Graduated Griffins: President John J. Hurley ’78

By Nathan Ress

Assistant Features Editor

          Continuing the series of spotlights on Canisius alumni, The Griffin was able to catch up with proud Canisius College alumnus and current President John J. Hurley this week. This reporter caught up with President Hurley early in the morning in his spacious office. The room is furnished to fit a man of President Hurley’s position. It features several bookshelves filled with law and history books, as well as a large desk and small seating area. Classical music quietly filled the room in the background as Hurley began to open up about his Canisius experience.

Hurley started his Canisius experience in 1974, entering as an English and History student. The decision to attend Canisius was an easy one for Hurley for two reasons. First, his older brother was a senior as he was a freshman, and second, Canisius was a prominent, close to home institution. Hurley attended as a commuter student, making the proximity something of a deciding factor. In his day the school had a prominent commuter population, allowing Hurley to join a community within a community.

Hurley recalls the commuter community as very tightly knit, with a large focus on the commuter lounge. In his day, the location and feel of the hangout spot was somewhat different, but the spirit was very much the same. He recalls students sitting together in the morning sipping coffee and eating together. He even remembers stories of students before his time playing cards in the lounge and generally socializing, all contributing to a very well connected student population.

Upon entering the College, Hurley was immediately recruited for this humble publication, The Griffin. Hurley started out as a sports reporter, covering various events in a year that contained many hard-hitting stories. Hurley remembers it as a “golden age of The Griffin,” a time when the paper was covering several serious issues within the College. Chief among these was the 1974 NCAA investigation into the Canisius basketball program. Ultimately this investigation resulted in the suspension of the program as it was found to have violated NCAA regulations – a huge story at the time.

After serving under his older brother his freshman year, Hurley watched several of his editors move on to fill positions at such publications as The Buffalo News, The Washington Post, The Courier, and ABC News. Eventually, he moved up the ranks to fill the position of Editor-in-Chief his senior year. This experience led him to seriously consider a career in journalism, though ultimately he chose to pursue his true passion: law.

After graduating from Canisius in 1978, Hurley went on to Notre Dame Law School until 1981. During his time at Notre Dame he took an opportunity to study abroad, living in London for a year. After earning his degree and getting married he moved to Chicago to take a job at a law firm. However, his time in Chicago was short lived, and he stayed for only three years before returning to Buffalo in 1984.

When asked about his decision to return Hurley explained simply, “Well, it was home.” This seems to be a sentiment reflected by many native Buffalonians, and one that Hurley himself sees in many Canisius alumni. Both he and his wife had family ties in Buffalo, and that too was a large part of their decision. Hurley became a very prominent and active member of the community while in Buffalo and before returning to Canisius. He got a job at a local law firm, eventually working his way up to partner.

During this time, Hurley also stayed “continuously involved” within the Canisius College community, even during his time in Chicago. He spent time serving on the Alumni Association, as well as the Board of Regents. Both positions kept him linked to his alma mater, as well as the greater Buffalo community. All of this community connection came to a head in 1997 when Hurley took the position of, as it was called then, Vice President of College Relations at the age of 47.

Hurley took the job at a point in his career when he was looking to move on from something more than the law firm. He had been considering a move and when the position became available it seemed like a perfect fit, even if a rather radical shift. “I certainly knew enough about Canisius,” Hurley recalls. He entered the College at a rather critical time as a critical fundraising campaign, then the biggest in school history, was getting set to go public. In that way, it was quite “a baptism by fire,” Hurley explains, “but it was actually very exciting and fun.”

Hurley continued to serve in the Vice President role, eventually being promoted to Executive Vice President. During this time he helped coordinate many of the upper level goings-on of the school, including further fundraising campaigns. Originally, there “wasn’t much thought towards being President,” Hurley admits. Still, in 2010 Hurley took the job he now holds as President of the College. He is the first lay president of the school. He remembers his rise in the ranks as a natural progression, and goes about his duties with humility and respect.

Though not ordained a Jesuit, President Hurley still recognizes and respects the Jesuit values of the school. Primarily, Hurley cites the pursuit of academic excellence as a focal point of the Jesuit tradition. He is proud of the rigorous core curriculum of the school, and recalls his own experience as part of the honors program. In his time, the program was much smaller, starting his freshman year with roughly 40 students and finishing with less than 20. “It was a very tightly knit group of people,” Hurley explains. Due to the size of the program most of the students had the same classes together, spending large amounts of time together, and becoming very close. He recalls long conversations with his fellow students and a great deal of bonding over meals and coffee.

Looking back on his time as a student Hurley acknowledged the many changes that have taken place within the student body. Not only has the size and number of students in the College grown, but the feel of the community has also evolved as time went on. Hurley notes that during his time many students were coming from the experience of the Vietnam War, and he describes them as “disaffected.” He remembers many students feeling “burned out by their experience.”

In the modern Canisius College community, however, he notes the great energy and passion that is prominent among students. He respects the students who are “committed and passionate” about a variety of modern social subjects. Hurley appreciates students taking a stand and being proud of their beliefs. He even admitted to mentioning this on-campus energy to alumni and other adults who were curious about the community. He cites the students as encouraging him about the fate of the future.

He followed this up by noting the seeming superficiality in the connections made by students, especially in the modern technological age. “Students may think they are more connected than they actually are,” he worries. He encourages students to participate in deeper face-to-face conversations on topics close to their hearts. He recalls similar conversations in his day, and cites them as a primary driving force in his development as a person. “You grow by being challenged,” he states, and hopes that students will not shy away from opportunities to challenge themselves and one another.

As a lasting impression, Hurley affirms that his education at Canisius “made all the difference.” He says, “It awakened in me an intellectual curiosity that I am still experiencing today.” He admits that this revelation may take a while, and one may not realize it until well after graduation, but it is no less crucial to the individual. He is often asked by others at conferences or meetings how he can speak so passionately about his experience and he explains it is because, “I experienced it. I felt it.” This lingering impression was affirmed as he pulled a book off his shelf mid-interview from his freshman year, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, and citing it as something that influenced him not only then, but also well into the present day.

Finally, when asked what piece of advice he has for current students, President Hurley said, “You gotta go for it.” He recognizes college as a chance to explore and discover one’s self and encourages students to go about this with their whole selves. He encourages students to be open to allowing themselves to evolve. He sees Canisius College as an opportunity for students to shift their frame of reference and expand their point of view, using their experience as a base for a lifetime of growth.

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