November 22, 2014
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‘Regular’ folks give advice to Class of 2014
Herb Weiss

This month, commencement speakers at Rhode Island’s colleges and universities gave the Class of 2014 their tips on how they can successfully find their professional niche, in a state with the distinction of having the worst employment rate in the nation and continues to be one of the last states to see an economic revival. Rhode Islanders are also known for their inferiority complex and general attitude about the quality of life in the state.

Robed graduating seniors sat listening closely to commencement speeches, given by very well-known lawmakers, judges, television personalities and business CEOs, detailing their observations and advice, and how if closely followed, just might give the graduates a more rewarding personal and professional life.

Typically, a commencement speech (the length being about 10 minutes) is given by a notable, successful, stimulating figure well known in the community, nationally or internationally. While some colleges and universities may enhance their prestige by bringing in high profile speakers (University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island School of Design, Roger Williams University, and Providence College) sometimes at great cost, others like Brown University, unique among Ivy League institutions, feature graduating seniors, rather than outside dignitaries, as their commencement speakers. This year at Rhode Island College, under graduate and graduate commencement speakers are Rhode Islanders.

So, I say to presidents of colleges and universities, with your tight budgets you can save a little money by not bringing in high paid commencement speakers. As can be seen below, there are many potential commencement speakers in local communities throughout the state who fly below the radar screen and can give college graduates sound strategies for success gleaned from their life experiences. They give road maps on how one can live a more healthy fulfilling life, mature in a way to realize their potential and age gracefully in a challenging and quickly changing world. 

Michael Cassidy, 66, Pawtucket, retired. “As you go into the ‘real’ world from the sheltered ‘world of college,’ don’t be too quick to judge the new people you meet in the work place. People come in all types, sizes, shapes, temperaments, personalities, ages, and backgrounds; and they all have their own experiences from which you can learn. If you are smart enough to listen to what others have to offer, you can learn from them not only what to do, but what not to do. And most times learning what not to do is the most valuable lesson you can have.”

Michelle Godin, 50, vice president, New England Economic Development Services, Inc. “Live each day of your life with integrity. Whether in your personal life or professional life, integrity will define you as a person. Never waiver. When your days on Earth are ended, it is your integrity that others will remember. Those who live with integrity will be fondly remembered and missed, because with integrity comes many other admirable qualities such as compassion, empathy, tolerance, and understanding. Those lacking integrity will be discussed with disdain and quickly forgotten. Choose to become exemplary.”

Paul Audette, 85, Pawtucket, semi-retired businessman. “The Youth of today – from puberty to whatever age one reaches maturity – tend to see life as it pertains to them, yet each person is responsible for him or herself. While the youth may have the knowledge, they lack the life experience, which is the main factor in making good sound judgments that ultimately affect [your] well-being as well as that of your loved ones. While experience cannot be taught, it cannot be overlooked as a major component in making sound decisions that affect your future; experience comes from living – and life is a journey.”  

Joan Retsinas, 67, Providence, a writer. “Savor, savor, savor. Savor the sunshine, and the rain. Savor your friends, your family, your colleagues. Nurture the people close to you. Be a friend. Fall in love. If you fall out of love, fall in again. Read “Winnie the Pooh” to a child. Eat ice cream. Ride a bike. Swim in the ocean. Laugh. As for fame, fortune, and success, don’t fret. They don’t really matter.”

Rick Wahlberg, 61, senior project manager, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island. “Be Useful, there is no feeling like making the world a better place. Be Aware, strike a balance between career, family, friends, and community. Be grateful for what you have; don’t be jealous of what you don’t have, and share.”

Wendy Jencks, 61, Cumberland, visitor center manager, Blackstone Valley Visitor Center. “There may be a time in young people’s lives when they are nervous to take a risk; don’t be afraid to take a chance. If an opportunity/life experience arises and you want it, take it even if it is unconventional. You may not get another opportunity again. Also, a person’s first job is not the end all, be all. Your dream job may actually be something you did not study. People confine themselves to their own walls.”

Larry Sullivan, 49, Pawtucket, director, Net Compliance Solution’s technical and consulting services. “Recognize opportunity. If you can’t identify opportunities, then they are very likely to sneak past you unnoticed. Most people’s search criteria is so narrow in focus that it can essentially blind them to opportunities available right in front of their face. It’s the old ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’ scenario. Also, see yourself as a valuable asset. Your self-image will make a huge difference in the type of opportunities you attract to yourself. If you see yourself as a valuable asset, and you present yourself as such, others will see you that way as well.”

Denise Panichas, 50, Woonsocket, executive director of The Samaritans of Rhode Island. “Respect cannot be given when asked for; it has to be earned. This is something you learn later in life. How do you earn respect from those around you? By being true to yourself – your values, beliefs and most importantly to your commitments to family, friends and the community.”

Susan Sweet, 72, Rumford, former state administrator, non- profit lobbyist and advocate. “In the short space that we are in the world, we must create meaning in our lives by contributing to the happiness and well-being of other people and other sentient beings. To do good and useful work, caring and acting for the betterment of others is the true goal of life.”

Bob Billington, president of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council who received his Doctorate in Education from Johnson & Wales University in 2005, says that “star power sells” when seeking out a commencement speaker. “We have regular people walking amongst us who do very extraordinary things every day but they may never get a chance to give a commencement speech at a college or university,” he notes. 

If so, I say that it’s a shame.

 

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.


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