Publisher’s Note: Emerging Icons is a new feature brought to you by Maine Icons. We will be profiling younger Mainers who are active in their communities and on a trajectory for success. Maine is fortunate to have so many talented, hardworking, and entrepreneurial young people and we look forward to sharing their stories as Emerging Icons. – Peter Anania
When he was a student at Portland’s now-defunct Nathan Clifford Elementary School, Spencer Thibodeau had such a difficult time reading that he fell well behind grade level. By middle school, he was being rubber-stamped through. A guidance counselor even told his parents that if they sent him to Cheverus, they’d be setting him up for failure because he couldn’t succeed academically.
Ten years later, on the eve of his graduation from Northeastern University School of Law, Thibodeau’s mother made it a point to send the guidance counselor a note about the imminent graduation ceremony.
Now a Portland City Councilor and a practicing lawyer, Thibodeau has yet to turn thirty. He worked for a presidential campaign and received career advice from a sitting U.S. Senator. He could have headed to Washington, D.C., settled on a high-powered career path and never looked back. Thibodeau chose instead to return to Portland to see how he could help his hometown.
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Thibodeau was in college during Barack Obama’s first presidential run. Inspired by the candidate, he moved to New Hampshire to work on the future president’s primary campaign. He worked as an organizer during the primary, and then returned in the summer of 2008 to help organize and mobilize votes for the November election.
Community service was a key part of the campaign work, Thibodeau recalls. He explains that by taking action and getting the community involved helped people to remember and associate the Obama campaign with good work. “Doing things like building playgrounds were much more effective than signs or glossy postcards,” Thibodeau explains. After the campaign, Thibodeau could have gone to Washington like most of his peers did, but a conversation with Senator Cory Booker changed his mind.
“He told me that I was doing it backward. He said I should go home to Maine, work in my community, then go to DC,” says Thibodeau. “So I decided law school was the best way to do that.”
Thibodeau applied to Northeastern, was accepted, and took full advantage of their internship programs. Among the four internships he did over his three years in law school was one with Verrill Dana, a Portland-based law firm. That internship led to a job and provided Thibodeau the opportunity to live in and serve his hometown.
“I feel like I’m the luckiest person I know. I’ve been able to do everything I want to do in my life,” says Thibodeau.
He’s quick to share credit for his success, though. Thibodeau lists his family, particularly his adoptive parents and grandparents, as his biggest supporters. He also credits Jon Hinck and Ed Suslovic for their help in getting him elected to the Portland City Council in his mid-twenties. It’s a position he never expected to hold but is grateful for the unique opportunity it presents.
“I never saw myself here when I was younger. But now I have this unique experience of representing a district and a city I grew up in.”
Thibodeau had to work hard to get where he is today. He believes if his early school experience had been easy, he would never be serving his city or working as a lawyer. Now, he looks back on his years in school and reflects that his hardships are what drove him.
“Challenges breed success. That’s been the model. I didn’t do well in school, but now I read for a living. What it does is make you the hardest working person in the room,” he says.
Spencer Thibodeau served as a presidential campaign organizer, works as a lawyer, is an elected city council member, and even serves as a guest host on the 560 WGAN morning show. Working hard, knowing what he believes in, and having a desire to serve his community have made Thibodeau a rising star in Portland before his thirtieth birthday. That’s why Spencer Thibodeau is an Emerging Icon.