Success through defeat
Ciggia uses drive, willingness to stand out to overcome obstacles
Published: Thursday, October 3, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 3, 2013 23:10
As the final minutes ticked away in the March Student Association election, Carson Ciggia stood motionless; his mind wandered off.
Earlier that day, Ciggia and his campaign partner and running-mate, Christian Andzel, were eating pizza at La Rosa in The Commons, talking about what would happen if they won. Or what would happen if they lost.
Ciggia wanted to stay positive, but he had seen the large number of students supporting the Spirit Party all week.
Ciggia lost to Spirit candidate Nick Johns by 380 votes. Johns would go on to resign just a month into the academic year, fending off a slew of allegations and an impeachment.
So, who is the man that could have been – but never will be – student body president?
He considered running in next week’s reelection, but opted out. He’s happy where he is.
When the final results were announced in March and he wasn’t on the winning side, he was disappointed – not only for himself but for his team and the candidates running with him.
“When I walked into the [SA office] and I saw [Treasurer Justin Neuwirt] and T.C. Scott sitting there, and I saw the look on their face, I knew before they even announced the numbers that we were done,” Ciggia said. “They were both pasty white; they looked like sheets.”
Ciggia, a senior business administration major, is just over six months removed from the last election and is now working as an intern at Ellicott Development in downtown Buffalo. Though he failed to win the election, those who know him say he is a natural leader with qualities that are difficult to define. Recovering from the election has not been difficult for Ciggia – he has learned throughout his life how to persist through tumult.
Soon after his parents’ divorce in 2002, Ciggia started attending school in the Williamsville Central School District, instead of Clarence, where he had attended before.
“I had to be mother and father to him because his father isn’t around for him for anything,” said Cindy Marvak, Ciggia’s mother. “[The absence of his father] made him stronger. He never felt sorry for [himself].
While attending Heim Middle School in Williamsville, Ciggia experienced occasional bullying for wearing a shirt and tie to school almost every day. His thought process was to dress as if he was going to work every day.
“Kids in middle school tend to be cookie cut-outs,” said Sam Endich, Ciggia’s middle school counselor. “Carson had different interests. He didn’t stick out, but he didn’t fit the ‘mold of middle school.’ What I thought was great about Carson was, he was always comfortable in his own skin.”
Ciggia didn’t listen to those who critiqued his ‘dress for success’ mentality. He prided himself on embracing Warren Buffet’s belief that stepping outside of your comfort zone is essential to success.
He had bigger goals in his mind than most middle school students had at the time, Endich said. Ciggia began to ask more questions in class when he transferred schools.
This is where Ciggia said he began to grow as a person.
While kids his age were playing video games instead of doing their homework, Ciggia spent his time studying and focusing on his goals. It was only after he was done that he would allow himself to have fun.
“[In] sixth grade, first marking period, he got a 63 in math,” Endich said. “He never, ever got another low grade in math ever again. Not only did he used to refer to that in seventh or eighth grade, [but] when he came back in this spring, he remembered and talked about the 63.”
His eagerness and willingness to learn were traits that set him apart from his peers, Endich said. Others say his resiliency was evident throughout his time at Williamsville North High School.
As part of an entrepreneurship program through his high school, Ciggia became chief operating officer of the “Hot Spot,” a coffee shop that has been present at the school since 1997.
“Carson took the bull by the horns,” said Carol Kontchegulian, Ciggia’s high school business teacher. “He really wanted to [be a part of Hot Spot]; he really wanted to learn as much as possible.”
Ciggia’s fervor for learning the structure of business and how to be a businessman stems from the influence of his grandfather, Gojok Mavrak, who also went by the name Mike.
Mavrak, who passed away in 2000, emigrated from Greece to America and raised himself since he was a kid. His hardworking mentality laid the roots for Ciggia’s drive.
“My dad passed away when [Carson] was 8 or 9 years old,” Cindy said. “[My father] was so focused on business, and last night, Carson was talking about, ‘Do you remember when I went into papa’s store? And he showed me this and that – that is when I decided that I wanted to [get involved in] business.’”
Mavrak opened the first Jubilee Foods supermarket in Western New York, according to Cindy. Ciggia has pictures of his grandfather throughout his room and is always wondering what his papa would think of his accomplishments.
Ciggia said having the motivation of his grandfather and the dream of becoming a successful businessman in mind made the transition to college life easier.
When he was a freshman in college, he had to take calculus as a business major. Ciggia said it was “the hardest class [he] ever had to take.”
He made it a priority to go to his professor’s office hours almost every day.
“I used to go Friday nights; I used to go any time I could go,” Ciggia said. “And at one point, she would send out the spreadsheet to see who was the top in the class and I was the top in the class with the [most] points.”
He ended up with an A in the class and only had to answer one question on his final.