“Never say no to a new opportunity to learn.”
2013 grad takes bronze in Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity
“Never say no to a new opportunity to learn,” says T.J. Kelly, ’13.
This has become something of a life motto for the Loyola grad, who recently won a bronze medal for Team USA at the 64th Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, an advertising and communications festival in France.
The global event has a division called the Young Lions Competition, an opportunity for professionals under the age of 30 to develop a media strategy and be judged by a jury.
Kelly, who just turned 26, teamed up with colleague Patrick Lylo to enter, working on the campaign in addition to their normal day-to-day responsibilities at media services company Mindshare.
The duo was awarded first place in the media category in the U.S. division of the competition; they then traveled to Cannes, France, in June to compete in the global competition, where they came in third place.
“When we won the U.S., I was a cliché—I almost threw up when they said our names,” Kelly laughs. “Winning bronze in France, though, was blissfully humbling.”
Kelly is no stranger to success and hard work. During his four years at Loyola, he was involved in just about every student group he could find, including the Student Government Association, Campus Ministry, and the Center for Community, Service, and Justice. He says his most influential experiences were with the Evergreens, for whom he served as an Evergreen Program Coordinator (EPC) for Loyola’s first-year orientation leaders, and the Green and Grey Society, a selective group of 14 seniors who serve as advisors to Loyola’s president.
“Being an EPC truly was a full-time job, and it allowed me to not only grow as a member of a team, but as a piece of the Loyola community,” he says. “[Whereas] the Green and Grey Society probably had the biggest impact on my current job. Being a part of that group taught me invaluable lessons about arguing your opinion within a group of passionate peers.”
Kelly also worked at the campus bookstore and had several internships—one at a hospital on Long Island and another on the product development team at Blue Cross, Blue Shield.
“Overall, getting involved at Loyola was the single largest determining factor in my success post-college,” he says. “In client services, you really need to learn how to express an opinion that can easily be turned into action. The best feedback I get in my job is that people think I’m more mature than my age lets on, and it’s because I was pushed by my mentors and peers to be better as a member of a community.”
One mentor who Kelly credits is Loyola’s director of student engagement, Sara Scalzo. “Sara is my life teacher—and I’m not the only Loyola alumnus who would say that,” he added. “She transitioned from a ‘boss’ to a friend and mentor really fast, and helped me through multiple tough crossroads at Loyola.”
Kelly’s leadership and social skills can be traced back to his high school days in Massapequa Park, N.Y., the small town on Long Island where he grew up. “I don’t want to brag too much, but I was Mr. Massapequa my senior year,” he laughs. “My dance moves won the crown.”
When he graduated from Loyola in 2013 with a BBA in Marketing and a minor in Information Science, Kelly initially pursued finance jobs. He was referred to Mindshare by a friend at Loyola, and he ended up finding a place where he could really grow and apply the skills and work ethic he’d learned from Loyola academics and extracurriculars.
“Balancing working at an internship, classes, going to club meetings—it all allowed me to handle stress really well,” he explains. “Smarts only get you so far. Grit is what makes successful people different from the rest because you’ll refuse to quit.”
Kelly, who lives in New York City and has been with Mindshare for more than four years, approaches his career with that same “never say no” attitude, continually agreeing to take on new projects at the company, which has led to several promotions. He currently works as associate director of strategic planning for Unilever, where he helps the company’s food and refreshment brands grow through paid marketing opportunities.
Kelly believes that the education he received at Loyola played a huge part in his personal and professional success. “I’m leaps and bounds ahead of where I’d be without a liberal arts, Jesuit education. Something as simple as writing an email becomes elevated when you’re taught to think critically, which is exactly what every course and experience at Loyola afforded me.”
“That’s what made Loyola magical,” Kelly says. “You realize just how much cura personalis actually has manifested in your every day, once you’re out in the world.”