On January 5, 2024, Justin Frometa ’16 gave the keynote address during Williston Northampton’s Cum Laude Society induction ceremony inside the Phillips Stevens Chapel. Frometa, a Cum Laude alum himself, works as a Development Coach in the Boston Red Sox baseball organization. Below are his remarks in full:
Good morning everyone,
Thank you, Mr. Hill, for the introduction. Also, thank you Mr. Hill and the Williston community for granting me the opportunity to speak before you all today. It is great to be back at a place that means so much to me. To be honest, when thinking about this speech, there was an influx of emotions—excited, but slightly nervous because I want to make sure you all take something away from this. After trying to get to some inspiration from previous speakers, I realized Miranda Goh said it best during her Convocation speech in 2023, “I was thinking about the speeches I heard and I realized I could not remember any of them.” Hearing this completely alleviated some of the pressure.
All jokes aside, I would like to congratulate this year’s Cum Laude inductees. You have all made this possible. This honor is a culmination of your hard work, dedication, and persistence throughout your time here. Whether you are driven by internal or external motivators, I know each of you have made a series of sacrifices to put you in this position—a position that are so proud of you for. That said, I am willing to bet that you all did not reach this point without moments, whether positive or negative, that led you to utilize your support systems. This honor is not only for you but all also those people, places, or things that supported each of your journeys.
When Williston first reached out to me about being the speaker, my initial reaction was, “absolutely,” but I could not shy away from the cloud of cluelessness hanging over my head. “What am I, Justin Frometa, recent 25-year-old college graduate, going to even talk about?” I dug myself through a variety of rabbit holes like, “Do I talk about the Red Sox? Do I talk my college experience? Do I talk about how much Williston means to me?” After weeks of not knowing where to start, it came to me: I am going to incorporate all of these into one. Let’s make it a story—a story which, by the end, hopefully gets both students and facility to recognize that there are no barrier or obstacle that cannot be overcome through resiliency, perseverance, and self-belief.
Again, thank you Mr. Hill for the introduction—they highlighted me for the person the world knows me as today. For some in the audience, the Boston Red Sox title might get your attention, but what if I told you I am not where “my fate” says I should be? Before I was Justin Frometa, Development Coach for the Boston Red Sox, I was Justin Frometa, from the projects. For those unfamiliar with this term, the projects is used to describe “a group of homes for poorer families which is funded and controlled by the local government.” In my current role, I look at data, so it is only right to think about, “Based off where I started, what were the chances I’d end up here?” Well, according to the data, as a low-income student, I was 4 times less likely to graduate high school than my peers. So, the question becomes, how does someone who “isn’t supposed to get there” end up “getting there?”
The short answer—extreme determination, focus, and desire to prove I was bigger than some statistic, but there is so much more within that answer. Let me take you through my story, starting with my time at Williston. For me, one of the best parts about Williston is the special faculty in this room that inspire, motivate, and push students to exceed their self-perceived limits.
2010 was my first year as a student here. The excitement about Williston and its impact on my life started from the day I got my acceptance letter. I remember falling in love with the campus and how big it felt. As you all know, once you get to know the campus, it is not as big as it felt on the first. That said, when you’re starting seventh grade and coming from an elementary school with a student body of 100 kids from pre-K through sixth grade, Williston feels astronomical. The campus felt like endless opportunities and that is what it became for me: an environment filled with faculty and peers that would force me to exceed any expectation this world or I had set for myself.
My time in the middle school, like many of our middle school days, was interesting. I’d be doing you all a disservice if I did not tell this story. I am not sure the current requirements around middle schoolers participation in the afternoon programs, but when I was here, I am pretty sure seventh grade students were exempt from them. Regardless, I wanted to be involved and winter came around and suddenly it was time for basketball tryouts. As a young seventh grader, who was much weaker than I am now, I thought it would be a good idea to show up to varsity basketball tryouts. I am not sure what was going through my mind because I wasn’t even the best basketball player on my park and rec team before Williston. Let’s just say that experiment ended with me being on the fourths squad. The reason I share this story is because it is really funny imagining 12-year-old, seventh-grade me on the floor with 19-year-old post grads, but more to show you how delusional I was. That said, that is a characteristic that has enabled me to overcome the trials and tribulations that have appeared throughout my journey. Whether it’s the seventh grader who thought they could be on varsity basketball or the 25-year-old who thinks they can be the general manager of a professional baseball team, you do not know until you try. Trying is one thing, but genuinely believing it is the other part. You have to really believe it, so that you have the motivation to work towards whatever goal, even if somewhat delusional, that you have set for yourself.
I’d be lying to you all if I told you my life was sunshine and rainbows since I got put on fourths basketball. Honestly, in some ways, I could only go up from there—but that is not the reality. After realizing that I probably would not be a great basketball player, let alone a good one, I pivoted to baseball. As a young seventh grader, the game did not come naturally to me. I was a little too uncoordinated at that age to be really good at a game that takes a lot of coordination. With limited number of players in the program, I got the chance to play on JV that seventh-grade spring. Well, play might not be the right term—I got the chance to be a part of the team. Playing time that year was extremely limited as an undersized and uncoordinated seventh grader. Nonetheless, by the end of my first year at Williston, I had really strong foundation, as a person, to build upon. I continued to play baseball throughout my time here and was fortunate enough to be the team’s captain my senior spring in 2016. But much like every other part of my story: How did I get there?
My first year in high school came around and by then I had somewhat come into my own. I felt more comfortable and confident as an athlete, as a student, and as a person as a whole. I remember sitting in my bedroom before the start of the school year and setting goals for myself: make varsity baseball and high honors all three trimesters. Going back to having to be a little delusional—here it is again. I do not think I even made honors, let alone high honors, as an eighth grader. In terms of baseball, I was not even the best player on JV the year prior either, but I set these goals that I genuinely thought I was capable of.
From an academic perspective, the year went fine. Did I make high honors all three terms? I really can’t remember. My parents are somewhere in the room—if you run into them on your way out, ask them. They’d know better than I would. From a baseball perspective, I remember spending the majority of my time on JV, but was able to pitch 1 inning against Berkshire on varsity. That one inning made me hungry though—I knew I wanted more. The goal was not to “make varsity” in the next year, but instead it was to “play on varsity.”
Sophomore year came around. Similarly to my first-year, I can’t remember the specifics of whether I achieved my personal academic goals. Unfortunately for me, the year on the baseball field did not go as well as I would have hoped, either. With seniors playing both catcher and first base, my opportunities came far and few between. Hopefully by now you all can tell, I am not the person you want to count out. Barriers, obstacles? Those are the moments when life needs the best version of yourself. As I mentioned earlier, Williston has special people who push you past your limits.
Junior year came around and this is the moment when everything clicked for me. It was time to start thinking about college and life in general. Unlike previous years, I vividly remember how this year went: pretty mediocre especially during the fall. As someone who constantly is leveraging stats and data for the Red Sox, it is probably no surprise to you all I preferred math over English during high school. However, when I say people, both faculty and peers, push you—I genuinely mean it. I remember after the fall, Mr. Hanford pulled me aside and simply got to know me, but our conversation ended it with, “You know, you can do much better than this. You’re capable of so much more.” I do not remember what caused him to see more in me, but our conversation forced me to see more in myself. Spring came around and by then there were no seniors blocking me from opportunities. Similarly, to my conversation with Mr. Hanford, Mr. Sawyer pulled me aside and said, “Fro, this year is the year you will have opportunities and I want you to step up and be a leader.” These simple, subtle, and natural conversations inspired me. I saw more in myself than I had ever seen before. Instead of trying to prove to the world that I was not some statistic, I wanted to prove people who stood by me right.
That year I vividly remember spending more time in the library. More time in the weight room. More time really trying to connect the dots to create the path that I wanted my life to take shape on. My grades skyrocketed. My performance on the field was the best it had been to date. I felt like I could conquer the world, but it is because I was pushed. I would have been fine without those conversations, but I promise you, those conversations sparked a light bulb. I realized that I was capable of whatever I wanted to be but I had to earn it. Nothing was going to come easily or naturally. I had to be more determined, more strong-minded, and more disciplined than my peers because as a lower income student money would not be able to save me from my mistakes. I knew I every move I made had to extremely well thought out because I needed a strategy to optimizing every opportunity in front of me.
I carried this mentality through senior year. This is what enabled me to get into a school like Tufts University. Unfortunately, life actually gets harder when you leave the confines of a place like Williston. Whether you go to Tufts, another NESCAC, an Ivy League, community college, or anything in between, college is a rebirth. You have a second life where you are given a blank slate to take baby steps into the adult world. After leaving Williston, graduating Cum Laude, captaining in baseball, and beating the statistic of graduating high school, I thought I was ready to take on the world. I felt like I could do anything.
It was the November 9, 2016, the fall of my first-year at Tufts University, when I received a call saying one of my best friends tragically passed away. It had been my first real experience losing someone close to me, and I remember looking in the mirror, at one of my lowest points in life, and asking myself, “How do you go from being on the top of the world to this in 6 months?” I did not know what I wanted my life to look like, but I promised myself that I wanted to make a difference. Shortly thereafter, about one month before our spring trip, I walked into the Tufts baseball coach’s office and told him I no longer wanted to play. I knew that I was never going to make the major leagues and I felt like my experience as a player was something I should push forward to the next generation. So, at 18 years old, I started coaching high school kids. I did that for a couple years and in 2019 of my mentors got a job in professional baseball with the Minnesota Twins. When he got the gig with the Twins, I thought to myself, “If he can do it, why can’t I?”
Much like every other thing I wanted in life, I became obsessed with the idea of professional baseball. If I wasn’t going to make it to the big leagues as a player, was this a potential route I could take? I kept psyching myself out of it though. “You didn’t play pro ball, how would you work in it?” “Well, who would hire you if you have no background in computer software and statistics?” “Only 1 in a million fans actually work in baseball, why you?” Although I was filled with self-doubt, I became fixated with getting into professional baseball. As a senior at Tufts, I was interviewing with consulting firms, banks, Fortune 500 companies, but in the background I was networking and learning from people about how to get into baseball. During the day, I would grind out course work to earn my degree in political science, but at nights I’d meet with a friend, who now works in the MLS, to ask how he got into data science. He said to me, “no matter what you do. I think you should send a message to this person from the MLB office. I think he could help.” I took his advice. I connected with someone who ultimately invited me to a conference in Arizona.
Who remembers March of 2020? For those who can’t remember, that was probably a time when you were told you were not going to go back to school because of this world altering health crisis. Well for me, that was when the conference in Arizona was. I was in the midst of interviewing with Major League teams trying to make this dream into a reality. The Giants and the Angels were the only two teams who I got to interview with before getting told the conference would be shut down and we’d all have to go home. Both teams circled back with me and told me due to uncertainty they have frozen their hiring cycles. I sat on the plane flying back to Boston feeling somber. I was so close but still swung and missed. To be honest with you all, I thought baseball was over for me at this point. I didn’t know what I wanted to do because, unlike my peers, I had not secured a job and who knew what would happen with COVID shutting the world down.
Like everyone, I went back home and did school online. Lost? Sad? Frustrated? Felt a combination of those things and more. Luckily for me, I was able to secure a job with Amazon Logistics as a Shift Manager where I would help oversee package processing. I did this pretty much from when I had my virtual graduation until I got a text, nine months later, saying, “The Red Sox have an opening, are you interested?” While for most it would seem like a slam-dunk answer, I was unsure and uneasy about how to navigate this. I was in a position where I was doing well at work and did not want to leave a job before being my one-year work anniversary. Also, why would I want to take a pay cut? I sat on the text—did not respond—but the person texted me again with the job description, “Do you want me to send your resume in?” After getting texted twice before I could respond, I knew that I had to at least go for it. What is the worst that can happen? I replied, “Thank you for considering me. I am definitely interested.” Shortly thereafter, I started getting texts from different people in the Red Sox organization asking to set up a time to interview. Within 2 weeks of the initial text, I got offered the role as a player development associate in Fort Myers.
Here I was taking a leap of faith to pursue the dream that I always had. The opportunity in Fort Myers was only guaranteed for one year, but like I said during my interview process, “Once I have a seat at the table, I will do whatever it takes to make sure I can stay for dinner. I will always bet on myself.” After year one, the Red Sox transitioned me over to the front office, where I got a chance to call Fenway Park my office and have a front-row seat in learning how to truly operate an entire organization. I got exposed to the intricacies about roster construction, the minor leagues, scouting, player development, and more. One day in 2022, I was sitting behind home plate and tears slowly trickled through my eyes. After working for the organization for over a year, it finally hit me—I accomplished something that no one would have thought I was capable of. I thought back to a point in time my father’s credit card got declined at the ticket booth to an Orioles game, and 15 years later I am being paid to sit and watch the Red Sox in seats I would have never been able to afford.
As I prepare for season number 4, I think about what Justin from the projects would say to Justin from the Red Sox. I can’t put myself in those shoes anymore, but I can tell you what this version of me would tell the younger version of me. If I had little Justin in front of me right now, I would say, “There is nothing in this life that you cannot achieve, even if it is a little delusional, but you have to have extreme focus, determination, discipline all while having a sound work ethic.” Some people might hear my story and believe I got lucky, but someone once told me, “Luck doesn’t just happen to people—we all have the power to create our own luck.” I hope that my story inspires everyone in this room to genuinely work towards their goals, even if they may seem a little crazy, because ultimately no barrier, obstacle, or adversity cannot be overcome through resiliency, perseverance, and self-belief.