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ESPN's talent executive gives graduates a smart send-off

May 19, 2015

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Distinguished alumna Tonya Harris Cornileus, who gave the College of Education's convocation address for the 2015 ceremony, has taken her talent for teaching and turned it into managing talent.

Cornileus (MEd, '04, PhD, '10) is the vice president for learning and organizational development at ESPN, where she is part of the sports network's human resources leadership team. She is responsible for the global learning, talent management and organizational development strategies for ESPN employees around the world.

She spoke to new graduates during the ceremony on May 7 at the Classic Center. Honors student Catherine Leigh Borkowski was the student speaker at the event, which honored 434 graduates (two EdS, 38 Master's and 394 BSEd). More than 2,665 guests of the graduates attended the ceremony.

In her speech, she drew from the reflections of influential speakers such as Bill Gates, but noting her personal connection to the world of education. "My parents were educators. My grandparents were educators. And I said I would never teach. But I did," she said.

Teaching was a passion for Cornileus when, armed with a degree in telecommunications, she spent eight years working in various school districts. She transitioned from teaching to the corporate setting when she became the manager of training and quality assurance for the telecommunications company Innotrac Corporation. After moving to the position of vice president for training and organizational development for Aegis Communications Group and receiving her master's, Cornileus moved to Turner Broadcasting System as director of executive development and organizational effectiveness. She returned to UGA for a Ph.D. in adult education/HR and organizational development before moving to her current job at ESPN.

Today, Cornileus also supports several professional and civic organizations with her time and talents. She serves on the board of directors for the Urban League of Greater Hartford, mentors high school students and supports the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford. She is the mother of two adult children and, when she's not watching ESPN, Cornileus is an avid HGTV fan.

For the graduates, Cornileus advised that as long as they were pursuing their passions, they would find success. "When you find the intersection of your joy and America's need, you have found your life and legacy."