By Bruce Frassinelli
As the calendar clicks off a new school year, a new group of high school seniors have begun their final journey toward graduation. They will receive all sorts of advice — solicited and unsolicited — from well-meaning parents, teachers, friends and others.
Next June they might reflect on some of the most important advice they had been given in their short 17 or 18 years on this earth.
It got me thinking about some of the best advice I have been given over my 80 years of existence.
My high school mathematics teacher, Mary Liebensberger, was a great source of important advice. To this day, I quote her to my children, grandchildren and friends.
I didn’t have a study hall built into my senior year schedule in 1956-57. (Yes, as quaint as it may seem, we were expected to study in study hall back in the day.)
One day, my physics teacher, Robert “Biffo” King, called in sick, so we had a study period with Mrs. Liebensberger.
At one point, instead of studying, I was daydreaming about an event I would be attending during the coming weekend when I was snapped back to the present. “Nothing to do, Bruce, and all day to do it?” said Mrs. Liebensberger, who was now standing next to me. My classmates giggled at her clever reprimand.
After the study hall, I apologized. She smiled and told me that I had a bright future. Then she stretched out her right hand and looked off into the distance. “Shoot for the stars, Bruce, because even if you fail to reach your destination, you are sure to pick up some stardust along the way.” Whenever I have come up short in life’s pursuits, this is one of the first things that I recall, and it has helped ease the pain.
Mrs. Liebensberger also told me: “Each day is a little life; live it well.”
My high school French teacher, Blodwyn Llewellyn, who inspired me to major in this beautiful language in college, was a stickler for punctuality. “Ne soyez jamais en retard (Never be late),” she advised. Ironically, as a journalist, I was ruled much of my life by deadlines where being late was right up there with committing life’s deadly sins.
I had a long conversation one day with the former mayor of my hometown, who went on to become the county sheriff. Louie Lisella, who lived a few doors away from my brother and sister-in-law in my hometown, and I were in his backyard on a Saturday afternoon enjoying some liquid refreshments.
I asked him how he was able to put up with all of the public criticism that office-holders encounter. “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” he advised. “Wasting energy on unimportant crap will make you go crazy. Concentrate on really important s—.”
My roommate at East Stroudsburg (Pa.) University for two years was Bob Marouchoc, who was a member of the borough council of his hometown at the time of his death. Bob was a terrific darts player and tried to teach me the finer points of the game — without much success, regrettably.
Despite downing a half-dozen draft beers, his accuracy never diminished. “How do you do that?” I asked in wonderment. “Be good at something, even if it’s throwing darts,” he advised.
One of my favorite instructors at my alma mater was Dr. Alfred Sumberg with whom I became close friends after graduation. This man was highly regarded nationally in his field (history) and had impeccable credentials. I was honored to sponsor him for membership into a service club I had joined a few years earlier.
I was absolutely floored when the membership committee informed me that his application was rejected, but I could not get a straight answer about why he was turned down. Finally, I learned that one member of the committee blackballed him because he is Jewish.
I immediately submitted my resignation, because I wanted no part of an exclusionary community service organization. Dr. Sumberg told me that he was not surprised, that he had experienced similar discrimination much of his life.
He gave me this advice: “When someone tells you that another person is of the `wrong’ race, just remind them that there is really only one race — the human race.”
Dr. Kurt Wimer, head of the political science department at ESU and internationally known expert on Woodrow Wilson, served as my adviser while I was pursuing my master’s degree.
“Find mentors who know what they are doing, then hitch your star to their fiery tails,” he advised.
An activist priest I have known for all of my adult life explained why he is impervious to insults and condemnation for his views. “It’s better to be hated for something you are than loved for something you are not,” he told me.
I’ve saved the best for last: My immigrant mother, Frieda, who was on the receiving end of much anti-Italian verbal abuse when she and my father first operated our family’s grocery store in my hometown in the 1920’s. Despite this, she never retaliated either physically or verbally.
Her advice: “If people attack you because of your heritage, just smile. The best way to prove them wrong is through success and giving back to society.”