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Nicholas D’Agostino
ILR School

Class of 2013

After Nicholas D’Agostino completed his junior season as a star defenseman for the Cornell men’s hockey team, he had a choice to make: stay in college or realize his dream of going pro.

D’Agostino has helped Cornell win the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) Hockey championship and advance to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament twice since 2009. During his junior season, he led the Big Red with six power-play goals and was named second-team All-Ivy League and second-team All-ECAC.

But when he had the chance to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012—he'd been a seventh-round pick in the 2008 National Hockey League draft—the son of two educators knew he had to say no, for the time being. D’Agostino instead chose to finish his senior year at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

“My dad is retired now, but my parents have both been in education for 30 years, and obviously they put a premium on education when I was little,” D’Agostino explains. “That played a huge role in my deciding whether I would return to school. I always viewed sports as an avenue to get a good education, and by coming to Cornell, I was extremely lucky.”

Discovering Cornell

“First and foremost, I was attracted to Cornell because of its reputation,” D’Agostino says. “Being an Ivy League university, obviously it’s one of the most prominent higher education institutions in the world.”

For D’Agostino, finding a school with the right combination—a powerhouse hockey team and Ivy League academics—was extremely important.

“Harvard and Yale both have great academic reputations, and maybe more recently they’ve had better hockey teams, but historically Cornell has been the Ivy League team to beat. That was tough to pass up.”

Once he was admitted to Cornell, D’Agostino quickly determined that the ILR School was his best fit, especially given his interest in law and law school. A career in law could keep him connected with sports, he explains.

“I’ve also always wanted to stay involved with sports when I’m finished playing hockey,” he says, “and one of the things that’s always intrigued me is the negotiation and the representation side of sports.”

When D’Agostiono and his family looked through ILR’s course offerings and saw titles such as Collective Bargaining in Sports, Negotiation and Debate, and Alternative Dispute Resolution, the sports enthusiast was sold. He was coming to Cornell.

Working hard, giving back

The Bolton, Ontario, native found as much success in the Cornell classroom as he found on the Big Red ice. He made the ILR School’s Dean’s List four times since spring semester 2011, and he is a member of the Sphinx Head Society, a society recognizing Cornell juniors and seniors who distinguish themselves in the areas of leadership and service. He is also a member of the Red Key Society, an honor society for student athletes who contribute to Cornell’s athletic program and the community.

Since his first year at Cornell, D’Agostino’s community service efforts have paralleled his efforts on the ice. He works hard, and he succeeds.

During his years at Cornell, D’Agostino helped organize a toy drive in support of the Cops, Kids, and Toys Foundation of Tompkins County. He worked with Feed My Starving Children by packaging meals that are sent to orphanages, schools, and refugee camps, and he participated in the annual United Way Day of Care by volunteering with the Ithaca Youth Hockey Association.

In May 2012, D’Agostino, four of his teammates, and Big Red hockey coach Mike Schafer took their service ethic abroad to Don Juan in the Dominican Republic. Their service trip with the Portal De Belen Foundation allowed them to get involved in the construction of a multipurpose center that will serve the community as a church and a school.

“It’s my way of giving back, so to speak,” D’Agostino says. “Hockey has provided me with so many great opportunities in my entire life. Now I’m at a point where I can start using my position to impact as many people as I possibly can.”

As he nears graduation, the NHL is still knocking at D’Agostino’s door. He is negotiating a contract with the Penguins, and if an agreement isn’t reached by August 15, he becomes a free agent and can consider offers from other teams.

“Obviously, I don’t know what to expect with my hockey career. I love hockey, and I want to play professional hockey,” he says, “but I also have a pretty awesome backup plan: use my Ivy League degree. I’m going to play hockey, and if I sense that’s not going to happen, I plan to go to law school.”

Update: During the week before commencement, D'Agostino signed a two-year contract with the Penguins.

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