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.”

The Best of…AARP Report Sheds Light on the Needs of Older Disabled Persons

           Published May 26, 2012, Pawtucket Times   

           AARP, a Washington, DC-based aging advocacy group, generates a new report to provide direction to the nation’s policy makers as to how to keep America’s age 50 and over disabled population independent and in  control of their daily lives. 

           According to the latest AARP study, lack of affordable services, a fragmented delivery system and the caregiver’s limited knowledge of the delivery system, are barriers that keep age 50 and over Americans with disabilities from living active and independent lives. 

           The AARP report, “Beyond 50 2003: A Report to the Nation on Independent Living and Disability,” incorporates data obtained from the first ever national survey of Americans age 50+ with disabilities, documenting the gap between what they say, need, and what is available to them. 

           “Long-term independence for persons with disabilities is an increasingly achievable social goal, AARP Policy and Strategy Director John Rother says in a written statement released with this report.  “But it will require time and the collective creativity of the public and private sectors,” he added. 

           “Meanwhile, even minor changes can lead – at least in the short-term – to important life-style improvements for those with disabilities today,“ Rother said.  On the other hand, long-term improvements will require fundamental policy changes.

           “As the influx of Boomers enters their 50’s and 60’s, they will bring their attitudes of competitive consumerism to health care delivery, and will demand greater choice and control of available services,” explained Rother.   “The good news is that there is time to prepare for those demands, he said.  “Along with improvements in medicine and health, we are seeing some declines in disability.  New technologies are also extending Americans’ years of independence.”

           According to the AARP report, 46 percent of the over 50 respondents with disabilities (including nearly 60 percent of those between the ages of 50 and 64) believe that having more control over decisions about services and the help they need would bring a major improvement in the quality of their lives.   However, they report that their greatest fear is loss of independence and mobility.

           The AARP report, the third in a series of comprehensive studies on the status of Americans over age 50, found that 51percent of older persons with disabilities are managing independently; 49 percent are not receiving any regular help with daily activities, such as cooking, bathing and shopping.  More than half of those with disabilities (53 percent) tell researchers that they were unable to do something they needed or wanted to do in the past month – quite often basic tasks such as household chores or exercise.

           Most (88 percent) of the assistance the older disabled persons reported receiving is volunteer assistance from family or other informal caregivers.  Sixty one percent strongly prefer this type of assistance with everyday tasks, while only one out of three uses any community-based service. 

            The AARP report found that independence, for older disabled persons, can be easily enhanced by using assistive equipment (such as walkers and wheelchairs) and new technologies that are now more widely available.  However, caregiver assistance with daily activities will take more time and resources.   The researchers estimate that as many as three million persons over age 50 with disabilities (almost 25 percent) need more assistance than they receive now with daily activities. 

           Furthermore, the report said that persons 50 and older with disabilities place inadequate health insurance on the top of their list of issues that are not being adequately addressed. Specifically, Medicare coverage still does not pay for prescription drugs and assistive equipment is not covered by some health insurance.

           Adds Rhode Island AARP Director Kathleen Connell, many of the issues addressed in the newly released AARP report are not just about today’s persons with disabilities, but about all of us, who if we live long lives (and longevity is increasing) are likely to face disability.

           “This is about long-term independence and not long term care, which refers not just to what we need during the most vulnerable and frailest stages of our disability, as ‘long term care’ suggests, but to what we want during what, in most cases, is a longer, more functional stage of disability,” Connell tells All About Seniors.

           While minor fixes would make a difference, other improvements will require longer-term fundamental changes and more public dollars.  Based on the “Beyond 50” findings, AARP has outlined a number of policy changes for making critical long-term improvements:

  • Older persons with disabilities must be insured against the high costs of accessing long-term supportive services.  Ways must be found to share the risk of these unpredictable costs more widely among public and private sources. 
  • Public funding for long-term supportive services needs to be reoriented toward more options for home and community-based care. The nation also must provide more options for “consumer-direction” in publicly funded programs.
  •  Communities need to be made more physically accessible for more people with disabilities.
  •  Information and services need to be more navigable for those who are trying to learn more about available long-term services and whether or not they are eligible.
  •  America’s health care system must adjust its focus to enhance functioning and health-related quality of life, not just provide acute and curative care.

             The “Beyond 50” report found that people with disabilities 50 and older give their community poor grades (between C+ and B- in their efforts of making it possible for them to live independently. In many communities, the researchers say, that public transportation is oftentimes rated poorly.

          The researchers say that the troubling findings reveal that the nation is ill-prepared to meet the calls of age 50 and over persons with disabilities for more control and independence in the lives.    

           AARP’s report is a wake up call for state and national policy makers who will be charged with making sound policy decisions for a grayingAmericawith disabilities.  If policy makers heed the recommendations of AARP’s report, systemic changes may well give dignity to millions of older persons with disabilities who only want to remain independent and control of their daily lives.  Just like the rest of us.

           Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  The article was published in May 2003 in the Pawtucket Times.  His articles also appear in state and national publications. He can be reached at