By Ed Karvoski Jr, Contributing Writer
Grafton – Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Catalanotti of Grafton returned.to his alma mater May 16 to deliver the commencement address at Assumption College in Worcester, where he graduated in 1980. He gained commission as a second lieutenant through crosstown enrollment in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).
“Assumption has truly been by second family,” he told the graduates. “Over the past 35 years, plus four incredible years as a student, it has been a wonderful and achieving 39-year life-transforming journey.”
That journey might not have happened if Catalanotti followed a high school guidance counselor’s advice to pursue trade jobs rather than college. Instead, he trusted an Assumption representative who visited his high school.
“This gentleman was nice and kind, everything that Assumption represents,” he recalled. “He gave me his undivided attention.”
Catalanotti applied and was accepted at Assumption and the ROTC at WPI.
“My life’s transformation was increasingly becoming more fulfilled, purposeful and focused,” he said. “I started to believe in everything. Don’t stop believing in your life, in yourself and in your family.”
In his freshman year at Assumption, Catalanotti had a work-study job delivering mail on campus. Once a week, he delivered to the dean’s office where he met Karen Farina, a junior with a work-study job.
“I rehearsed in my dorm room for two months, how to ask her out to see the first ‘Rocky’ movie,” he relayed. “I quickly followed up with asking her if I could use her car for the date. This innocent date was the start of us becoming best friends over a three-year Assumption experience and now a 34-year marriage.”
Karen (Farina) Catalanotti is a 1978 Assumption alum. Their daughter, Brigit Catalanotti, is a 2011 Assumption alum. Their son, U.S. Army Ranger Capt. Eric Catalanotti, a 2009 Tufts University alum, and his wife, Capt. Brittaney (McAllister) Catalanotti, are jointly assigned at Fort Benning, Ga. Both have had combat tours in Afghanistan.
At the commencement, Catalanotti shared the stage with educators who were his early mentors. He credits their guidance for benefitting him throughout his military career.
“The push for discipline became my new norm at Assumption, which ultimately framed my leadership style as a young military leader,” he said. “I found myself increasingly competitive for promotion at each level from the lowest officer rank of second lieutenant, up to major general, one of the highest military ranks, and held by one-tenth of 1 percent serving in our total military force.”
In 2004 and ‘05, Catalanotti was base commander at Camp Taji in Iraq. While there, he was responsible for 15,000 U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. Again, he drew upon lessons learned at Assumption.
“Learning analytic skills through liberal arts education helped me later make the most demanding and decisive decisions, which would have life or death consequences,” he said. “Should I send soldiers into the most dangerous areas of Iraq outside of a safety zone; what would be the stakes for these solders if attacked; and what would be the operational gain?”
Among the military awards Catalanotti earned are the Bronze Star, Army Distinguished Service Medal and the Department of State Superior Honor Award.
Catalanotti retired from the Army last September. He’s now the chief operations officer and director of the Military and Veterans Psychology Program at William James College (formerly Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology) in Newton.
“My biggest happiness is not being administrator, but working with soldiers and veterans, and seeing them get back on the course and do very well,” he said.
Assumption College conferred an honorary degree on Catalanotti at the commencement.