A personal story to inspire students
The start of a new school year has prompted a top Bermudian executive to tell local students that nothing in life worth having comes easily — but a renewed focus on studies can lead to a new beginning.
The community group Imagine Bermuda has taken this week’s return to school as an opportunity to remind the Island’s schoolchildren to let themselves be defined by their own potentials.
“My story is not too dissimilar to yours if you are the typical Bermudian,” said reinsurance worker Gino Smith of his humble beginning in a single-parent home.
His mother raised three children with the help of a supportive father.
All are now college graduates, but Mr Smith, working at age 39 for one of the top reinsurers in the world, had to “fall off the bandwagon many times” before seizing the opportunities offered by learning.
Addressing the Island’s young students, Mr Smith said: “It is my sincere hope that sharing my personal story of success will encourage you to achieve yours.”
He said that in spite of the tough lot of a single parent, his mother had “sacrificed her wants for our needs” in taking it on.
“Throughout her struggles and sacrifices, she kept the end in view,” Mr Smith said.
“Her end was that we would all become contributing members of society, and she achieved this.”
Leaving the Island at the age of 6 for New York City, Mr Smith found himself on the outside when he returned at 13, and ready to do “whatever I needed to do” to fit in and gain the approval of his peers.
“If that meant breaking the law, then I broke the law,” he said.
“I have been arrested, seen the inside of the police station, seen the inside of a courtroom, had a probation officer — the list goes on. Despite being taught right from wrong, I chose to make the wrong decisions and these decisions had consequences.”
Mr Smith, who last month left São Paulo in Brazil with his wife and daughter for a new work challenge in Zurich, Switzerland, added that he did not mean to glorify any of his youthful wrongdoings.
“Rather, I would like to highlight that one can make mistakes that may seem crippling, and still recover from them,” he said.
While his teachers at the Berkeley Institute saw him as a bright student, they also told him that it would take him nowhere without application.
Yet, at 18, “that was exactly where I was going — nowhere fast”.
Bored and frustrated, Mr Smith took recourse in the illegal thrill of pack racing, but speed led to tragedy when he witnessed the deaths of two close friends. He said his prayer was that other young people would not have to be stopped short by a devastating experience to take a second look at the possibilities in front of them.
“I will never forget the first time I made the honour roll at the Berkeley Institute,” he recalled.
“Not only was I surprised that my name had been called, the entire assembly was — which surprised me even more. Once I understood what I was capable of, there was no looking back. The old me was gone.”
In discovering the confidence and courage to lead, Mr Smith found his new beginning in life.
“I graduated with honours from the Bermuda College, graduated top of my class at St John’s, graduated from Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and even got to see the inside of a Harvard Business School classroom and graduate from one of their premier programmes.”
His efforts were recognised: in 2007, he was Bermuda Insurance Institute Young Reinsurance Person of the Year. The following year he became the Review Worldwide Reinsurance Future Industry Leader.
After living and working in the United States along with several South American countries, Mr Smith now speaks three languages and is learning his fourth, along with his wife and daughter.
“Imagine that — who would have thought that applying myself could have had this effect on my life?” he said.
To the Island’s students now setting off on the new academic year, Mr Smith added: “Now imagine yourself achieving the same or more with the gifts that you have been given.
“I encourage you to take advantage of your new beginning and wish you only the very best as you take your next steps onwards and upwards.”