Tom Smerling

Profile Updated: November 21, 2017
Tom Smerling
Tom Smerling

Then

Tom Smerling

Now

Tom Smerling

Yearbook

Yes! Attending Reunion
Currently residing In Chevy Chase, MD USA
Spouse/Partner Reena Bernards
Occupation Public Policy, Organizer and Activist
Children? Amir, born 1995
Talia, born 1997
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1967: Senior profile from Bisbila

Thomas . . . Service as our class president all through senior high and three years of Senate experience proved Tom a mainstay of class politics. He also held the offices of German club treasurer and Ski Club treasurer and vice-president. A National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist with a coolly perceptive wit and an "expert" on existentialism.

Enter here whatever you would like to share with classmates. e.g. Your story since high school: What did you do after graduation, and since?

Dropped out of college 1968 amidst an explosive identity crisis (and the Tet Offensive.) Moved to Bay Area to "find myself." Mostly found a lot of people searching for some kind of gold. Not long after Berkeley's "People's Park" riots (always a good time) I got a letter from the Selective Service and had to hitch-hike/hop freights back to MN to (successfully, thank God) flunk my draft physical. That's a long, funny story....

Eventually with other co-opers started Freewheel Bike Coop in 1974 -- a worker-owned shop. But after several wonderful years -- and a couple of terrible ones filled wracked with internal political battles -- I discovered I was more interested in politics more than bikes.

Re-discovered my Jewish identity, became fascinated by the Arab-Israeli conflict, and discovered the Israeli peace movement as a way to be loyal to both my people and my values.

Graduated from U of M in Int'l Relations, worked as an aide to Mayor Don Fraser, then moved to DC in 1985 on a Bush fellowship in Middle East policy. Bounced around in various think-tanks, then in 1988 launched "Project Nishma" -- an NGO devoted to recruiting Jewish leaders to use their clout to advocate for more active US ME peace diplomacy.

Rather late in life, I met the love of my life, Reena Bernards and we married in 1990. Best decision I ever made. In the mid 90's, we adopted at birth our two great kids, Ami & Talia, now 22 and 20.

Shortly after 9-11, I left the moribund ME peace process. I was spent. By accident, I discovered a beaver colony in Rock Creek behind our house. Became fascinated by urban wildlife. After performing a beaver population study for the county, I decided to wash my hands of of the ME and return to my MN outdoors roots.

Off to the U of M (Maryland, this time) for an MS in Conservation Biology. After a stint at NOAA's Nat'l Ocean Service, I focused on climate change communication -- how can we tell the climate story more effectively -- and started with a colleague a website (ClimateBites) for to help climate communicators.

I was a late bloomer in many ways. Had lots of adventures and more than a few bumps along the road.

Now the kids are (mostly) grown, and I'm (mostly) retired, doing (mostly) music, outdoor sports, and political work.

Most recent addiction: orienteering (off-trail racing with compass and map.)

Newest political activity: Getting involved with "Better Angels" -- a de-polarization group that sponsors Blue-Red dialogue. It's led by U of M Professor, Bill Dougherty! All roads lead back to MN, it seems. In this Wash Post news article, I'm the one in the 2nd photo, far right, light blue shirt. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2017/07/21/politicians-cant-seem-to-do-it-but-these-citizens-are-learning-how-to-find-common-ground/?utm_term=.c23aa8d1c9a6

These days, on an average day, you'll find me...

Writing on the computer at my standing desk, checking items off my to-do list, while keeping track of the latest DJT horror story.

Taking a couple of hours most days for trail running or cycling with my workout buddy -- another 1949'er -- or heading over to yoga class.

Still plugging away at piano. Or writing scores for a musical written by an AFL-CIO buddy, a dark comedy aimed at labor union audiences. Norma Rae meets Sweeney Todd.

Or occasionally dealing with the latest parent-of-young-adult mini-crisis. (I don't remember signing up for this program!)

What year did you start at UHS (or UES or pre-school)? Why did your parents send you there? (If you left UHS before graduation, why? Where did you go?)

I started as a 3 year old at the U of M Child Development Center. My mother years late that she me and my sister Jill there because it was the only place in town that accepted 3 year olds, and she wanted to get us out of the house (and her hair).

My major accomplishment was learning how avoid wetting wet my pants everyday during storytime.

Then on to UES, UHS and later U of M CLA and the HHH Institute for Public Affairs. Strange. 20 years of education, all within a 1/2 mile radius.

Jill and I view UES as the pinnacle of our educational experience. From there, it was all good, but slid gradually downhill!

How much did you like (or dislike) going to UHS? Most days I...

...liked it

A High School story: I remember...

I hate to admit it, but I mostly sleep-walked in a self-absorbed, adolescent fog through those years.

But I'll never forget that November afternoon in 1963, when Sue Hudak rushed tearfully into Mr. Coulter's 9th Grade Biology class to inform us that Pres. Kennedy had been shot. I loved Coulter, and biology, but I never could completely forgive him for plowing ahead with the day's lesson, instead of turning on the radio.

On a lighter note, I remember us pulling lots of obnoxious pranks on student teachers (let's face it, we were cruel).

Once -- for talking in class -- I was forced to stand in the corner at the front of the classroom, facing a bulletin board. My nose against the cork, I entertained myself by pulling out the spare tacks, and, when the student teacher's back was turned, flicking the tacks one by one onto to the floor near his feet.

Unaware that his soles were in mortal danger, the student teacher kept pacing back and forth in front of the chalk board he gradually collecting the tacks on his shoe bottoms. As the class caught on, snickers started to spread, but the teacher couldn't figure out why everybody was laughing.

Finally, he noticed a sound coming from his feet -- like tap dancing. So he lifted one foot to find, in amazement, a dozen or so tacks stuck in the sole. The class burst into laughter, but I went into convulsions trying to stifle keep a straight face, stifle any sound and melt into the wall.

In retrospect, I can't believe we had the chutzpah to pull such pranks. Those poor student teachers, I'm afraid, bore the brunt of our adolescent angst and frustration.

Did you ever have a secret (or not-so-secret) crush on somebody in high school?

Oh yes. Starting early. From pre-school through 2nd grade, I annually fell in love with my teacher! From 3rd grade through 10th grade, I switched to continuous (but changing) crushes on classmates.

But, with one extremely brief exception, I never summoned the confidence tell the objects of my affection, much less to act on it.

Unrequited, finally I gave up on "falling in love." By 11th grade, I had my first real girlfriend, but from another school. Lotsa fun but nothing like the mad passion of those early crushes.

It was years before I allowed myself to again "fall in love."

Luckily, in the 80's, I met, fell totally head over heels, avidly wooed, and eventually married ('90) my last, and biggest, crush of all. :) She'll be at the reunion.

What was your self-perception in high school?

Academics came easily. But socially I was insecure and for various reasons became increasingly isolated/alienated by senior year.

In Jr. High, I wanted so desperately wanted to be "cool" and "popular" but didn't know how. (Sister Jill tried to coach me, to no avail.) I tried playing various sports, but a knee injury knocked me out of football -- the one sport I loved and for which I had any talent whatsoever.

So to avoid being condemned to a life of "nerd-dom," I became even more of a prankster, specializing in getting kicked out of class. I probably hoped that this would somehow neutralize my toxic nerdiness, and give me at least a bit of street cred. Not sure how successful that was, but it made for some good laughs!

One of the best experiences I've had since 1967 was when...

Visiting friends in Uganda, in January 2017 we had a chance to play with four juvenile chimps, who were set loose with us on a wooded island within the Entebbe zoo/sanctuary.

Like pre-schoolers, the 4-5 year-olds love to rough-house and be tickled. They climbed all over us and danced with Reena. It was thrilling just to feel their calloused human-like hands, and to gaze into their wise, ageless eyes and see them gazing back. Some sort kind of recognition.

What were some of your favorite activities or forms of entertainment back in High School? Favorite activities now?

In HS: football ('til injured), playing guitar, skiing, canoeing in the BWCA, and all water sports (fishing, sailing, water skiing, swimming)

Now: music (guitar, piano), trail-running, cycling, orienteering, playing Upwords online, watching indie/foreign flicks. Enjoying the ocean and windsurfing on the sound on Ocracoke Island, NC.

I guess I haven't changed all that much.

Looking back, how do you think going to UHS changed you, in ways that affected you in later life?

UHS provided a great educational foundation. I learned critical thinking, creativity, and was free to explore my interests as they migrated from biology to psychology and social science.

They welcomed independent thought, and in spite of ourselves taught us how to express ourselves effectively in writing.

Going to UHS helped me appreciate people from a variety of backgrounds, and learn how to relate.

In 1965 in speech class I was luckily randomly assigned to the "Con" side of a debate over the Vietnam War. I've been anti-war ever since.

However, looking back elementary school was very expansive for me, and (accurately or not) I felt like a leader in many areas. In contrast, HS was very humbling and sobering. I quickly bumped into, and had to learn to accept, my limitations, especially social and athletic.

Bucket List: What's one thing you've always wanted to do, but haven't yet had the chance?

I'd like to someday return to Fiji, where we took our honeymoon, arguably the friendliest, most welcoming spot on the planet.

There is a tiny island village, N'goa, where the locals greeted us -- two strangers, arriving unannounced -- with open arms. They introduced us to the entire village, fed us and almost immediately began begging us to stay the night. That evening, they sat in a circle drinking kava and singing into the wee hours, leaving the children to just collapse and sleep wherever they happened to land.

The next day, they took us to an even tinier island for lunch. Our hosts netted fish to grill, and plucked mangoes and coconuts from the trees. The showed us the spot where they would build us a hut, and begged us to stay forever.

"We have everything here. You're hungry, you catch fish. You're thirsty, you pick a coconut. Why would you want to leave?" Reena and I looked at each other blankly, struggling to come up with an answer.

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Posted on: Nov 21, 2017 at 6:34 PM

For those in need of (political) inspiration, this is a great story:
https://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544861933/how-one-man-convinced-200-ku-klux-klan-members-to-give-up-their-robes.

Another hopeful "depolarization" effort underway: https://better-angels.org/ (Reena and I recently received training as facilitators, and co-led a pre-Thanksgiving workshop at a church last Sunday, on "Listening So People Can Hear, and Speaking So People Can Hear You."

Why now? Check out this poll released today: "According to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, 58 percent of people celebrating the [Thanksgiving] holiday are dreading having to talk politics around the dinner table." https://www.npr.org/2017/11/21/565482714/americans-say-to-pass-the-turkey-not-the-politics-at-thanksgiving-this-year. :)

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Posted on: Oct 24, 2017 at 12:42 PM

Robin --

Ugh. That phishing sounds awful! I hope it's not related to the website (I haven't experienced it -- has anybody else?) But just to be sure I'll ask tech support if they've had any other reports of this, and -- if so -- is there anything they recommend to further sure the site.

Tom

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Husband Paul rowing Desolation/Gray Canyons, Green River, Utah. Sept. 2017
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Posted: Jul 29, 2017 at 3:45 PM
OK this was 10 years before I was born, but that's 4 generations of women. R to L: My mom (Bev), Grandmother (Jean), Great-Grandmother (Bubbe) and Great-Great-Grandmother (Little Bubbe). Note the gradual evolution from fresh-off-the-boat to All-American girl.
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Tom age 2.5?
Posted: Jul 29, 2017 at 3:36 PM
Jill (age 7?) and me (age 5) making a snowman outside our house on Lincoln Ave. in St. Paul
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Tom (est. 5'6, 105 lbs) with sailfish (9'9", 137 lbs). Mexico, 1961.
Posted: Sep 12, 2017 at 4:22 PM
Desperate to escape from terminal nerd-dom, in 10th (?) grade I tried shedding glasses. Real clever. Just one drawback: everything was a blur. Gave up after a couple of months.