Years after Barneys New York’s Daniella Vitale skipped her own commencement ceremony from LIM College, she delivered the keynote address Thursday for this year’s graduates from the school.

The executive said she considered the opportunity to be “a gift,” but she did have a few reservations. Reminding graduates of the recent protests against various commencement speakers, Vitale kidded, “I was very concerned that something would come up about my background in New York City but the only thing that came up was very bad hair in 1986.”

This story first appeared in the May 23, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Like this year’s outgoing seniors, Vitale recalled how she was encouraged to take advantage of the internships and jobs that New York has to offer — selling cosmetics at the now-defunct B. Altman and working backstage at many fashion shows before becoming an assistant buyer. “The school and faculty at LIM helped me to realize very early on that a strong work ethic, discipline and consistency matter. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” she said. “As difficult as this sounds, and regardless of how bad the job is, and there will be a few bad ones, try to think of everything as an opportunity. There is always something to learn. There is always someone to meet. There is always one person who actually may take the time to make the difference to help you along the way.”

Barneys’ chief operating officer and senior executive vice president urged graduates to endure their first jobs with vigor, insisting that attitude will serve them well. She also offered, “Please, please enjoy what you do. Have fun and laugh along the way because people underestimate the power of humor and how that shapes a career. I know that my success has also been being able to laugh at many situations over my tenure in this industry.”

Attended by 60 years of alumni, Thursday’s event marked LIM’s 75th commencement address. LIM College president Elizabeth Marcuse received an honorary doctorate from her father Adrian, who is LIM’s president emeritus and former LIM president. Neiman Marcus’ executive vice president of specialty retail stores, Neva Hall, was honored with the first Maxwell F. Marcuse award.

Elizabeth Marcuse reminded graduates of fashion’s ever-expanding reach. “The word ‘fashion’ may have once brought clothing and accessories to mind, but in our increasingly design-conscious world, fashion is everywhere. Fashion is no longer just a look. It is a lifestyle. We find it in the products we buy for our homes, the cars that we buy, the electronic devices that we carry around and the sports and entertainment that we enjoy,” she said. “Understanding customers’ aspirations and how they make purchasing decisions and forging connections with those customers is now more important than ever.”

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