If you enrolled at TCNJ or attended an event here at some point in the last 24 years, chances are good that you’ve met a College Ambassador. The group has served as the “face” of the College since fall 1985, running tours for prospective students, shepherding confused freshmen around during Orientation and Welcome Week, and liaising with guests at college events—to name just a few of the Ambassadors’ many responsibilities.
The Ambassadors were formed in 1985, when college administrators decided an official student organization was needed to represent the institution. Prior to the Ambassadors, members of Trenton Orientation Program Services (T.O.P.S.) assisted with Orientation, but the group was phased out when the Ambassadors came into existence.
Linda Deroo Merritt ’88 was one of the last T.O.P.S. members and first Ambassadors. Her experiences with the new group had quite an impact on her, she explained.
“Being an Ambassador made me into the person I am today,” Linda said. The onetime nursing recruiter and current nursing professor explained that, as a teen, she was terrified of public speaking. But speaking in front of large crowds was a job requirement for Ambassadors, meaning Linda had to quickly overcome her phobia.
Another job requirement, she joked, was “learning how to walk backwards and avoid the geese while giving tours.” Komal Gala ’06 concurred, adding, “You also had to learn a few ‘corny’ jokes to tell your tour groups, such as, ‘The reason it’s called Green Hall is because that’s where the financial aid office is,’” she said.
Ambassadors interact with so many people during their years of giving tours that it’s inevitable there will be some memorable moments. Linda recalled the time someone on her tour asked her out. She politely declined, causing the student to badmouth her and the school.
“It seemed like every tour there was at least one ‘crazy’ person to deal with,” said Gabe Alonso ’06. “Whether it was the ‘close-talking’ mom or the kid sister who was ‘on your heals’ the entire time. But you learned tricks to…deal with them.”
For Robby Buonocore ’96, the trick might have been to just keep talking. “I couldn’t give a tour in under one hour and 45 minutes,” he remembered. Whenever a visitor asked a question on one of Robby’s tours, he included that new tidbit of information in each subsequent tour. The result? “My tours just kept getting longer and longer,” he said with a laugh.
Robby’s sister, Lisa (Buonocore) Pantaleo ’93, recruited him into the program (the two even gave a combined tour—his first as an ambassador was her last). Although reluctant at first to join the group, Robby is another alumnus whose life changed dramatically because of his involvement. He met his wife Caryn (Bruce) Buonocore ’97 while both were Ambassadors. The two were married 10 years ago and have three children. And Robby enjoyed representing TCNJ so much that he made a career out of it: he has worked in the admissions office since 1997, most recently as director of technology and operations.
Robby’s years of both direct and indirect involvement with the Ambassadors have given him a unique perspective of the program. He said he chuckles when he overhears current Ambassadors discussing some of the same issues he did when he was in the program. Some things never change, it seems.
At least one thing has, though: the uniform. In the early days, Ambassadors were given blazers, slacks/skirts, sweaters, and polo shirts. These days, members are given more casual attire: a striped-rugby shirt and short-sleeved polo and t-shirts, said Rebecca Breese, the current program coordinator. The younger generation of Ambassadors doesn’t seem to mind, though.
“Wearing the striped rugby shirt has to be more comfortable than walking around in a blazer and khakis all day,” reckoned Gabe.