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.

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Like the Energizer Bunny, Steve Smith & The Nakeds Keep Going…

Published in the Pawtucket Times, April 5, 2013

          Following months of speculation, The Rolling Stones have announced their upcoming 50th anniversary tour leaving many fans in awe of their continued energy, stamina and staying power. And like the venerable British rockers, Rhode Island’s own Steve Smith & The Nakeds, currently celebrating their 40th anniversary, have also proven their staying power as they continue to enjoy a full touring schedule and an ever-growing fan base.

 Fondly called simply “The Nakeds” by their legion of fans, this band of middle-aged musicians operate just like the Energizer Bunny – they keep going, and going, and going… 

         The band began in 1973 as Naked Truth and Steve Smith and the 62 other guys who have passed through the band’s ranks are among just a handful of Rhode Island musicians who can claim that milestone. (They became The Nakeds in 1981 to avoid confusion with a Long Island band also called Naked Truth; the word “truth” remains with them to this day “hidden” within their logo.)

          In recognition of their success and their impact on the Rhode Island music scene, on Sunday, April 28, 2013, Steve Smith & The Nakeds will be among the nine new inductees into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF).

 The Younger Years 

         Looking back, Smith clearly remembers a Saturday night tradition in his family – a musical talent show – when he and others would perform in front of the refrigerator. The sixty-one-year old’s singing career began at his family-built seaside retreat on Carpenter’s Beach in scenic Matunuck, Rhode Island, where as a four year old, he would sing Pat Boone’s “Love Letters in the Sand” to his family and friends.  

           At the tender age of seven, Smith’s father, recognizing his son’s growing vocal range, enrolled him in classical voice training.  In 1964, the elder Smith, a traveling salesman who loved to listen to the radio while on the road, knew talent when he heard it and gave his teenaged son a newly released album, “Meet the Beatles,” and told him, “These guys are gonna be great and I want you to listen to them.”  His father’s sage advice ultimately led young Smith to form his first band with his cousin, John Cafferty. The newly formed rock group of junior high students, The Nightcrawlers, would go on to win a Battle of the Bands contest held in Smithfield area in the late 1960s, beating out several established and seasoned college-aged bands. (Steve’s cousin John would find fame in the 1980s with his band Beaver Brown’s score for the motion picture “Eddie and The Cruisers.”)

 The Long Journey

         Looking back, Smith, a 1973 graduate of ProvidenceCollege, never thought he would still be performing  in his sixties. As the group’s band leader recently noted, “We figured we would keep playing as long as the phone kept ringing.” And that it did!  

        During the band’s early years, Smith remarks that business was booming. He had a jam-packed calendar of bookings at concerts, clubs, and special events.  However, in 1984, lawmakers reinstated the 21 year old drinking age and the band saw its bookings dwindle.  “We went from playing seven days a week to only performing on weekends,” he said.   

         But, Smith would put his hard earned College education in graphic design to very good use, a career that would ultimately help him to survive the lean economic times.  

         According to the life-long Smithfield resident, his band’s longevity and success was tied to the “high caliber of the musicians who played in the group” throughout its four decades. Smith’s strong vocals, combined with a five-piece horn section and a guitar, keyboards, bass and drums rhythm section, gave The Nakeds its own unique style of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Rhythm & Blues.

         The Nakeds fame began to spread after the release of their first album in 1984, “Coming To A Theatre Near You,” and they appeared on MTV’s  “Basement Tapes.” They signed on with Miller Beer’s “Rock Network” promotion as one of the best unsigned bands in the country and were featured on a RCA Records compilation album.

        Over the years, Smith and the band often shared the stage with Bruce Springsteen’s saxophonist, the late Clarence Clemons, mounting a series of critically acclaimed national tours which included a 1994 appearance with President Bill Clinton at his health rally at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. Clarence and another E Street band member, Nils Lofgren, contributed heavily to the band’s best-selling 2000 album, “Never Say Never.”

          In 2009, the band’s 1984 indie hit, “I’m Huge (and the Babes Go Wild)” was featured on the DVD for the sixth season of “The Family Guy.” The often-controversial Fox Network cartoon, which takes place in the fictitious town of Quahog, Rhode Island, would immortalize the group when a YouTube posting of the video went viral and the group were offered a Sony Records deal. The “I’m Huge” album, a best-of compilation from their earlier releases, became the biggest selling album of their career. The video remains a fan favorite and is approaching 400,000 views.

          Steve Smith & The Nakeds will take their place among Rhode Island’s musical greats when they are inducted on April 28th into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame as members of the Class of 2013. RIMHOF Vice Chair and Archive Director Rick Bellaire has this to say about the band. “With a new album, “Under The Covers,” just out and a full schedule of shows on the horizon, there’s no doubt in my mind that The Nakeds will be around to help us celebrate the Class of 2023 during their 50th anniversary tour! We are extremely proud to honor them with this induction and they are stoked to pull out all the stops for their induction concert on the 28th.”

 Introducing the other 2013 Inductees:

        In announcing RIMHOF’s Class of 2013, Bellaire notes that “sometimes it’s easy to forget, and it may be hard to believe, that such world-acclaimed artists actually have roots right here in Rhode Island just like the rest of us.”

          Bellaire says, “For the smallest state, Rhode island has produced an inordinately large number of truly great, successful and important artists,” and that their devoted local fans helped to place them on the word stage.

         Bellaire adds some of his thoughts about the other new RIMHOF inductees: 

        Cowsills – A family band in the truest sense of the term – six siblings and their

mom! They sang their way out of Newport all the way to the top of the charts.

(The Cowsills were feature in my January 25, 2013 Commentary.)

         George M. Cohan – The pivotal figure in the development of the modern Broadway theater tradition grew up in Fox Point;

         Sissieretta Jones – One of the greatest sopranos in the history of modern opera headquartered and managed her career from Pratt Street on the East Side of Providence;

         Bill Flanagan – A guy from Warwick who went from writing about music in all of our local papers to editing Musician Magazine and then became the Vice-President of MTV and VH-1, but continued to promote and advocate for Rhode Island music along the way;

        Jimmie Crane – From the 1950s through the ’70s, he wrote a long string of huge hit songs for such stars as Eddie Fisher, Doris Day and Elvis Presley, all the while maintaining a successful jewelry manufacturing business in his hometown of Providence and assisting dozens of up-and-coming musicians;

         Bobby Hacket – Bobby was born on Federal Hill, but spent most of his youth in Olneyville where the action really was: Jake E. Conn’s Olympia Theatre and Petteruti’s Twin City Music store. He became one of the greatest – and most acclaimed- improvisors in the history of jazz;

        Eddie Zack & The Hayloft Jamboree – The Zackarian family of Providence virtually introduced Country & Western music into Rhode Island and the Northeast at large, recording for Decca and Columbia Records and broadcasting nationwide on the NBC radio network, but always maintained their home and headquarters right here in Rhode Island;

         Paul Geremia – The world-acclaimed acoustic artist, who has not only helped keep the folk-blues tradition alive, but has brought it into the modern era with his unique guitar style and voice, grew up in SilverLake!  

         “As the organization grows,” RIMHOF Chair Robert Billington says, “the Hall of Fame will be committed to developing programs and services aimed at promoting and strengthening Rhode Island’s musical heritage and ensuring that music continues to play an important role in the lives of all Rhode Islanders.”

         Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door for the evening ceremony event and $10.00 in advance or at the door for the afternoon ceremony event. The Cowsills and other inductees will perform. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.rhodeislandmusichalloffame.com.

         Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.   He also serves on RIMHOF’s Board of Directors.