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“Everyone has a unique and beautiful story…we just need to listen to it and we will be changed…”

Before her death, my daughter Casey was a reporter with the Fordham University newspaper and taught her colleagues the importance of stories and the power of stories to connect us. On September 12th I participated in the Vermont Trial Lawyers Association’s “Cornerstone Stories,” a TED style program in which speakers were asked to talk about overcoming failure or obstacles on the path to success. It was an incredibly moving and powerful event for speakers and the audience. I know I was changed by listening to these stories.

I spoke about the dark days, weeks and months following my daughter Casey’s death and how I ultimately gave myself permission to live and to try to enjoy life despite Casey’s death, but to do so in a way that honored Casey’s memory, working to end distracted driving. Telling her story, as author Gail Sheehy so aptly said, is to build a bridge from the land of the dead to the land of the living. Peter Shumlin was dismissed as stupid and incapable of learning to read when his dyslexia was undiagnosed in middle school. As Vermont’s Governor today, he leads with compassion learned from the painful experiences of his childhood and established the first college for dyslexic students in the country. Jeanne Morissey struggled throughout her life with depression and trying to do things her way in a world that wanted conformity. She powerfully recounted some dark moments and how she moved forward realizing that we need to lead “inspired lives and not required lives,” and now she leads an engineering and construction company that bears her name. Mary Powell recounted a number of challenging life events to ultimately become the CEO of Green Mountain Power. David Blistein spoke of his battle with mental illness, reminding us that if we stigmatize others we are, in essence, stigmatizing ourselves.

Marilynn Skoglund, grew up dirt poor and did not attend law school but through perseverance and what she called “pluck,” is now a Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court. Madeleine Kunin, described what it was like for a woman in the 70s to enter the male-dominated political landscape and through just never giving up and believing in herself became the first woman elected Governor of Vermont. When he was growing up, T.J. Donovan made some mistakes that put him on the wrong side of the law. Through the encouragement of his sisters, and his father who told him that “saints have pasts and sinners have futures,” T.J. turned his life around. He graduated law school and now is the state’s attorney for one of the largest counties in Vermont and, remembering his past, has enacted programs that keep compassion in the criminal justice system that are catching the eye of others in law enforcement across the country. Nationally-acclaimed author Chris Bohjalian talked of his Armenian roots and how the genocide of his people in the 20th century has shaped his life and influences his writings.

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