Graduating College Seniors Get Some Advice from Rhode Island’s Authors

Published in the Woonsocket Call on July 1, 2018

Throughout May and June, robed college graduates listened to commencement speeches delivered by well-known lawmakers, judges, television personalities, actors, and chief executive officers of businesses. Many of the orators advised the young adults on how to create a more rewarding personal and professional life in their later years.

Members of the Association of Rhode Island Authors (ARIA) also have insightful advice on aging gracefully in a challenging and changing world to give to the Class of 2018, and some of what the authors would have said if they had been invited to speak follows.

Hopefully, all readers will benefit from the commencement tips and find time to take a look at the authors’ books.

The ABCs of Aging Gracefully

Norman Desmarais, 71, professor emeritus at Providence College, lives in Lincoln and is an active re-enactor and a former librarian. He is the author of “The Guide to the American Revolutionary War in Canada and New England,” “The Guide to the American Revolutionary War in New York” and “The Guide to the American Revolutionary War in New Jersey.” These books intend to provide comprehensive coverage of the confrontations of the American War of Independence and to serve as a guide to the sites. For book details, go to http://www.revolutionaryimprints.net.

Commencement tips: “It’s nice to be important but more important to be nice. Remember that the people you pass climbing the ladder of success will be the same people you meet on the way down. They will often be the people you will need to be successful.

Rick Billings, 59, a retired firefighter and emergency management technician lives in Barrington. He authored and illustrated two children’s books, “The Tragic Tale of Mr. Moofs, a story about the changing relationship between a stuffed toy and a boy’s older sister and more recently “Melba Blue,” a light introduction for children on the works of Edgar Allen Poe and William Shakespeare. For book details, go to http://www.reddogart.com.

Commencement tips: “What are you waiting for? This is my mantra. I became a firefighter at age 35. I wrote, illustrated and self-published my first book 19 years later. Today, I cycle between 40 and 80 miles each week. I travel. I laugh. I love. Embrace family, nature, health, spirituality, peace, creativity and the purity of the new. What are you waiting for?”

Patricia Hinkley, 73, a former holistic counselor and journey practitioner in private practice, lives in Wakefield. She authored “Chasing Sleep/Lonely Tussles in the Dark,” a book that explores the issues and challenges surrounding sleep deprivation and how to overcome them by changing attitudes and behaviors and “Claiming Space/Finding Stillness that Inspires Action,” a book that invites you to step back from the busy world to uncover the peaceful intelligence, genuine happiness, and capabilities within. For book details, go to http://www.patriciahinkley.com.

Commencement tips: “Find what you love and do it. Learn about your world and become a part of positive change. Respect and peacefully negotiate with people who differ from you. Know history, government and civics. Involve yourself to make a better world. Trust your heart’s wisdom when deciding what is right. Speak up for it.”

Hank Ellis, 69, formerly employed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, lives in Exeter. He authored “The Promise: A perilous Journey,” a book appealing to all ages and a must-read for those who love the magic of a childhood adventure. For book details, go to Amazon.

Commencement tips: “Know what is important to you: happiness or wealth. You can have both, but it can be more difficult. Be open to change, roll with the punches and don’t punch back. Always be kind. Be brave and stretch yourself. The greatest advice I can give is to give of yourself. Serve others in all you do. I guarantee amazing results.”

Barbara Ann Whitman, 62, a family support specialist, lives in Johnston. She authored “Have Mercy,” a book about the effects foster care can have on a child. For book details, go to http://www.facebook.com/BarbaraAnnWhitmanAuthor.

Commencement tips: “Before you can be kind to others, you must first be kind to yourself.
If you want to be honest, start with the person in the mirror.The same principle applies to being authentic, loyal and loving. Being selfless is overrated. Indulge and invest in knowing yourself.
Only then will you be ready to share your gifts with the world.”

Etta Zasloff, 70, lives in Hope Valley. She published an alphabet book for all ages on her 70th birthday, “Beginning with Xs and Os: The Evolution of Alphabet.” It’s a child’s first chapter book! Personified letters change, rearrange, and interchange in rhyming stories of origin. For book details, go to ettazasloff.com

Commencement tips: “Live, really live. Look out the window more than in the mirror or at your phone. Explore the world. Engage with people beyond your immediate circle. Pursue your passion with education, experience and practice to mastery. Have the courage to forge your own path and leave a trail for others to follow. Always think of those who follow.”

Harris N. (“Hershey”) Rosen, 85, ran a Pawtucket-based candy company for 40 years before retiring. He lives in Providence, and he authored “My Family Record Book,” providing easy tips on organizing personal information, financial plans and final wishes for seniors, caregivers, estate executors, etc. For book details, go to myfamilyrecordbook.com.

Commencement tips: “Achievement is 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration. So in life, find your purpose in something you enjoy and don’t be afraid to aim high. Look around for help and value your network of friends you made in college. Persist in realizing your goal, knowing that it’s OK to fail (you will) but not to quit. You’ll get there; I promise.”

BJ Knapp, 44, a former college radio station disc jockey, lives in Coventry. She authored “Beside the Music.” Image if a washed up 80s metal band moved in to your house. It happens to Brenda and Time in “Besides the Music.” Can Brenda be one man’s wife and another man’s muse. For book details, go to http://www.bjknapp.com.

Commencement tips: “Never forget how to laugh at yourself, how to be silly and how to make others laugh. Laughter is great for your abs, for your soul and for your relationships. And it’s not all about you. Don’t turn every situation around so it’s about you. Most of the time it’s about someone else, and it’s up to you to be supportive of that person. They will do the same for you when it really is all about you.”

Alison O’Donnell, 52, a freelance editor, proofreader and ghostwriter, lives in Pawtucket. She authored “Stupid Cupid~ A Survivor’s Guide to Online Dating.” The book has a sarcastic slant toward online dating, chronicling 100 really bad dates followed by a moral learned experience from each experience. For book details, go to http://www.facebook.com/AuthorAlisonODonnell.

Commencement tips: “Do not fear your own power! There are people who will try to beat you down; rise above it. There are people who will use their power to beat you down. Go around it. Then, mentally thank them for the life lesson. There are people who will support you. Show gratitude. Your success will have been earned. Embrace it.”

Michael A. Battey, 65, a podiatrist, lives in East Greenwich. He authored “The Parent Trap, Vol. 1,” the first of a two-volume collection of humorous and insightful observations on contemporary teen parenting. For book details, go to http://www.parenttrapcolumns.com.

Commencement tips: “There is a power to kindness.There is no act, which you can choose, which will be more powerful. It is stronger than the most reasoned logic. It can vanquish the sharpest wit. Deceptive at times and preternaturally puzzling, it is your best ally. It elevates discussions and makes you a better person. It is defining, and it is memorable.”

L. A. Jacob, 50, a government claims auditor for CVS, lives in Central Falls. She authored “Grimaulkin,” a book about a young wizard who was sent to prison for summoning demons. Now he’s out trying to be a better man, but others want to use his knowledge and abilities – against his parole. For book details, go to http://www.paperangelpress.com/pages/books/grimaulkin.php.

Commencement tips: “I published my first book at 48, but I’ve been writing since I was 15. Why did I wait so long? Because I was afraid. Afraid of what my family would say about me, of how the book would be received. Here’s my advice: Don’t wait. Life is too short. Buy the darn shoes you love.”

Phyllis Calvey, 68, an educator and story teller who lives in Bellingham, MA. Her latest book, “The Butterfly Club,” presents real people’s stories of how God can, and does, use signs to communicate His presence to those in need. For book details, go to http://www.butterflyclubbook.com.

Commencement Tips: “The odds were probably a thousand to one to be published, and yet I quit my job to be a writer. My Dad said, “You could be the one. How much does a book sell for these days? $6.95? When you sell a million, that’s…” But all I heard was the word “when”, it immediately seemed to change the odds!”

For more information about the ARIA, go to http://www.riauthors.org.

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Regular Folks Give Sound Advice to Class of 2016 for Future Success

Published in Pawtucket Times on June 6, 2016

As previous years, high-profile commencement speakers are coming to Rhode Island’s Colleges and Universities selected to give to the robed 2016 graduates their unique practical tips as to how one can have a rewarding personal and professional career. As I mentioned last May in my weekly commentary, these widely-recognized speakers can quickly bring prestige to the educational institution but they oftentimes command big bucks for their brief appearance. . . .

Like last year this writer calls for choosing regular folks to give commencement speeches to graduating College seniors. Their practical tips, suggestions and “words of wisdom” are honed each and every day at work and through their personal intimate relationships with family and friends and by the challenges faced throughout their life’s journey.

The following advice from these Rhode Islanders can be especially helpful to those graduating to cope in a very complex and changing world.

Doug Allen, 53, Douglas, Massachusetts (formerly from Lincoln, Rhode Island.), owner of Lincoln Associates. “Look around at your fellow graduates. There is at least one person here that you never spoke to, nor socialized with, that will someday become extremely successful. And they, unfortunately, will remember how they were treated in high school. Don’t make this mistake again. Every person you come in contact with could be that person who changes your life. Make it a point to say a kind word to everyone. Otherwise, you will never know if the next Mark Zuckerberg sat beside you in math class your sophomore year.”

Richard Blockson, 61, Providence, former general manager of The Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call, who currently works in the financial service sector. “Striving to be a person of sound character is an admirable goal. It cannot be bought, given to you or taken away. It levels the playing field between privileged and underprivileged. It will help guide you through troubled waters and grant you a path of good decisions during your lifetime.”

Carol Conley, 60, Pawtucket, assistant to the executive director, Rhode Island Film Office, Rhode Island. “Be grateful. Be kind. Karma is a real thing. Give to others what you would like to receive and it will eventually come back to you. Wait for it; trust the universe’s timing. Challenge yourself. Conquer your fears. Never, ever give up.”

Michelle DePlante, 29, Cumberland, director of programs, Leadership Rhode Island, “Discover who you are and what strengths you bring to the table. Engage with people who seem the least like you and listen to them to understand, not simply to reply. Become comfortable with the uncomfortable – you’ll grow as a person, and life will never be boring. Get to know your neighbors and be accountable to your community.”

Diane Dufresne, 63, Pawtucket, director at Pawtucket Prevention Coalition, “Take the knowledge and experience of those who have mentored you and invested in you, those who have helped mold your life and use that to become the best version of yourself that you can be……use what you have gained and contribute to make society better……one day you will have the opportunity to mentor others and you will impact another person to do the same.”.

Paul C. Harden, 56, Newport, director of Transportation Technology at New England Institute of Technology, “As a college graduate take every opportunity to learn, consider new ideas and develop new skills. You do not have to go back to school and get another degree. Trying reading books, taking a free online course or finding a mentor who can give you sound counsel.”

Mike Lyons, 73, East Providence, corporate and community partnerships, Pawtucket Red Sox Baseball Club, “Henry David Thoreau is the author of one of my favorite quotes: To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts.’ College Graduates in particular have both the opportunity and responsibility that their education has afforded them to make each day matter.”

John Resnick, 52, Cranston, entrepreneur, “I have learned that your parents may try to live their lives through you and your career choice. Never give up your own dreams to follow the dreams and plans your parents may have for you. The only thing that you owe your parents is the promise that you continually pursue happiness throughout the course of your life.”

Wayne Rosenberg, 60, Providence, real estate broker and construction manager, “Most college degrees are not going to be your ticket to financial freedom. Your most important challenge you will face is finding meaningful work. You must realize that no one can do this for you but yourself. Take charge. If you cannot find employment consider becoming your own boss and employ yourself.”

Joyce Silvestri, 62, Seekonk, Massachusetts, former banquet director at Twelve Acres, “As you are entering upon your post-graduation experience, it is important to remember that as much as you are all vying for possible jobs or post graduate education, the competition will be even greater than you have experienced so far. Reflecting on what you have heard and seen in this election year, you would be wise to entertain this workplace or educational competition without losing sight of civility. That would be your true success.”

Jim Tiernan, 55, Hamilton, owner of 80 Fountain Street, LLC, a Pawtucket mill that houses artists and creative sector companies. “It is important for graduating seniors to realize that not many people know what they want to be when they ‘grow up.’ Don’t fret about making that perfect choice or worry that you don’t have a passion for your chosen field of education. You won’t always make perfect choices, but with a little thought and feedback from your friends and those older your choice will lead you in a positive direction. Wherever you land, learn from those around you with more experience and become as fully engaged in life as you possibly can. You only go around once.”

Rico Vota, 34, Cranston, communications & constituent affairs officer, City of Pawtucket. “You never know when the last time you talked to someone, is going to be the last time you talk to someone. Make every interaction you have with people count for something.”

And this writer, concludes with his favorite quote from the Roman poet Horace’s Odes. “Carpe Diem , Quam Minimum Credula Postero.” Translation: “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow.”