Contributed photoKraig Puccia, a rising junior at Fordham College at Rose Hill, was honored on June 1 with the fifth annual Penn Mutual Life of Significance award.
The award, which was given at the conclusion of the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, was presented to Puccia during an on-field ceremony at the Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania, by Penn Mutual CEO Eileen McDonnell and Joe Jordan, GABELLI ’74.
As part of the award, Puccia received a $5,000 contribution to a charity of his choice. He’s chosen to donate to the Tundra Women’s Coalition, which works to protect women and their children in Alaska from drug and alcohol abuse related domestic violence. Fordham’s rugby program also received $1,000 in Rhino rugby gear.
Jordan, a member of the Fordham Ram’s Hall of Fame, conceived of the award as a way to highlight the lessons of his book Living a Life of Significance (Acanthus Publishing, 2013), which has been translated in five languages and emphasizes living a purpose-driven life in the service of others.
Puccia, an Italian studies/history double major from Whitestone, Queens, is the the recipient of the Thomas M. Lamberti Endowed Scholarship Fund, which is endowed by Tom Lamberti, FCRH ’52, and his wife Eileen Lamberti, and is designated for a Fordham student who is a graduate of Xavier High School. He is also a member of the Fordham Men’s Rugby Club. He took to rugby as first-year student, and impressed the award judges through his dedication to multiple causes.
Last year, he traveled to Bethel, Alaska, as a member of Fordham’s Global Outreach Program to work with groups such as the Tundra Women’s Coalition. He volunteered last summer with the Queens District Attorney’s domestic violence bureau. This summer, he’s volunteering at the Urban Justice Center’s Veterans Advocacy Project, which provides pro-bono work for veterans in need throughout New York City.
The award, for which he beat out 19 other nominees, was humbling, he said.
“The work has just felt like the right thing to do, but to get recognized for it was a nice chance to be retrospective. I’d never sat down and been like ‘I’ve done good,’” he said, noting that he’s been involved in service projects since his first years at Xavier High School, which like Fordham is affiliated with the Society of Jesus.
“It was a nice chance to sit down and recognize what I’ve done, and not necessarily celebrate it, but to be grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”
As the creator of the award, Jordan had a role in choosing the winner, but said he deliberately held back from awarding Puccia the highest number of points he could so as not to seen to be favoring someone from his alma mater. The fact that Puccia won anyway was testament to his character, he said.
“What really distinguishes him is his doing multiple things. Some people are doing spectacular things, but just one,” he said, noting that Puccia has found time in his busy student-athlete schedule to be involved in a variety of causes. “When does this guy get it done?” he asked.
Jordan, who found success upon graduation in the insurance industry and was most recently a senior vice president of Met Life, played rugby recreationally for 30 years after playing football for Fordham. He’s been a steadfast donor to Fordham’s athletics programs.
He convinced McDonnell to support the Penn Mutual rugby tournament as a way to connect with younger people and show them how a career in the financial services sector can be compatible with living a purpose-filled life.
He grew up around the corner from the Rose Hill campus, so being able to honor another native New Yorker with this award made this even more resonant, he said.
“This is like something out of The Bells of St. Mary’s or It’s a Wonderful Life: Two kids growing up in New York City, with a Jesuit connection, doing good stuff,” he said.
Puccia never played rugby in high school, but he was convinced by two fellow classmates from Xavier who enrolled at Fordham a year before him to join. The game is fun, he said, but what really appeals to him is the camaraderie between teammates and alumni who return to campus to watch matches.
“That energy that the game attracts isn’t only applicable to what they do on the field, they apply it to everything they do. They help each other out. I tutor Italian, and I know another who tutors in biology,” he said.
“It’s a very strong group, and they put their best efforts into everything they do.”