The best advice I received as a Summer Fellow with the City of Boston

This essay is for my brother and anyone else looking for simple words of wisdom for uncertain times.

Angelica Quicksey
5 min readNov 3, 2018
The 2016 Summer Fellows of the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in front of Boston City Hall.

“What is the best piece of advice a parent or mentor has given you?” I was asked this question in July of 2016, in a windowless conference room on the sixth floor of Boston City Hall.

With seven others, I was working as a summer fellow for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. All summer, our small group had generated questions like this one, scribbling them on post-it notes lining the wall of our tiny office. One by one we shared our answers: “Make your own story,” one said. “Anything worth doing is worth doing well,” was another response.

We were students then. All of us — from the 20-year-old first gen college student out of BU to the 32-year-old Naval Officer and Harvard MBA — entered Boston City Hall hoping to delve into the inner workings of city government. Since 2016, all eight summer fellows have graduated and started working. I myself took a job in a new city, moving to Washington, D.C. for the first time.

In 2018, it feels like wisdom is in short supply, but I keep returning to the words my colleagues shared that summer. Because in this anxiety-ridden moment of American public life, I am making time to reflect on words of wisdom from different periods of my own life.

Fourteen years ago, my favorite high school English teacher, Mr. Bliss, told my class that “we are the sum of our experiences, every book we’ve ever read, every movie we’ve ever seen, every conversation we have ever overheard.” In between discussions of E.B. White’s prose and Langton Hughes’ poetry, Mr. Bliss would share nuggets of wisdom along with stories from his past.

The best teachers do this. They may be formally-trained instructors standing before a classroom, or friends, coaches, parents, even strangers who dispense their wisdom in the lulls of everyday activity.

Students and parents may be familiar with they deluge of advice and reflections in May and June, when we sit through boring graduation speeches, watch the exceptional ones that make their way across the internet, and receive cards of congratulations and guidance for the milestones we just passed. As Americans, we expect to reflect and make resolutions around the New Year. But November is a fine time of year for wisdom, when the air cools, the leaves turn, and we go about our daily lives, eager, nervous, joyful, anxious, or apathetic.

The Summer Fellows’ wall of questions and answers at the end of the summer.

These were the best pieces of advice my summer fellows and I recalled receiving. Unlike graduation speeches, they are short, and sweet.

1. Make your own story.

2. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

3. The second something starts to feel easy, it’s time to mix things up a bit.

4. You can’t always control what happens, but you can control how you react.

5. Nobody else knows exactly what they’re doing either!

6. Stay thirsty.

7. Smile.

8. Work hard and be kind.

I share these notes because I am reflecting, not merely on the kind of advice I have been given, but on the advice I want to give to my younger brother, William.

Columbia, SC: William in front of South Carolina’s capitol building, on the day of his graduation from basic training.

Last fall, as I began my final year of grad school, William was returning to school, at twenty-five, to get his associate’s degree and eventually transfer into an engineering program. This fall, his unit in the army reserves is preparing to send some of it’s members into the field. He is ready and willing to serve.

I am so proud of him. He reminds me of the many people who pursue education of all forms, at all stages of life. He does his best each day, and approaches each challenge with determination and humility. He is a testament to our parents, who themselves do not have bachelor’s degrees, but who built their lives with grit and who shared their own lessons with us along the way.

When my brother was in basic training in South Carolina, preparing to join the army reserves, I sent him a poem that often gets shared around graduation time, but whose lessons are just as appropriate to remember in November. Written in 1895 as a letter to his son, Rudyard Kipling’s “If” exhorts us to:

“Keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you / If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you / But make allowance for their doubting too


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue / Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch / If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you / If all men count with you, but none too much / If you can fill the unforgiving minute / With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run / Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it / And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!”

As students across the country head deeper into fall, as our service men and women head to destinations unknown, and as we as a country head into a divisive election, let us take time to reflect on the conversations, quotes, books, movies, and bits of accumulated wisdom we have gathered over time. Let us approach each day with intention, and not leave reflection for the new year. Let us work hard, and be kind — that was my contribution to our summer collection of advice.



Angelica Quicksey

🤠 Cowboy boots & community 👾 Urban planner for the internet at New_Public ⚡️ Board at Technologists for the Public Good 👉🏽 Opinions mine