Starting Out: Life Lessons for Graduates, edited by former television producer, Becki Smith, launches this week. The book, which highlights inspirational quotes from New England artists, performers, politicians and more well-known personalities, offers real world advice for the latest generation of graduates.
The inspiration for "Starting Out" occured just four months before her son's graduation from the Tisch School of the Arts. Becki wanted to give him something meaningful—a gift he could turn to when the transition from college to the workplace presented tough questions.
To do so, she gathered advice from the incredible people she met as a WCSH6 producer for 207 and Bill Green's Maine. The result? An extraordinary book that Smith's son calls "the single greatest gift I have ever received."
Today, as a media writing professor at USM, Becki continues to share her real world knowledge with future graduates. Senior editor Genevieve Morgan recently sat down with Professor Smith to discuss her career and early successes. Take it away Genevieve....
GM: Where did you grow up?
GM: What kind of experience did you have at school and upon graduation?
BS: During the summer before my senior year at Boston University, I did an internship with the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Mental Health. When I graduated, he offered me a job and I worked for him for the next ten years, going with him from the Department of Mental Health to what is now the Muskie Institute at USM.
GM: What was life like in your family?
BS: I grew up in a Greek American family where education was a priority. My mother was from a small village in the mountains of northeastern Greece that was occupied by the Communists during World War II. She and my grandmother escaped by evading guards and walking through the snow covered mountains to Greece. They had nothing but the clothes on their backs... no boots, no coats, no food. Two people in their party died crossing the mountains. My grandmother spent six months in the hospital with frostbite once they made it to Greece. So I was the first woman in my family to graduate from college and get an advanced degree. I didn’t take that lightly as I was aware of the sacrifices others had made to make it possible for me to do so.
GM: How did you start your career?
BS: My first job was as an educational consultant, and, as I mentioned, I got it through a summer internship and followed that career path for ten years. Then, I entered law school because I was interested in civil liberties law. During my first year in law school, my husband, who is a psychologist, began working in television doing programs on mental health. I began to help him out, and slowly I became a television writer and producer on his shows. When he stopped doing television, I continued producing shows for WCSH6 working my way up to Executive Producer of Bill Green’s Maine and 207.
GM: Who helped you along the way?
BS: Lots of people helped me along the way… almost everyone I met! From the Commissioner who gave me my first job and taught me so much about developmental disabilities and social activism to Fred Nutter (Editorial Director at WCSH6) who taught me the value of editing my words. I learned something from everyone I worked with and carried that knowledge with me to the next step of my career.
GM: What is one of your favorite memories from 207?
BS: There are so many… the challenging “gets” always made the best stories—from spending 24 hours in line at Borders to nab an interview with President Clinton to meeting Don Rickles’ private plane in Owls Head to losing Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary in the WCSH6 building to spending hours listening to David McCullough retell history. But certainly the opportunity to meet all of the living presidents except for Jimmy Carter is a highlight.
GM: What made you decide to try and publish your book?
BS: I gave Jake the book at his graduation dinner in NYC. I was pretty sure he’d like it, but I was amazed to see that all his friends were devouring it too! I shared this with Paul Doiron, former editor and current crime writer, who had made a contribution to the book. He encouraged me to approach Dean Lunt at Islandport Press, and in doing so, was instrumental in helping me take a very personal book into a trade edition from which all graduates would benefit. I'm grateful to both Paul and Dean.
GM: How does teaching play in to your career choices?
BS: When I was working for the Department of Mental Health, I began teaching college courses at USM and what is now UNE. Due to the excellent education I had received at BU and the internship experiences I had there, at 28, I was considered “an expert” on behavior modification and human growth and development. While I wasn’t all that much older than my students, I found that I loved teaching at that level. So when the opportunity arose to teach at the college level again—this time writing for media—I jumped at the chance. I love sharing my knowledge and experiences with college age students. I feel like I've come full circle.
Curious to learn more about Becki Smith and her new book? Visit Sherman's Books & Stationery in Portland, Thursday, April 17 from 5-7 p.m. and get your copy of "Starting Out" signed. Can't make the event? Find the book online.