Regular Folks Give Advice to Graduates

Published in Pawtucket Times, May 23, 2014

This month, commencement speakers at Rhode Island’s Colleges and Universities will give 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 will sit 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, features graduating seniors, rather than outside dignitaries, as their commencement speakers. This year, 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.

Jesse Nemerofsky, 60, Providence, Professional Commercial Photographer. “Always remember that everyone you meet in life can be a potential or future client. This being said, a positive introduction of yourself is a valuable way to be called to work together on projects, even to be hired for future jobs. George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, has stated in interviews that when he meets someone he gets their business card, and at birthdays, Christmas time, or when the person is honored, he sends them a personal note. By taking time to acknowledge people over the lifetime of his career, the former President is highly respected by those he has encountered, even if his political position or business venture was successful or not.   Honesty and representing your capabilities is of course of the utmost importance, and small gestures like sending a personal note can ultimately have great impact, but excellence in your work should be your main goal.”

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.”

Olon Reeder, 55, North Providence, Reeder Associates Public Relations. “Become adaptable to constant changes in your life. Today’s global environment demands that you must become faster, better and smarter and compete with yourself and everyone else to survive socially. You have to embrace non-stop learning, empower yourself with your own resources, have an independent attitude and create value for who you really are and what you want to be to shape your quality of life for the future!”

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 & 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.”

Ken McGill, 51, Pawtucket, Register of Voters, City of Pawtucket. “Find time to give back to your community. In the years to come you will be looking for a good job, getting married, having children and getting on with life. Never forget those in need in your community. Mentoring children, giving time to a soup kitchen, volunteering to help civic groups in your city or town or just helping a neighbor will give you more reward than any salary or position in the corporate world.“

Gail Solomon, 59, Pawtucket, Gail Solomon, Inc., a graphic design company. “You’re not the most unqualified or least knowledgeable person in the room. Everyone else thinks they are. And anyway it’s much more elegant to ask questions than to behave like you know all the answers. Because nobody does. Ever.”

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 everyday 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.

Advertisements

Benefits of Preplanning and Prepaying Your Funeral

 Published October 19, 2012, Pawtucket Times          

            For the past six months, City registrar Kenneth McGill juggled his increased work load preparing for the September primary and upcoming Presidential elections while taking on the role of caregiver to his elder parents.  Dividing his time between his ailing father who was afflicted with lung cancer and a blood clot in his heart, and his frail mother who has COPD, this new role added up to countless hours per day,  taking care of both parents who were recently placed in nursing facilities.   

             With the passing of his 76-year-old father just a little over a week ago, McGill, age 51, who had never planned a funeral, was now forced into an uncomfortable role of making final arrangements.  “Dad had been seriously ill for the past 6 months, and we knew what he wanted but it was never put down in writing,” noted the aging baby boomer, who acknowledged the stress of attempting to balance the cost of the funeral while ensuring that his father’s wishes were being carried out.

             Like many, McGill and his 48-year-old wife Kristen, an employee of Memorial Hospital of Pawtucket, had never made pre-paid funeral plans for their parents.  While he had heard about pre-need funeral agreements, he just never thought about doing it “probably because of denial,” he said.  “You just never think your parents are going to die.”  

             As a result of his father’s recent death, McGill will go next week to Cheetham Funeral Home to now preplan his mother’s funeral.  “This makes a lot of sense because it will ultimately take the stress off my family,” he says.

 Preplanning a Parent’s Funeral

             While my background is in the field of aging, I will admit that I also found it stressful attempting to get my elderly parents to enter pre-need funeral arrangements.  After all, my three siblings and I were only trying to give our parents the opportunity to have a say in the minute details of their final arrangements.

             For years my elderly father took care of my mother with dementia – and after numerous conversations with him about the “what if’s…”, more importantly what if mother outlives him… the day finally came that my father was willing to visit the local Dallas funeral home.   With my confused mother at his side, my father, chose their caskets like he was purchasing a new car. He checked under the lid, thoroughly examined the lining and the wood, trying to make the best decision.    Ultimately, he would not buy the cheaper model, but chose the ‘nicer one’, a littler higher up on the price list.

            Of course, my father instructed the funeral director where their services should be held and who should be presiding over the ceremony. But what type of music, vocal, or instrumental did they want played?  Or would they like a visitation service or would they like to name their pallbearers?  All good questions asked by the director that all needed answers.   These decisions might have been made right then and there on the spot, without the added stress of a loved ones’ death setting the tone, but rather ‘pre-planned’ with careful thought.  But in the end, and unfortunately for us, my father backed out. 

            My father’s experience was not the norm because most aging baby boomers make it through the stressful process of pre-planning and prepaying in advance.

Transient Society Creates Need for Preplanning Funerals

            Ted Wynne, whose family has owned the Pawtucket-based Manning Heffern Funeral Home since 1868, sees a transient society where children are living in different states, fueling the demand for preplanning and prepayment.  “Parents want to take the pressure off their children who live thousands of miles away from making the burial arrangement,” Wynne says.  “Thus, they pay up front or set aside money for future funeral and burial payments”.

            With an aging population, one or both spouses will end up in a nursing or assisted living facility, noted Wynne, a fifth generation funeral director.  Initially, the social worker will educate the prospective residents to the importance of getting an “irrevocable trust contract”, to pay for the funeral in advance.  .

            “It is pretty black and white,” adds Wynne.  “You figure out what you want, the cost, and then determine what you want to put in the contract.” For others, it may take sitting down with the funeral director to help crystallize their funeral plans, he adds. 

Prepaying a Funeral at Today’s Prices

           Bradford Bellows, Funeral director of Bellows Chapel in Lincoln, agrees with Wynne that seniors in nursing facilities are also good candidates for prepaying a funeral.

         “The family watches their parents’ funds dwindle to a point where they are forced to go on Medicaid.”  Prior to being eligible for Medicaid, the older parent or their children should prepay the funeral costs.  Assets given to the funeral home are allowed to be given under Medicaid eligibility guidelines prior to going on Medicaid.

            “Consumers must understand that prearranging a funeral is not the same as prepaying for one,” Bellows adds, whose family has been in the funeral business in the BlackstoneValley for 191 years.

            “By pre-paying a funeral you are actually paying for a funeral at today’s prices, not tomorrow’s”, Bellow says.  “If the funeral occurs in the future, the funds will earn interest which will be used to pay for the cost of the funeral at the time of death.”

            Bellows, a funeral director for 40 years, offers these tips when pre-paying your funeral:

            First, make sure that your Social Security number is indicated on our savings account or insurance policy where the monies are placed to prepay your funeral.  If the funeral home ever goes out of business or goes bankrupt, the funds are still yours and are safe, and can easily be transferred to another funeral home.

            Second, when you enroll in the Medicaid program, all the funds in your prepayment account must be used. Any excess funds will be returned by the funeral home the State of Rhode Island, to defray health costs incurred by the OceanState’s Medicaid program.

            Finally, once the funeral home opens the account or insurance policy, don’t forget to get a copy of the Irrevocable Funeral Trust Agreement, showing the bank or credit union account number or the original insurance policy that was issued.  This will give you proof that your advance payment has been set up for your funeral needs..

Make an Educated Decision

            Life Insurance agent Christine Miller, a preplanning funding specialist at Pawtucket-based Lachapelle Funeral Home and a grief counselor at Beacon Hospice, notes that preplanning and prepayment for a funeral can reduce family stress. “Knowing your loved ones final wishes and not having the financial burden of a funeral can provide relief during a very difficult time, she added.

            According to Miller, it is not uncommon to have individuals to call weekly to preplan their funerals. “Many people are surprised that at Lachapelle Funeral Home they can make small monthly payments rather than one lump sum and still have their funeral guaranteed,” she noted.

            Miller stresses the importance of doing your home work in determining which prepayment option is best for you. “There use to be a loyalty to funeral homes but in these times people should shop around, talk to people with the goal of making an educated decision.”

            For consumer tips on planning and prepaying a funeral, go to http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro19.shtm.

            Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.