences in class, in his fraternity and with friends that helped him figure out his direction and what kind of student—and person—he wanted to be. Now, a retired Snap-On executive, Garrity serves as the NIUAA Board president and regularly volunteers on campus.  He says his experiences continue to enlighten his perspective on the world.

NIUAA: Tell us about your experience leading up to and choosing NIU.     
Garrity: I was in the “college-prep track” in high school. It was assumed that I would go to college. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do for a career, and I looked for a school that had a variety of majors so I would have flexibility as I sorted things out. I knew that I didn’t want a huge college and wanted to be able to drive home when needed. Finally, quite a few friends had gone to NIU, and it seemed to work out for them. 
NIUAA: In a few sentences, please share the impact NIU has had on your life. 
Garrity: In today’s vernacular, it was transformative. High school had been fairly easy for me, so I wasn’t the most disciplined student. I had a rude awakening at NIU and wondered if I was the student that I’d thought I was. Not getting a degree was not an option. I had to focus and apply myself. I gravitated to the business world and determined that a business degree would be a good thing. I was at NIU from 1966-71. During that time, the world was transformed. Campus unrest, alternative lifestyles, drugs… You name it—those of us at NIU were right in the middle of it. You had to “ride the wave” or you would get lost in all that was happening.

NIUAA: How did NIU prepare you for your current profession? 
Garrity: My degree in business from NIU was my “ticket” to interview for jobs in a variety of fields. Again, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do as a career, but my degree in marketing with an emphasis on sales helped me get my first job with Proctor & Gamble. I competed for my job with graduates from Big 10 and other prestigious colleges. I learned that I could compete with them on a consistent basis. My confidence grew as I moved through my career, and NIU provided the launchpad. While working, I enrolled in NIU’s M.B.A. program. It was great to be able to apply what I was learning in the classroom to my work and also to be able to challenge the instructors when they were preaching a bit of “theory.” I did very well in the program, and it helped me greatly. 

NIUAA: What are you most proud of in your professional career?     
Garrity: Being a first-generation graduate from our family, I am very grateful for the support that my parents provided. They taught me about hard work and making sacrifices and doing the right thing. I always tried to lead by example. I never asked anyone to do anything that I wouldn’t be willing to do. My golden rule was to always treat others as they would like to be treated. I also tried to give my team the ability to make decisions and learn from them. Mutual respect was the key, particularly in difficult situations. We all have adversity. Being able to work through it and get back on track is the key.

NIUAA: Tell us about the kinds of relationships and opportunities you found on campus.
Garrity: To be honest I didn't really use a lot of the resources that NIU had available to me. I always asked a lot of questions and figured things out. I was in a fraternity while I was at NIU. The fraternity had a significant impact on me in terms of the tight friendships that were built, which I still have today. The fraternity was an early example of “Huskies Helping Huskies.” The relationships I built tended to help after graduation in terms of professional relationships and job opportunities.

NIUAA: What would you want to tell current and prospective students about NIU? 
Garrity: A lot has changed in the years since I graduated, but some key things remain. NIU is a school that delivers a huge return if you apply yourself. It's a bit of a cliché, but you get out what you put in. You need to sort things out from an academic perspective as soon as you can. Once you have a direction, focus on your objective, develop a plan and use all the resources that NIU provides. Build relationships with your professors and work with them to build the network that will be needed to get that degree and a job. NIU’s support staff and educators are focused on student career success. They get it. Getting a degree or degrees is great, but the end game is earning job and career success.

NIUAA: What do you enjoy most about volunteering? 
Garrity: Volunteering is the ultimate “give back.” We all had support of some kind during our lives. Being able to help those with greater need is not only the right thing to do, it is what keeps all of us on track. It is easy to get caught up with our individual needs, but all you need to do is look around and see how many have less and could use some help. Volunteering is pretty much a selfless activity that has an incredible return on the investment. As it relates to NIU, volunteering helps us to expand our reach and help students succeed, support the community and assist the University in operating in the context of its mission statement. Transformative is the word!

If you are looking for other ways to be an NIU volunteer, please check out NIU Nexus, or contact Liz McKee at lmckee1@niu.edu or 815-753-7400.