“No Motivator Like Poverty” Gregory Tortorello ’88 Talks Football, Philanthropy, & His Unconventional Path to College

In this month’s Donor Impact Series, Gregory shares what brought him to SUNY Brockport as a student, what about Brockport he’s the most passionate about, and the importance of need-based scholarships.

Q: Gregory, tell us a little about yourself and your connection to SUNY Brockport. What made you choose SUNY Brockport?

Well, it’s funny, when I got out of high school, I had no direction whatsoever. I didn’t prepare for college. I was told not to go to college because I wasn’t prepared, by my guidance counselor. I didn’t take the proper courses, I never took any SATs or any other entrance exams. My parents simply wanted me to go to high school and get a job like everybody else. Nobody in my family, other than one uncle graduated from college, so they didn’t see us as “college people.” I was a stubborn person who didn`t like when I was told what I couldn`t do so I then took a closer look at attending college.

But also, because I played high school football, and I really enjoyed it, and several of my teammates went to school to play football, I said, “Oh, that’s cool. I can continue to play football if I go to college.” Kind of the wrong way of looking at it I guess [laughs]. I was actually set to go to SUNY Albany. I visited some friends on the football team there for a week, but the school just wasn’t the right fit. Subsequently, the only other school that I applied to was SUNY Brockport. So, this is decision-making from an 18-year-old “kid”. I said, “Okay, I’m going to SUNY Brockport,” which at that point, was sight unseen. That’s how I ended up [at Brockport]. The first time I saw the campus was the first day of training camp for football. So that’s the story of why I attended SUNY Brockport. It might not be the prettiest, but it’s the truth.

Q: When was the last time you visited campus? How did it compare to when you were a student?

I [visited campus] briefly, I think at the time they were constructing and just before the completion of SERC. I don’t know how long ago that was, I’m guessing at least 9-10 years ago. It was summertime, and I just walked around marveling at how different and modern the campus was as compared to when I attended in the mid/late ’80s. I was scheduled to visit [more recently] for my appointment to The Dean`s of Arts and Sciences advisory board, but unfortunately with COVID [that visit had to be rescheduled].

Q: Do you recall your very first gift to SUNY Brockport?

It’s been awhile. I don’t recall the first one, no. I do recall [one of my first gifts, though]; I think it was just a $100, that was auto-billed to my credit card, and I had asked for it to go to the football program. I increased the amount over the years. But, this is the first time that I’ve made a major commitment to what has turned out to be an annual scholarship.

Q: Tell us what inspired your decision to create the Gregory A. Tortorello Scholarship?

I wanted to give back. I don’t have any children and not having children puts money in your pocket, because they can be a little expensive, so I`m told. I’m financially able to do it, and I feel emotionally compelled to do so as well. But, I also want to make sure that if I were going to do this, that it was going to be a substantial amount of funds [awarded each year], something that could make a financial difference for someone. An amount that could really help someone put a dent into what I consider to be the high cost of attending college.

Q: Tell us a bit about the scholarship, and the impact you hope it will have on others?

Well, when I first was speaking to Donnie [Walters, SUNY Brockport Engagement Officer] about setting this scholarship up, of course I didn’t know anything about how to go about doing this. He asked me a lot of questions like: “is there a specific department that you would like it to be applied to {Communications} and the one question that stuck out the most was: “How would you like this to be applied for? Would you prefer need-based, or grade-based?” Which [the latter] I didn’t want. Basically, I wanted it to be a total need-based scholarship, because it mirrors who I was when I attended SUNY Brockport. Someone who got a job stuffing envelopes worked for BSG as the Chief of Staff, took out student loans, worked during vacations, and did whatever I could in order to survive and get through school. But, if I were to apply for any scholarships back then, I would not have had the grades. Because [scholarships] were, and for the most are, grade-based. So I decided to make it need-based, and I wanted it to go to someone who was like me: A person who got decent grades, who participated in other activities, who saw going to college as not only a scholastic achievement, but also an opportunity for social practices and to take advantage of clubs and organizations like I did.

Q: What are you most passionate about in regard to SUNY Brockport?

I’m most passionate about the opportunities that [students] get out of the college experience, and [that I received] in my experience at SUNY Brockport. When I went here I did learn a lot scholastically and it afforded me the opportunity to learn and meet people from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. But, it also afforded me an opportunity to take advantage of clubs and organizations: the social aspects of college.

Q: Lastly, what does giving back to your alma mater mean to you?

It means to me that I can make a difference in somebody’s life that’s quantifiable. I’m not the person I am today, I don’t think, without going to SUNY Brockport; I honestly believe that. Because, I was in limbo, I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t know what my future was. But going to college and going to SUNY Brockport put me on a path. And that was the first step on a path that led to where I am today.

Basically, I wanted to help someone, financially and with life experience if that is needed or wanted. It’s only one person per year, but it’s still supporting someone that may be in the same position that I was in, that needs a little bit of help.

November 11, 2021