An Ever-Evolving Career in Communications: Braulio Agnese (A91)
March 3, 2022 | By Eve Tolpa
“The perfect education for jumping directly into a career as an editor.” That’s how Braulio Agnese (A91) describes the St. John’s Program.
Agnese has worked in communications for 30 years now. Though the shape and focus of his work has expanded during that time to include writing, marketing and public relations, and project management, he got his start as a copy editor, “a job that requires understanding context, language, history, [and] references across a range of topics.”
All of these skills, he says, are ones he gained from his liberal arts degree. “Because of what you read across a variety of fields, [you have] the knowledge to be able to say, ‘I don’t think that’s the right phrase,’ or ‘this might be a better word. This broad background gave me confidence.”
After graduating high school in Norfolk, Virginia, Agnese briefly attended nearby Old Dominion University but “quickly I discovered that I didn’t care for a large school.”
His mother suggested he check out St. John’s, and he was hooked—partly because of its tutorial-based curriculum, and partly because he was “deep in the throes of an Edwardian-era England obsession.”
Agnese recalls the afternoon he arrived in Annapolis for a visit: “The spring day was slightly foggy, which gave the grounds and the old buildings a gauzy, romantic appearance. Also, a croquet match was under way on the front lawn. I was immediately smitten with the tableau.”
As a freshman, he found himself drawn to Herodotus. “It really spurred my imagination and desire for travel, and provided a sense of wonder, a realization of the mysteries and multiplicities of the world,” he says. “I ended up writing my senior essay on Herodotus.” (A senior preceptorial on Herodotus also introduced him to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, which he considers a “top ten favorite book ever.”)
It was during those years at St. John’s that Agnese realized he had a natural aptitude for editing. “Soon after graduation I began work as a freelance copy editor, and that’s when it really took hold.”
Agnese, who lives in Washington, DC, characterizes the first decade and a half of his career as more craft- than content-driven. During that period he applied his copy editing skills to a range of companies and projects, from academic journals to a weekly legal newspaper to a monthly trade magazine.
“My passion was for words and wrestling with language, regardless of the subject matter,” he says.
Starting in 2006, he began to turn his focus to architecture, urban design, and interior spaces. “When I was at Builder magazine, I discovered I had an equally strong passion for buildings, cities, and design, and that has shaped my career for the past 15 years.”
In the fall of that year, Agnese was part of the small editorial team that launched Architect magazine (since 2011 the official publication of American Institute of Architects), and for about 15 months starting in late 2014, he handled media coverage and generated support for the Dupont Underground, a DC nonprofit that seeks to repurpose an abandoned subterranean trolley station as an arts space.
During that time, he envisioned and helped foster the organization’s first design competition and installation, “which reused 650,000 plastic balls from the National Building Museum’s popular installation The Beach.”
And as director of marketing and communications for NoMa Business Improvement District (BID), Agnese managed aspects of graphic design as well as image and historical research for the creation of new street pole banners that highlight the neighborhood’s past and help delineate the area.
“BIDs are a fascinating nexus point for many of my personal and professional interests,” Agnese says, citing “communications, branding, placemaking, urban spaces, community building, arts and culture, business and retail, architecture and design.”
Since February 2022, he’s been cultivating those connections as director of marketing and communications at the DowntownDC BID.
As his career evolved over the years, Agnese picked up new skills by wielding the tools he honed as a college student: “curiosity, critical thinking, clarity of thought, precision in language, a love of research, [and] a passion to learn new things and have different kinds of experiences.”
They have all proved essential for navigating the ever-changing field of media. Says Agnese, “One of the things St. John’s teaches you is how to be a student, how to learn. This is only the start of knowledge, whatever that knowledge may be.”