University of Pittsburgh

alumni hall

The Thrill of Success

A Pitt Homecoming King rules his future

Written by Niki Kapsambelis

James Hill

James Hill

With his campaign for Homecoming King kicking into gear, James Hill had an epiphany: He would win votes by plastering his baby picture all over the Pitt campus.

“Who wouldn’t vote for a cute baby?”  says Hill about his plan. He enlisted the aid of his mother, who helped the cause by sending some campaign-worthy snapshots, which he then took to a copy shop for mass reproduction.

The idea worked: Hill won and was immortalized in a televised clip of Pitt’s Homecoming royalty that appeared on ESPN during the game in 1996.

“There was a cameo shot of me in a car. I knew that was my head,” says Hill, who has neither his crown (which remains with his parents) nor the ESPN tape (long since discarded) to commemorate the occasion, but he still recalls it as one of his fondest Pitt memories.

Hill arrived on campus at 17, though he was much younger when he first visited. His mother worked in an office on campus, and he and his brother would sometimes take the bus from their home in Wilkinsburg to visit her and go to the Original Hot Dog Shop for lunch.

Today, the 1998 political science graduate returns to campus with his own kids, Alexander, 7, Helena, 4, and Olivia, 2. The sojourns usually include a trip to a T-shirt vendor on Forbes Avenue and, of course, a hot dog at “The O.”

“We’re trying to lay the proper foundation,” says Hill, only half joking.

When he began his studies at Pitt, he had merely a vague sense about his future. “I did what every freshman does: I tried to figure out what to do with my life,” he says. “I wanted to be around people, so sales and marketing seemed to be the way to make a living and be the person I am.”

When he wasn’t busy campaigning for Homecoming King, he was working. During his undergraduate career, he was a courier, a waiter, and an intern. At one point, he held down four jobs, a period he got through with “a lot of coffee and the grace of God.” When he worked as the assistant ticket manager and director of group sales for Pitt Athletics, Hill was so constantly in motion that he earned the nickname “Thrill Hill.”

“I was always running around and was at every event, whether it was football, basketball, girls gymnastics, or basket weaving,” he says. “A guy who worked there just called me ‘Thrill Hill,’ and it stuck. Having to be everywhere all at once—and I was still taking classes— maybe he thought it was a thrill.”

Intrigued by his economics coursework, Hill found his calling in business and credits his hectic schedule with giving him the confidence he needed to succeed. Today, he is a vice president and senior investment manager with Oakmont Capital Management, an investment advising firm in Oakmont, Pa. He’s also a director-at-large with the Pitt Alumni Association.

“The biggest thing Pitt taught me was that I could stick with something and accomplish anything I put my mind to,” he says. “It was difficult, but I think it’s why I work so hard now—because I don’t know any other way.”

That’s also the message Hill gives to inner-city children through the volunteer work he and his wife perform in the community. He knows they all have the potential to fulfill their highest aspirations and he wants to help them get there. “It’s important,” he says. “I want to be involved.”

For Hill, life is about trying to get better every day. “Be a good person, a better husband, a better father,” he explains. “Sometimes we miss; sometimes we hit the nail on the head. But I’m always trying to move forward.”

That philosophy has served Hill well so far, and he expects it will last him a lifetime.