By Travis Thompson

We were the Leadership Seacoast Class of 2014 – the 25th anniversary class no less!  It’s been tremendous getting to spend time with such a diverse, talented, involved group of people, and I’m confident in saying that friendships have been made that will carry on far beyond our Leadership Seacoast experience.  With such an amazing group of people it was an incredible honor when I was asked to speak on behalf of the class at our graduation ceremony.  I can’t thank my classmates enough for the opportunity and for their confidence in me to represent us as we move on to our next challenge together.

Jennifer Wheeler asked me to share my notes from my comments at graduation, which I’ve done below. I hope you enjoy.

The mission of Leadership Seacoast is to positively impact the communities of the Seacoast area by developing a base of effective, knowledgeable, and engaged leaders through exploration of community issues, effective leadership practices, and opportunities for personal involvement.

I’d like to relate Leadership Seacoast and its mission to Forrest Gump.  I think it’s safe to say that everyone has likely seen the movie.

Leadership Seacoast is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.

Jen plays the role of Momma Gump – guiding us along our journey and offering up questions and insight along the way.

Each of us, in our own way learns, grows and experiences things just as Forrest did.

Our Opening Retreat was like Forrest’s time in basic training.  The Browne Center staff were the drill sergeants and none of us could remember anyone’s name.  But by the end of the day we all had 35 new Bubba Blues who we could lean on throughout this journey.

Like Bubba Blue said, “I’m gonna lean up against you, you just lean right back against me.  This way, we don’t have to sleep with our heads in the mud.”  Now, there wasn’t any mud that day, it was 5 degrees with a 15 mph wind.  A bad weather theme that would carry through most of our program days.

Our journey, like Forrest’s, was filled with experiences and characters.

We started with Criminal Justice Day at the Strafford County Complex.  A tremendous experience for all of us and a few “characters” we won’t soon forget.

Chief Justice Tina Nadeau, Administrator Ray Bower and Superintendent Bruce Pelkie – incredible, dedicated individuals who put their talents to use trying to help those in difficult circumstances that find themselves in the drug court system or working their way through the judicial system.

Two of our classmates, Johanna and Dan, getting put in chains and arrested right in the court room.

Just like Forrest, we learned that everyone has to deal with his or her own situations and needs help and support along the way.  Whether it’s a young mother working her way through the drug court or Lt. Dan trying to find his way with no legs.

The weather – Cold and windy.

Health & Human Services was next on the agenda at the Community Campus in Portsmouth.

Our experience of walking a mile with the United Way and learning from people like Sandi Coyle and our very own Quinn Slayton.  Seeing our colleagues playing the role of non-English speaking parents, teens working to support a family or having children at an early age was a big eye opener to the struggles they face trying to access support.

Incredible people doing amazing work to ensure people who need support get more than Forrest did with the “magic legs” he wore on the bus his first day of school.

The weather – Cold and windy.

Education Day found us in Rochester at Spaulding High School

While Forrest still went far in life as a football star, war hero, national celebrity, shrimping boat captain and a college graduate, imagine how far he might have gone if he had had the early childhood support that we learned is so critically important to our youngest students.

We also learned about the dichotomy in education between online and brick and mortar education from two dedicated educators, Jim Hayes and Tony Baldasarro, and saw the amazing career readiness programs being offered by Spaulding High School.

The weather – Cold, windy – and snow.

And yes, I did get pulled over on the way home with Jim and Chris.  I have no idea how many of you passed me and laughed.  A few people were kind enough to text me advice on how to get out of it and Jim tried to pull rank being a Lt. Col. Thankfully, I did not get a ticket from one of New Hampshire’s finest State Troopers.

Molly Hodgson and the city of Dover were kind enough to host us for Arts & Culture day.

We found ourselves running (run leadership seacoast…….run….) all over Dover learning about the tremendous arts and culture community it supports.  Whether it was the Woodman Institute Museum, the fantastic Chamber of Commerce events or the inspirational Edra Toth at Northeast Ballet Theater, the importance of the arts was clear.

Now I’m not sure if world championship ping-pong or the smiley face t-shirt Forrest inspired during his cross-country run can be considered arts & culture but our continued support will ensure that we all reap the benefits that art and culture bring to our daily lives.

The weather – again…..cold and windy

Government Day in Concord

Forrest met Lyndon Johnson – We met Speaker Terri Norelli

Forrest met John F. Kennedy – We met Governor Hassan

And we learned more from Steve Norton about how our tax dollars are spent.

I’m not sure we were thrilled with the inefficiencies inherent in our system of government but it was eye opening to learn more about how decisions are made (or not made) in Concord.

The weather – cold and windy

I’m guessing that Eric Chinburg, Renee Riedel and John Pelech didn’t expect to be compared to a shrimping boat captain but at Economic Development Day at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom we learned about the entrepreneurial spirit that drives them the same way it drove Forrest and Bubba.

Seeing how Pease International Tradeport has become a model for business growth. How Renee continues to give back to the community.  These are right in line with Forrest successfully growing the Bubba Gump shrimp company and then giving back to Foresquare Gospel Church, the Bayou La Batre Fishing Hospital and even Bubba’s momma.

When he needed to be, Forrest wasn’t afraid to make a decision, a key lesson we learned from a very successful group of business leaders in the seacoast community.

The weather – OMG; it was sunny and perfect!!!!!  But freezing inside the Casino Ballroom.

Environment day at the Urban Forestry Center in Portsmouth followed and we learned about sustainable resources and environmentally responsible businesses.  Now I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how environmentally friendly being a shrimpin boat captain is but it’s the closest I’ve got and I’m running out of analogies.

Colleen Vonhoden from Timberland and Rian Beddard from Mr. Fox provided great examples of successful, environmentally friendly business.

We were treated to a great tour and environment lesson from A.J. Dupere, the Community Forester and quite a character.  Away……things just go away.

The weather – Cold and rainy

NH Air National Guard Day

No tie in with Forrest Gump here but I would be remiss not to mention the amazing day we had with the New Hampshire Air National Guard.

Thanks to Jim Ryan for making the day happen and thanks to all the folks at Pease who took the time to answer our questions and teach us about some of the coolest jobs ever.

How many people went vertical in the flight simulator or were saved from crashing by Jim?

Which brings us to today.

What are we going to do with this experience?  How are we going to stay engaged with the issues and try to make a difference?

Whatever we choose to do as a group and individually what we learned over these past six months and the friendships we’ve made will help us achieve more and have a positive impact on the greater seacoast community.

Thanks again to my Leadership Seacoast classmates  It’s an honor to be a part of such a great group of leaders in our communities.  Special thanks to Jen Wheeler for putting together a fantastic program and to the Leadership Seacoast board and committees that help make it all happen. I can’t wait to see you all again and am looking forward to meeting and exceeding the challenges we have ahead. Individually and together I have no doubt we will make a positive difference in our communities and in the seacoast.  Have a great summer.