Elvis Oxley

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BA Classics 1995
Managing Director, McKeon Oxley Government Contracting, LLC

I attended a private elementary school in Northern Virginia from 3rd to 8th grade.  My headmaster was a Quaker woman with deep appreciation for the Classics and my deputy headmaster couldn’t get enough Shakespeare.  Needless to say, having read Beowulf in 6th and Homer’s epics in 7th grade and acting in multiple full Shakespeare and Rogers & Hammerstein productions made me an oddity in my neighborhood.  Conversely, I couldn’t understand why my peers just didn’t think or know to parse out Greek or Latin roots to words in order to figure out their meaning.

Prepping for college I thought I’d be a Biology major due to my excellent experience in that subject during high school.  Academically, I realized university-level classes were beyond my capacity, and socially, life under a fume hood was about as appealing as that sounds.  So, what did I know and appreciate the most?  Classics.  And, thus my path toward achieving my degree in ’95 began.  Professor Haggis took me under his wing and adeptly added archaeology to my appreciation for Greco-Roman history, languages, philosophy, art and drama.  I enjoyed excellent experiences digging at the Athenian Agora (’93) and The House of the Surgeon of Pompeii (’95) and I started to think about grad school.  However, things changed on the day of my graduation in December ’95.  I sat between my two ATO fraternity brothers and asked them what they were doing after college–both indicated they were taking their profitable finance degrees to Wall Street to earn their millions.  My answer to the same question was “Well, I’m going to work at the golf tournament I usually do in the summer, then dig in Pompeii, and then I have no idea.”  Ah Ha moment: what I had achieved was a degree in my beloved hobby, rather than a degree in something more fiscally sound and profitable with a minor in my hobby.

Serendipity shined on me in the form of a temporary placement agency after Pompeii, and when I received my first assignment in an advertising and PR firm I quickly realized my knack for marketing and account management.  Even our graphic artists quizzed me about my Classics background as they raked in twice my salary with their monetizable degrees.  Ten more years of my early career were dedicated to “selling the sizzle, not the steak” with a small telecommunications company, a large multinational manufacturer, and eventually back to Washington, DC where my family’s inescapable association with politics eventually drew me into lobbying–essentially advertising ideas to Congress.  Similar process, different audience, surrounded by Neoclassical architecture.  No matter what in those ten years, though, in some shape or form my networking conversations would always touch on an aspect of Classics degree.  “Why are politics so volatile right now?  Well, let’s look at the fall of Rome…the Plebs are angry.” “Why is there a flower pot on top of that column?  That’s Corinthian.” “I love the design of our new football stadium, don’t you?  Let’s talk about the engineering feat of the Circus Maximus.”

I procrastinated too long, but I eventually enrolled at the George Washington University School of Business in ’06 and soon formed my own company.  I applied my new business acumen: statistics, operations management, finance, etc. immediately to my clients and it finally felt so fulfilling to move from the qualitative to the quantitative.  My life is sales and numbers now.  I still have appreciation for knowing which strata layers came before which, but there’s nothing like helping fellow business owners sell their products and services to government agencies.  That’s what I do now, and have been doing for my second career post-UNC Classics.  Just about a month ago, a fellow digger from Athens initiated a Facebook page for Agora alumni.  In two days there were more than 500 members, including myself.  It was great to see everyone, particularly those who had elevated up the chain to become site supervisors and professors from mere diggers like me.  I have admiration and respect for my fellow archaeologists–it’s not my realm anymore but I look back on it with great appreciation.  And isn’t Classics in a nutshell…

My business advice for all UNC students, not just fellow Classics majors:

  1. Recognize that supply and demand rules everything.  You may desperately want a tweed jacket with leather arm patches and PhD after your name, but recognize that there are limited professorships at few universities strongly focused on Classics.  Do the low odds justify the risk of underemployment?  Is a career on a tangent, like architecture or historical foundation grant writer, a better long-term play?
  2. Cross Train.  Somebody woke up about ten years ago and realized that medical doctors had no clue how to run the business side of their practices and that they were failing as a result.  Medical schools finally got the joke and are now incorporating accounting, marketing and operations into their curriculum.  When you become a full PhD in Classics and have to submit grants you’re going to have to write (Creative Writing), budget (Finance), and peddle your ideas better than any others (Marketing).  I suspect none of those are requisites of a UNC Classics degree.  They should be.
  3. When you succeed, share with others.  When your career path takes you down a path not inclusive of Classics, always remember your UNC Classics roots and give back.  That may be a monetary donation, retweeting a new discovery by a fellow alum, or being quick-witted when your boss needs a poignant quote for a speech.  Our alumni network is proud and strong and it is up to us to keep it going.

July 2016