Extraordinary Leader for October: Accounting Senior Finds the Why

When AJ Frezza graduates in May, he’ll have a job waiting for him.

He’ll return to his hometown of Orlando, Florida, and start his career with Ernst & Young, the well-known public accounting firm known as EY.

He scored the job last summer at the end of his virtual internship with EY. His professors at High Point University had him ready. But they knew he would be.

Professors see Frezza as one of HPU’s top accounting majors. He’s an inquisitive student willing to ask questions and a personable, easy-going senior leader willing to help those around him.

Frezza is one of two Extraordinary Leaders for the month of October.  He’s a Presidential Scholar, Chief Justice of the Student Government Association and one of HPU’s 10 ARDs, the campus shorthand for assistant resident director.

But Frezza wasn’t always that outgoing. That changed after his freshman year because of a conversation with his mom.

With her youngest child coming to HPU, she knew what could happen.


The Best Advice

Frezza met HPU senior Danielle Drummond at freshmen orientation. She’s from Orlando, too. They’ve been best friends ever since.

Frezza found HPU because he liked North Carolina. He wanted to see snow and feel the chill of the fall. He never got that in Orlando. But his draw to HPU stretched beyond the allure of the four seasons.

He knew he didn’t want to go to a large school. He grew up near the University of Central Florida, a school with one of the largest student bodies in the country with nearly 60,000 students.

He wanted a smaller school where he would know his professors and they would know him. He also wanted to major in accounting and follow the footsteps of his father, who ran his own tax and financial planning firm.

When he came for HPU’s Presidential Scholars Weekend, the words of HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein and the university’s emphasis on life skills caught his attention. It captivated his mom.

“We were talking about HPU on the way home, and she talked about all the life lessons Dr. Qubein said I’d learn,” Frezza says. “She told me, ‘Soak all that in. That’s what you’re going for. I had to learn all that myself later in life.’

“At 18, you’re a little naïve, but she had been through the process, and she could see what the university could offer and how it could benefit me.”

Frezza listened. That made all the difference.


The Life Skills of Leadership

Frezza’s mom, Kathleen, helped opened her son’s eyes what he could gain from HPU. Beside them is Frezza’s sister, Alexis, two years his senior and a doctoral student in orthopedic medicine.

Frezza honed his leadership skills by working as a resident assistant. In this photo, Frezza is standing in the back in the middle with other RAs from HPU.

In Orlando, Frezza played left field and pitched some for Trinity Prep Saints. But at his small private high school, that was the extent of what he did beyond his classes.

He wasn’t, as he says, “super-involved.” And when he came to HPU, he didn’t do much his freshman year except become familiar with living far from home.

Then came another conversation with his mom, a senior medical science liaison with Bayer Pharmaceuticals.

She told him to take advantage of the opportunities on campus because that was part of the college experience. He then applied to become a resident assistant, and he got a job overseeing 50 freshmen on the third floor of the R.G. Wanek Center.

“That was the first time I had to oversee a lot of people,” Frezza says. “I had to lead meetings and talk to people one-on-one about all kinds of questions they had about meal plans and roommate issues, and that all opened me up. I became more outgoing, and I dove into it because I kept telling myself, ‘People did it before me. Why can’t I?’”

After his sophomore year, HPU’s Office of Student Life selected Frezza for the university’s Rookie of the Year Award. By his junior year, Frezza became an RA on the fifth floor of Blessing Hall.

Once again, Frezza wanted to work with freshmen. And once again, he had 50 on his hall.

“I always like working with freshmen because everything is new to them,” Frezza says, “I remember what it was like to be in their shoes, and I wanted to make their transition to college easier.”


The Importance of Mentorship

Frezza became the Chief Justice of HPU’s SGA last semester.

At HPU’s Phillips School of Business, professors like Scott Davis and George Noxon helped prepare Frezza for his career with everything from resume tips to how to make an oral presentation successful. They also gave him valuable advice.

“It’s doing the right thing and making sure you maintain your independence,” Noxon, chair of HPU’s accounting and finance department, told Frezza about the responsibilities of accounting, “You’re not just checking off boxes. You need to know why you’re doing it.”

In the fall of 2019, when Noxon invited recruiters and account executives to the school’s “Meet The Firms” event, Frezza came prepared. One of his sister’s friends had helped him connect with someone in EY’s office in Orlando. That connection led to Frezza meeting the EY recruiter through email.

At HPU’s “Meet the Firms” event, Frezza met recruiters, and those conversations helped build his confidence for his big interviews in Florida. A month later, Frezza flew to Orlando and interviewed for a potential internship with EY. He brought his black suit, his blue suit and the knowledge and life skills he had learned at HPU.

Frezza and the other members of HPU’s Justice Court played laser tag last fall at the HPU Estate as a fun team-building exercise.

After two days of interviews, where 60 college students were vying for 30 internships, Frezza knew his education had him ready.

“I knew what I was walking into,” he says. “It’s what my professors taught me, and I knew in the back of my head that I did everything I could to get to where I am now. I put it all on the table.”

He got the call in December. He got the internship. Right then, he called his parents.

“I was super excited,” he says. “But the biggest thing was relief. I wanted Orlando. I live in Orlando, and I was relieved that I could go into my spring semester not worrying about getting an internship.”

His news didn’t surprise Noxon.

“No doubt in my mind that AJ wouldn’t close that deal,” says Noxon, who has taught at HPU since 1993. “He’s going into public accounting, and he’ll be a partner in 12 to 14 years because he’s got the skill set to make that happen.

“I worked at Price Waterhouse for 10 years, and I know what it takes. He will do well. He’ll make HPU look good, he’ll make me look good, and he’ll be one of the ones who stay in touch and reach out to help our students once he’s there.

“That’s the way AJ is.”


The Big Deal of ‘Why’

Frezza stands with his parents, Anthony and Kathleen, on his senior night with the Trinity Prep Saints. AJ is the eighth generation of his family named Anthony.

When he played baseball at Trinity Prep School, Frezza’s coach, Trevor Berryhill, hated to lose. He wanted to win. But moreover, he wanted his players, as he said, to “understand the why.”

Frezza never understood what Coach Berryhill meant. Then he came at HPU.

He had jobs of responsibility on campus, became the Chief Justice of SGA, won awards and joined the Phillips School of Business Advisory Board. He also earned the Ollie Bieniemy Endowed Scholarship for his academic achievement in the business school.

He discovered inside him what he didn’t know he had.

Two years ago, when Frezza heard the Trinity Saints were playing in a tournament 90 minutes west of campus. he knew he had to go. He wanted to see Coach Berryhill. Frezza told him he had finally figured it out –– the why of it all.

Thanks to HPU, he now understood.


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