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Interview by Theresa Nguyen with Greg Forbes Siegman
On February 23, Greg Forbes Siegman serves as one of the three Speakers at the 2006 Valley Business Conference, alongside Executive Speech Coach and Sales Trainer Patricia Fripp, and Luncheon Keynote Speaker John Sculley — former CEO of Apple Computer and Pepsi.
Best known for his civic efforts, Greg is a recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service. In 2005, he was honored at Princeton University as one of the nation's top social entrepreneurs under 40. He has been featured in media like The Washington Post, The NonProfit Times and USA Today. A few years ago, Good Morning America buried a Time Capsule which chronicled some of his civic efforts.
The first thirty years of Greg's life, and the first thirty lessons learned from his successes and failures along the way, serve as the basis for The First Thirty by Jillip Naysinthe Paxson.
A number of groups in Fresno are now using The First Thirty. BennettFrost Personnel Services, Inc. is doing a staff-wide reading of the book. They also ordered copies for the Social Entrepreneurship class at Lyles Center. One by One Leadership ordered copies of The First Thirty to give out to some of their volunteers. Piccadilly Inn Airport Hotel is providing copies of The First Thirty to its Senior Management. L.O.T. — which is part of the Fresno State Leadership Program — has incorporated The First Thirty into its readings. Fresno High School has done the same with a couple of its classes. Centerpoint Athletic Club ordered additional copies of the book for students at Fresno High. An essay contest for local college students on The First Thirty is going to be sponsored by Campagnia.
The First Thirty and its companion workbook, A Place To Sit, are available at Borders in Fresno, Fresno City College Bookstore, and Kennel Bookstore at California State University, Fresno.
While in Fresno for the VBC, Greg is also scheduled to speak at a series of events for local high school and college students. One night during the trip, part of My Sleepless Nights — Greg's art collection -- will be on display at California State University, Fresno.
Before coming to California, Greg answered questions sent to him by e-mail:
You were rejected from every college you wanted to attend. How do you think your life would be different if one of them had accepted you?
The first difference that comes to mind is that I probably never would've ended up in Louisiana [where he found a college that would give him a shot] and that would've been a huge loss for me, because it's such a great place and so different than anything else I had ever experienced.
After college, you became a substitute teacher and started a foundation. What career did you think you would pursue when you were younger and do you ever wish you had?
Probably a career in law or film. Basically, I wanted to be like Atticus Finch [the attorney in To Kill a Mockingbird] or I wanted to be the one who made stories about guys like Atticus Finch. And yes, sure, there are times I wish I had done one of those things. Maybe, one day, I still will.
How does it feel to be the basis for a character in a book?
It's been fun. Sort of Forrest Gump-ish.
The First Thirty reflects on what other people can learn from your successes and failures. What have you learned from your own experiences?
That I fail a lot more than I succeed, and it's not the end of the world when that happens.
What do you see for yourself in the next thirty years?
Hopefully, enough interesting experiences to justify a sequel. That's not to say there would be a sequel — just saying it would be nice to have enough interesting experiences to justify one.
What's the best advice you ever received and who was it from?
My Grandma, but it's hard to rank her different bits of wisdom. I think one of my favorites from her is the one featured on the very first page of The First Thirty. She said If life was nothing but straight lines, it wouldn't be worth living.'
Your Grandma is a prominent character in the book, and you seem to refer to her all the time. When did she pass away? Do you miss her?
She was my best friend since I was a little kid. She passed away four years ago. I wish I could say it has gotten easier with time, but it hasn't.
You're only a few years out of college, but at the VBC, you're sharing the stage with the former CEO of Apple and Pepsi. Does that kind of thing make you nervous?
Well, Mr. Sculley and I are speaking at the same event, but we're not exactly sharing the stage'. I speak during the Morning Session. He's the Luncheon Keynote Speaker. I'm sort of like the warm-up act. When it's his turn to speak, I'll be in the audience listening along with everyone else. It seems like he's had some remarkable life experiences that I could learn from. I look forward to hearing him speak, and coming to Fresno in general. It'll be my first time there.
The First Thirty, and its companion workbook A Place To Sit, are available at Borders Fresno, Kennel Bookstore and Fresno City College Bookstore. The website for The First Thirty is www.TheFirstThirty.com . For more on Valley Business Conference, see www.FresnoChamber.com
Theresa Nguyen is a freelance writer based in California.