Work hard, dream big and serve, EDWINS founder tells AU Winter Commencement audience

12/14/2019 ASHLAND, Ohio – Brandon Chrostowski said he “just had to dream big enough and work hard enough” to make EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute a reality.

And working hard and dreaming big is the same advice Chrostowski -- whose business gives formerly incarcerated adults a foundation in the culinary and hospitality industry -- gave to Ashland University’s graduates, who received their degrees Saturday at AU’s 2019 Winter Commencement inside Kates Gymnasium.

“A lot of you may not know me at all, but we know each other in some way, shape or form. We just haven’t met,” said Chrostowski, the event’s featured speaker. “I’m a fighter, as many of you in front of me are, because you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have fight. I’m a dreamer and I think many in this audience are the same, because you have dreams of what you want to become.”

Chrostowski’s career got its start, in part, because a judge decided to give him probation instead of sending him to prison for a crime committed when he was a young man. “With that chance,” he said, “I met a chef in downtown Detroit who mentored me. He taught me perfect practice makes perfect. It’s not practice that makes perfect.”

After establishing himself as a chef, Chrostowski decided to help formerly incarcerated people re-enter society, and EDWINS was born. The pillars on which it is built include meeting people where they are in life, training to the top and caring. “There’s nothing more powerful than the perspective of someone’s history,” he said, and “without care, no matter how excellent you are, you can’t get through things.”

And while education and knowledge are powerful, both need to be shared. “The message again today is one of service,” Chrostowski said. “Don’t forget those who need it the most, because again, if the least of us aren’t striving, that just tells us who we are as a society.”

Graduates will go into the world and learn the perspectives of their industries and that, Chrostowski said, could mean having the knowledge not only to succeed, but also to dismantle the systems that aren’t working or are unfair. “Continue to disrupt, to change the things that are unkind, that aren’t special or the way you want your child to live,” he said, “and just take it apart.”

“Your values,” Chrostowski concluded, “simply put, speak to the person you are.”

Following the commencement address, the presentation of degrees was handled by President Dr. Carlos Campo and Provost Dr. Amiel Jarstfer. A total of 851 degrees (383 graduate and 468 undergraduate) were awarded, including seven doctor of education, two doctor of nursing practice, 76 master of education, 222 master of business administration, 61 master of arts, 12 master of fine arts, three master of science, 124 bachelor of arts, one bachelor of fine arts, 49 bachelor of science,  27 bachelor of science in business administration, 27 bachelor of science in education, 122 bachelor of science in nursing and 118 associate of arts. 

The valedictorian was James M. Plevyak II and the salutatorian was Karl D. Edwards Jr. Both received bachelor of arts degrees in communication studies.

Ashland University, ranked in the top tier of colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category for 2018, is a mid-sized, comprehensive private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Religiously affiliated with the Brethren Church, Ashland University ( deeply values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###