Deliberate Acts of Kindness

The following is a Chapel Talk I had intended to give this year.  

Were any of you on the Circle when Acts_Of Kindness, that troubadour of good deeds was a sensation during one particularly grey and dreary February?

I loved Acts. For those of you (I suspect the majority) who have no idea what I’m talking about: Winter three years ago, a mysterious email account appeared on FirstClass and began poetically expound upon good deeds around the Circle. These mysterious emails would show up on student conferences once a day. Here’s an example:

a girl is helped in a flash by another
who should have then been singing
sing she does

a boy calls us to call our moms
and some of us do

a little baby stays mostly quiet in a chapel
but lets us know she’s there
in the midst of it all

At one point, a student caught Acts_Of Kindness on First Class Chat and when asked for motives, AOK responded: I have received more beautiful stories about random acts of kindness than everyone in the world.

Speculation ran rampant as to identity of the mysterious emailer until concerns that it was an undercover Al Qaida operative eventually won out and Mr. Gemmell stepped out from behind the curtain to reveal himself as this mysterious bard behind the keyboard.

This was just a few weeks or so in February three years ago, but I have thought about this over and over again since. Both because it was sad to see it go, as it was a little bit of sunshine during what was a difficult time for me, but also because is has me thinking about that idiom, Random Acts of Kindness.

It should be easy, being kind. After all, it’s what we all want others to be, right? Why then does is sometimes seem easier to be the opposite? Can we not be just kind all of the time? Must we rely on the Random Acts of Kindness to make our day?

Flash back to the summer of 1988. My family and I have moved to Massachusetts that previous December from Clifton Park, NY. That June day, my dad, and my younger brother headed into Boston for our first professional baseball game. For all I can remember, it might have been our first baseball game ever.

I did not know was that it was just two years after the Sox blew the World Series in epic fashion. I had no knowledge of Bill Buckner, Bucky “Bleeping” Dent, Pesky holding the ball, Ted Williams and the Teammates, Joe Cronin, Yaz, Rice and Fisk. I had never seen a baseball game before this, and I remember being awed by what is now known as “America’s favorite ballpark.” This was well before the circus of Yawkee Way, the hour-long pregame show and the hour-long post game show. This was back when half of the games were played on Channel 38, free TV. Back before real fans had cards proving their fandom and residence in the some made up nation.

I was struck by that building. That ballpark. I remember the brick, and that unmistakable green paint. Our seats were in the roof boxes on the first base line. To get there we had the option of climbing a whole bunch of stairs or taking the elevator. With a nine-year-old and a five-year-old in tow and the first pitch about to be thrown, my dad, perhaps wisely, chose the elevator.

At the elevator was a tall skinny guy with a slight afro. He wore a Red Sox shirt that made it apparent he worked for the team. On the ride up, he asked us if we had arrived early to watch batting practice and get some autographs. Having been raised by two Vermont Hicks (this is not quite as bad as being raised by a pair of wolves in the forest, but when put in situations like these involving civilization, you are equally unprepared), my brother and I replied no. Didn’t know that was a thing.

“Go buy a ball and meet me here after the game.” was his reply.

We found our seats and the beauty of that park struck me. In fact it still strikes me today as it did back then. The green, the grass, the rust colored damp dirt of the infield. I don’t remember much about the game. The Sox played the Mariners, winning 11-5. Oil Can Boyd was the starting pitcher, lasting four innings before the immortal Tom Bolton getting the win in relief. I know all this not because I remember it, but rather because I looked it up on

After the game, we met our new friend at the designated spot after the game, ball and ballpoint pen in tow. He brought the three of us down the elevator and out of the park onto Van Ness St. This was before the statue of the Teammates was there and was a fenced in area used for player parking. A crowd had already gathered held back by yellow tape, waiting to catch a glimpse or maybe an autograph from one of the Sox players.

We made it to the tape, and our new friend told my dad to wait there as he beckoned my brother and me to follow him under the tape. I remember a, “Who are those kids?” coming up from the crowd behind me. I must have been in total shock. There I was in the parking lot surrounded by the very baseball players I had just seen from our seats high above the playing field. Baseball players that I barely knew, yet somehow revered. And they began driving by me, stopping, rolling down their windows and signing my ball.

Roger Clemons, Dwight Evans, Spike Owens, Oil Can, Ellis Burks, Mike Greenwell, Wade Boggs (the only jerk of the group who barked “Hurry up kid. I gotta get out of here.” This is a prejudice I held as I watched him ride around Yankee Stadium in pinstripes on the back of a police horse after winning a world series with the dreaded Yankees. I did not see who was in his passenger seat.)

And they kept coming, Marty Barrett, Jody Reed and others.

I think about that day every now and then. I still have that ball which sits in my living room. Acts_Of Kindness got me thinking about that day and my friend at the elevator in Fenway Park.

Was that a random act of kindness? Did that employee see two young kids on their first trip to a ball park and decide to give them a magical moment that they would remember for the rest of their lives?

I have decided that I like to think that this was not a random act of kindness, but rather it was a deliberate act of kindness. That’s more inspiring isn’t it? To believe that guy woke up every single day of the baseball season with the intention of giving a kid a once in a lifetime experience for no other reason than he could.

Suppose he did this at every home game for two kids, just like my brother and me. The Sox play 81 home games. That’s 162 kids who had a moment at a ballpark that they will never have again. And what did it take? 15 minutes? 15 minutes of deliberate kindness 81 times a year. Here I am. 34 years old and that is still one of my most favorite childhood memories. Imagine having that impact on 162 other people. And that’s just in one year. Who knows how long he had worked at Fenway.

Doesn’t that make a better story? One guy, a simple job, creating lasting childhood memories for hundreds, maybe thousands of children through deliberate acts of kindness.

This is what I loved about Acts_Of Kindness. It took the random out of acts of kindness. It drew attention to the small acts, and it made, me at least, do one kind act each day during that month of February. Not only that, but also look out for kind acts as they happened. It seems to me that is a pretty good way to go through life, seeking out and performing deliberate acts of kindness of varying size and impact.

I think we could all stand to make a deliberate act of kindness a part of our day. In fact, why not more than one? There are 450 of us in this room right now. If each of us does one act of kindness today, that 450 positive actions. If we do two, that’s 900. Spread the love. Keep it going. Imagine the type of community we could become. To quote a Grateful Dead song, “Let it grow. Let it grow. Greatly yield.”

How hard is it to do two kind things in one day? Two kind things that could help someone’s day be a little bit brighter? I would suggest that it’s pretty easy, you just have to be deliberate about it.

the Online self

I applied for two jobs this year.  Interviewed for both.  Didn’t get the first.  Got the second.

In both instances, during the interview someone mentioned having read either this blog or recent tweets. They knew I was a dad, that I love good beer and occasionally make my own, and even pointed out a typo.

I don’t know why but each time the conversation left me feeling a little uncomfortable.  Certainly, I should have been prepared for just such a conversation.  I have been preaching to students that they should be aware of the manner in which they use social media for years.  This blog certainly is not a journal on my nightstand only to be read by me.

And yet, each time it or some other media was mentioned, I could feel myself blushing and getting squeamish.   Wondering, just what embarrassing item they may have stumbled upon.

My first post in this space was in 2006, and it has a typo in it.  In fact, the first few posts have typos.   Now, seven years later, should I go back and retroactively fix them?

I don’t think I will.  I, rather, see it as an evolution.  It’s pretty clear in the beginning that I was trying to figure out just what to do with this thing.  It’s evolved from short comments on the weather, to a device in which I explored social media and its use in schools, to most recently, my trials through fatherhood.   To go back in time, and revise, remove or reprise previous posts would, to me, take away from the evolution of this space.

All that being said, it was a good reminder that this is very much a public space.  As much as I sometimes treat it like that journal on my nightstand, it isn’t private.  It’s totally searchable, and it’s here for a long time.   If I’m not writing something that I can be proud of and have total strangers read and gather an impression of me, then I  probably shouldn’t be writing it and definitely not here.

On Fatherhood

Below is a Chapel Talk* I gave a couple of weeks ago now.   The tragedy of Newton, CT has hit me harder than any other national news event that I can recall.  There’s no doubt in my mind that fatherhood is the reason behind it.  President Obama nailed it yesterday when he said that parenthood is like removing your heart from your body and letting it walk around outside of you.  My boys are an incredible gift.  I’m thankful they’re healthy.

Delivered December 6, 2012 at St. John’s Chapel, Groton School

“So, What’s it like being a dad?”


“It must be cool, you know?  Like, that’s your kid and all.”

“Uh, Yeah.  It’s cool.  I mean big responsibility and all that, but yeah, it’s cool.”

That was a conversation that Ray Dunn and I had just before study hall sometime last year.   Short and awkward, that conversation has stuck with me for some time now, and I often find that question floating around in my head.  “What’s it like being a dad?”

I’ll be honest.  When I signed up to do this Chapel talk, on St. Nicholas’s day (Patron saint of children) I fully intended to do some reflecting, do some writing, arrive here, and share some truly brilliant insight into what it is like being a parent. Give you some pointed, wise, and timeless advice on how some day, you too can be a parent.

Anyone want to take bets on whether or not that’s actually going to happen?

I did do a lot of thinking about this question, and like I said, it still runs through my head from time to time.  “What’s it like being a dad?”

Well, for one, being a dad is terrifying.

I have a serious paranoia streak.  I’m not like those people on Doomsday Preparers, but I can see how one could get there.

If I let myself, I could wake up every morning and ask myself, “What am I going to do today that is totally going to screw my kid up 20 years from now?”  That’s if I let myself.

Not only is the idea of raising this human being that could become the leader of the free world, or a psychotic mass murder, or somewhere in between, terrifying but the entire process leading up to the birth of this child is an experience, that frankly, I don’t want to go through again.

Let me share with you my experience with our first-born, Parker.

We were still living in Vermont at the time and Parker was a week overdue.   Maria’s water broke at about midnight on Sunday.  As nothing was really happening besides that—no contractions, etc.— we were told to get some rest (right) and come into the hospital at 8 a.m.

We did and as there still wasn’t much going on, they hooked Maria up to an IV and start pumping a drug called pitocin which speeds up the process of all hell breaking loose.

Fast forward to Tuesday at 3 a.m.  There’s some contractions going on now.  Things are moving, albeit slowly.

8 a.m.  Now hard labor is going and Maria is told to start pushing.   This goes on for three hours.

Now I should stop here and let you all know that the crazy person that I’m married to has decided to do this without painkillers.

Those three hours were awful.  Terrifying.   It was three hours of watching the person that I decided to spend the rest of my life with, go through this insufferable amount of pain.  And there is nothing I can do.  I’m totally useless.

There was one point at which Maria reached over, grabbed me by the love handles, and lifted all 195 pounds of me off of the ground.

All I could think was, “This hurts.  But not as much as that.”

At one point, watching this all, completely helpless, in one of many acts of hypocrisy I have committed, I remember praying.  Please just let her get through this.   Please.  I can’t raise this kid by myself.


It’s also hard.  Fatherhood is hard.   It’s hard because so often, my initial reactions to situations is an emotional one.  It’s typically something that I should know how to handle better, but often don’t.   These aren’t new lessons for me.  In fact they’re ones that I’ve learned years ago, mostly through coaching.

I learned quickly in my coaching career, that I am not Bear Bryant.  To start, I coach the wrong sport. But I am not a hard-nosed disciplinarian. I learned that in my first year as a swimming coach after college.

It was just me on the pool deck, and this group of swimmers had totally exhausted any patience that I had left.  In attempt to show them how tough I was, I went ballistic.   I stopped practice, started yelling, snapped a clipboard, and lined up an innocent pull buoy lying on the deck.

So I lined up this styrofoam football sized buoy one places between one’s legs in order to keep one’s legs afloat while doing pull drills took three steps, and set it flying into the stands of the observation deck.

Unfortunately, the shoe I was wearing followed it.

It is very hard to feel tough wearing clogs.  It’s even harder to feel tough when you’re standing on a wet pool deck, with one clog on, one clog off, balancing on one foot so that your sock doesn’t get wet.

That was the first lesson.  The second occurred three years later on a pool deck in Florida.  I was coaching the college team this time with my former coach and mentor.   It was New Year’s Eve Day and it was pretty evident both by the smell in the van on the ride over, and what I was seeing in the pool during warm ups that the team had been out late celebrating the night before.

Coach stopped everyone and I prepared my tough guy assistant coach stance and look.   Rather than berate them however, Coach took a totally different approach.   Rather focus on how angry he was that they had clearly broken our trust and were thus far putting in a dog bleep practice, he put it back on them.  He essentially said that they had let themselves down.  The only thing that was going to decide where they went in this practice, season, career, was their actions and their commitment.

I’m not doing a great job of summing this up, but it was one of the greatest teaching moments I’ve ever been a part of.   It was like the zen of coaching or something.

It’s a lesson that I’ve found I need reminding of as a parent.  It’s hard to remember to stay within yourself when put in a situation like when all you want your kid to do is eat a damn pea.

Just one.

Instead, you find yourself locked in this battle with this stubborn little 3 year-old who refuses to eat even one pea.   25 minutes into it, you’re stuck at the table wondering “Can I give in?  I can’t give in.  If I give in to this, I’ll be a total failure as a parent.  I can’t give in. ”

30 minutes in you’re asking yourself, “Wait, which one of us is three?”

Then the next thing you know, 45 minutes has gone by, you’re both in tears.  No pea has been eaten.  There is no winner.  No lesson learned.  Except a reminder to stay within myself.

Parenting is hard.  It’s also the most joyous thing that I have ever done.

I have an unhealthy relationship with a wild piece of Vermont known as the Northeast Kingdom.  In the NEK is a lake called Seymour in a town called Morgan (Emmett’s middle name) and in that town is a house that my grandparents bought in the 50’s and is now owned by the next generation down.  It’s a place where I have been going since I was Emmett’s age. In Vermont we call these places camp.  I have missed friend’s birthday parties and weddings  in order to spend a weekend at camp.  I didn’t say it was a healthy relationship.

This summer, Parker and I spent a lot of time up there.   Maria too.  She likes it.  But Parker and I, we love it.  Parker loves that place like I love that place.  I can see it already.

One weekend we pulled in at around 6 on a Friday.  I let Parker out of his car seat and he began running towards the lake, stripping off clothing, yelling “I love camp!  I love camp!”

I can’t tell you the feeling of pride and joy that I had.  The boy got it.

After a weekend of swimming, fishing, kayaking, peanut butter and fluff sandwiches walks around the mile, wearing little more than underwear (Parker not me) we prepared to leave on Sunday.   As we drove away, Parker was in tears.  “I don’t want to leave camp!”

I have to admit that I was too.

This is in reality, no big feat.  I’m a crier.  Ask the boys in my dorm last year or anyone who has seen me in the handshaking line.

I was crying because here is the most special place in my world, a place where I have uncountable numbers of childhood memories.   A place that has so many emotions tied to it—for me.  Here was this place that I had fallen in love with.  And my boy had too.   We shared something incredible on that day. Truth be told, I didn’t want to leave either.  I wanted that weekend to last forever.

I don’t know how I could possibly forget that moment.

So, despite all of the terror and the stand offs over legumes, being a dad has been a wonderful and fulfilling experience.

I did want to leave you with some original piece of advice for you future parents in the room.  Unfortunately I don’t have any.  What I do have is some that my uncle gave to me before he passed away when I was the age of many of you of you here.

He said, “Andrew, it doesn’t matter how you raise your kids, what method you use or any of that.  All that matters is you love them. And tell them so.”

Thank you.

* Apologies to my wife for sharing her birth story with 400 people without asking her.  Apologies to my wife for doing the same thing here.

The Way Back Machine

I was clearing out my Google Docs when I came across this  little gem.  It’s a document that I wrote to my then protegé, explaining our social media strategy which I helped develop.  It’s now four years old and they’ve gotten way more sophisticated, but I found it interesting to look back at some of the predictions I made, and also, how much of it is still relevant today.

My favorite part might be, ” At its best, a college education is an opportunity to grow intellectually and emotionally.  It is a chance to create long-lasting relationships and connections personally and professionally.  At its worse, it is a four-year summer camp with booze, sex and drugs. “

The Successful Electronic Marketing Campaign
Andrew M. Millikin

The successful electronic marketing campaign incorporates multiple media channels in a complimentary manner to an institution’s marketing efforts in print media.  There are four important points to remember throughout the campaign.   Actually that’s a bunch of B.S.  There are a ton of things to remember, but here are a few that came to mind:

  1. Keep the message on target.  A successful electronic campaign will seamlessly blend the focus of a print marketing campaign and vice versa – be truthful to the institution on both accounts.
  2. Be quick.  Be nimble.  Damn the committees!  Committees are where good ideas go to die.  Avoid them at all costs.  Embrace the mantra that it is easier to beg for forgiveness than ask permission of a committee.
  3. It’s not about what you want.  It’s about what they want.  It’s about creating a space and creating tools for people who care about a subject to share, collaborate and create (stolen from Brad J. Ward who stole it from the insufferable Seth Godin).  Keep the information accurate, but don’t try to control the message.
  4. You sell a cool product.  At its best, a college education is an opportunity to grow intellectually and emotionally.  It is a chance to create long-lasting relationships and connections personally and professionally.  At its worse, it is a four-year summer camp with booze, sex and drugs.  Either way, for the right audience, it is a cool product.

I.  Email Marketing


The KnightLites emails provide a branding for our email communication.  At its simplest, KnightLites is a monthly newsletter highlighting Saint Michael’s strongest programs including M.O.V.E., the Smuggs Pass, Fire & Rescue, PBK and also on campus signature events such as P-Day and Jibbfest.

The Knightlites brand is also used to send information to targeted groups as deemed fit.  For example, news may come out that an English major has received a grant to write a novel.  A KnightLites will then go out to prospects who have selected English as an interest of theirs.  This can be done for all academic interests and extra-curricular interests.  It’s best to stay away from NCAA sports interests as there are NCAA regulations that govern how athletic programs are marketed to high school athletes.

Quick Tips

  • K.I.S.S.  Live by it.  Keep It SHORT and SWEET.  I know not what you were expecting, but these are words to live my when it comes to email.  Think of the pyramid structure in journalistic writing – most important points first to catch the reader’s attentions and then bring in the less exciting, but often essential details. 200 words max.
  • Graphics and photos can add to a story, but because of the way SPAM filters and email services work, they should never be the sole content in an email.
  • Every email should have a purpose and each Email should always have an action message driving the recipient to take action.  This can be as simple as directing a student to the website for more information.
  • Don’t use “Click Here.”  It sounds lame.  At the same time don’t use url’s like in the text.  The code that FER adds to track click-throughs makes it look ugly in the text.
  • Before you hit send ask yourself, “What is the goal of this email?”  Then proofread it 3 times.  Read it backwards and then read it forwards and then backwards again.  Check links.

The Next Level

The current campaign structure that we have is sufficient, but there is definitely more room to grow.  Raising awareness amongst faculty and getting them more involved in the recruiting process by using tools like email is certainly one way.

II. Social Media

It’s not what you want.  It’s what they want.  But you sell a cool product.  How do you get your message out?

A prospective student has three questions that they want answered.  Can I get in?  Will I fit in?  And now, perhaps more so than before, can I afford it?

Your task in is to not broadcast the marketing department’s message in relation to these questions, but rather to create a space where these questions can be asked and discussed, not with you, but with their peers.

Remember, it’s never about you.  It’s always about them and their needs.


Facebook is the foundation of a social media marketing plan.  It’s the largest social networking site in the world, and we’ve only done an okay job using it.  To make it more successful, we’ve got to drive more traffic to the Fan Page.  Whether it is the Admission Fan Page or, hopefully, an overall Saint Michael’s College Fan Page getting the word out is key.

In the past, I was hesitant to use email to announce our presence on this social network because I thought it was their space.  That, in retrospect, was a mistake.  Again, we have a cool product.  It’s okay to let people know where they can find us.  Email,  blogs, what ever you can do to drive traffic to the site, and then you need to figure out what needs to be there for content.  That content has to be updated regularly and frequently.  A Fan Page without new and fresh content is a Fan Page without active fans.

The structure of Facebook is as follows:
Fan Pages

Recent updates to Facebook have been in an effort to make Fan Pages more like profiles.  My sense is that Fan Pages are best suited for groups with broad interests i.e. the Saint Michael’s College Fan Page.  Groups are more suited for specific interests such as the Class of 2013.

I’ve found that the best content on a Facebook “Class of..”  is organic content.  Let the prospective students create their own.  They’re also a great place to advertise events like Blogger Chats.

Fan Pages are also great places for events. Ideally, we’d have a more proactive and technology friendly residence/student life staff and we’d have a better representation of what happens on campus here outside of classes.

The Next Level

The challenge is always, “How do we drive traffic to the Fan Page and how do we increase participation?”  Creating a Fan Page that isn’t focused on the admission process or just a rss feed for news from the marketing department, but rather is focused on current student activities, athletic events, special events on campus, will provide a service to current students and give prospective students a better idea of life at Saint Michael’s.

Getting multiple offices in line on campus will also be helpful as it will give them a glimpse into the task of recruiting perspective students and what they’re looking for in as far as student services, etc.


The Ning sites are customizable social networking sites.  We use two one for accepted students which is an invitation only site and another for prospective parents which has no restrictions.  Ning isn’t as user-friendly as Facebook.  It’s slightly harder to navigate.  I haven’t spent much time digging around in the guts of it (XXXX handles these), so I don’t know much about formatting options.  It seems like the simpler the better and like all of them, the more action the better.  Bloggers should be on both, and a reminder from time to time wouldn’t be a bad idea.  The key with these is to check it often and be able to respond to a post immediately.  If it’s allowed to sit, it will be forgotten.

The Next Level

The Parent Coordinator and you and XXXX need to work on whose responsibility this is.  To me its social media and therefore it makes much more sense for the social media expert in the office to oversee the page. I can also see the argument that the parent coordinator should be the one as they’re thinking about parents everyday as part of their job.  That being said I still think the social media coordinator is the one who should over see it.


Twitter is the fastest growing social network in the world.  The challenge here lies in its users.  They’re older.  They’re more likely to be in there 30’s and 40’s than in high school.  It is growing though, and going after that older population isn’t a bad thing either.  It may mean that you’re connected with parents of prospective students rather than the prospective students.  Parents are of course major players in the decision process so again, this isn’t a bad thing.

Twitter can also serve as the blog post between the blog post.  The short 140 character updates provide another dimension and give a reader more insight into the lives of the Bloggers on the Saint Michael’s campus.

Once students get into this they begin to see it as their own.  It’s less formal than a blog and therefore, the content can get iffy.  I’m pretty anti-censorship and haven’t acted on anything, but there have been times….

The Next Level

I don’t know.  It’s a new medium.  Its growth was so steep that I don’t think that the real value in Twitter has been figured out.  As I’ve said many times though, it’s a great professional development tool.  Make as many connections as possible with social media professionals at other schools.  It’s a great networking tool.


This is where the story really comes out.  I often tell the Bloggers that they just need to write about life.  It doesn’t’ have to be groundbreaking, Pulitzer quality stuff.  It just needs to be stuff and it needs to be updated frequently.   I think the team atmosphere that I created with the Saint Michael’s College Bloggers has helped aid in the frequent posts.  Meeting a couple of time s a month with them will help as well.  A blog that hasn’t been updated in 3 months is worse than no blog at all.  Again, I haven’t censored anything and I haven’t had to even think about it in these.  Typically they understand what to write and what not to write.

Quick tip

Never begin a post with “Sorry I haven’t posted in a while” or some manifestation of that phrase.  That’s an excuse and excuses are always lame.  Besides, it draws attention to the fact that you’re a slacker and are neglecting your blog.

The Next Level

This is a big one.  We have done a blogs pretty well in the last couple of years.  The key is finding good talent and getting them involved in the group to keep their enthusiasm going throughout the year.

III.  GO BIG OR GO HOME- The Big Picture Next level

The next step is simply to increase the media through which the conversation can continue.  While we have some presence on YouTube and Flickr, etc, it won’t take much to do a better job.

Flickr has been very useful with students who are studying abroad.  XXXXX is very familiar with Flickr and he would be a great person to act as a photo blogger.

YouTube is another area that would be an easy area to increase our presence.  Each time a Blogger makes a video, rather than import it directly into Blogger, they should upload it to the YouTube account.  The video quality will be better and it would mean more content on the account.  A quick ten minute sit down with the Bloggers would be sufficient to teach them how to do it.  It’s an easy process.

Ustream TV
This is a video/chat website.  We haven’t done much here and by not much I mean nothing.  It could be a useful tool though.  Maybe a simple, users post questions and someone answers them in the video.

Blogger Chats
What used to be called Virtual Open Houses.  Open House implies something more than just a chat room that’s why we’re changing the name.  There has got to be a better and probably cheaper chat program out there.  I would encourage you to find it.  In some ways, I think that Ustream TV might be that tool, but I’m not sure.

How did you learn all this, stuff?

By “stuff” do you mean useless crap or do you mean social media marketing expertise?

Different perspectives will value social media indifferent ways.  They will also value the research and the learning process in different ways.  To some it will seem ridiculous that you spend all day on social networking sites.  I spend a lot of time “listening.”  And by “listening,” I mean reading.  I read a ton of blogs and I am always keeping an eye on Twitter.  In fact, I’ve gotten more out of my peer group on Twitter than I have at any conference.   Develop a strong network there and listen.

The real challenge is implementation, and knowing when to stop listening and start gettin ‘er done.

Good luck,


The Tug of the Plug

I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly difficult to reflect, unplug, and be thoughtful during the school year.  There is just so much going on, and there always seems like there is just one more thing to do. That’s why I so value the summer and especially these first couple of weeks in July.

My family and I are fortunate to have a place on a lake in northern Vermont.  My grandparents bought it in the 50’s and still remains in the family.  It’s in an area where there is little to no cell phone reception and up until this past year, we didn’t have cable or Internet access.   The last few years, it has been my habit that as soon as we wrap up our Annual Fund year, I book it for Vermont to spend a week or so unwinding and unplugging.

I have at times relished in and at times been frustrated by the lack of connectivity up there.   It’s wonderful to get away to a place where no one can reach you via email, cell phone or text message.   It’s nice to go days without checking Facebook and Twitter, and I enjoy getting news and highlights from the newspaper rather than a television set.

Drew and the Three-Year Old UnpluggedDays are still busy and packed with things to do, especially with a soon to be three year old, but there’s something that happens to your head when you unplug from all of this connectivity.  It’s almost as if I can feel my vision expanding like going from a old tube T.V. with a square screen to the rectangular wide-screen picture of a flat screen. After being unplugged for a couple of days, I remember old goals, think of new ways to do things, and feel seriously reenergized for the year ahead.

As I mentioned, this year was a bit different as I had access to the Internet and to cable that I hadn’t had in the past.  I found the pull of all of these “screens”, as William Powers describes them in Hamlet’s Blackberry (which I read on my Kindle, oh the hypocrisy!), hard to resist.  I’ve seen a few studies comparing the pull to stay connected to that of a drug addict’s urge.  I don’t doubt it.

I found that I could not help but check my iPhone.  I tried to limit myself to once a day and left it on the counter rather than carrying it around in my pocket.   I had some success with this, but since I use it as a camera, it was hard to do.  I was more or less able to leave the laptop closed and the T.V. off (except to catch the Tour), but I just could not put that damn phone down for an entire day.

What was I checking?  Well, I was reading the Globe and checking up on the Sox.  I was texting my wife or my friend summering in France.  I was taking photos and posting them to Instragram and Facebook.   And most egregiously, I was checking work email.

Not a single one of these things was pressing or necessary.   There really was no need to check other than to satisfy that urge—that tug.

Really, what’s the point?  Were those few minutes of connectivity really worth it?  Did I gain anything from them except for a quick buzz from being connected to my network of friends?


I wear a Road I.D. bracelet that has emergency contact information on it in case I get in an accident while on my bike.  In addition to a few phone numbers, I also have “Live Deliberately” inscribed on it.  It’s taken from Thoreau’s Walden, and I had forgotten these two words were on my wrist until I was reminded of it the other day when I just happened to be looking at it.  With all of this pulling and tugging that comes from digital devices and screens, sometimes I forget to do just that.

Now it’s true that technology is incredible and connects us in ways that do bring us together.  Just look at my three year old and the way he uses Facetime to talk to his grandparents halfway across the country.   It’s also true that I run our school’s social media and thus am fully immersed in these tools.

That being said, I find immense value in unplugging and I often fantasize about wiping out my Facebook and other social media accounts and taking a multi-month hiatus just to see what would happen.

Maybe next time I go up to Vermont, I’ll just leave the damn iPhone at home.

Why I Can’t Quit My DIRECTV or Why Internet TV Is Useless

I so wanted to quit my DIRECTV.

I wanted to quit not because I disliked the service.  In fact, I love it, and perhaps that’s why I’m finding it so hard to leave.

Here’s what I like:

Channel selection.  It’s great.  At the basic level, I get all the channels that I would ever want to watch including NESN, ESPN, BBC America, The Travel Channel, The Discovery Channel, The Food Network and The Cooking Channel.

Our current favorite shows: Downton Abbey, any of Anthony Bourdain’s shows, my wife watches anything on the Cooking Channel and Food Network.

The picture is clear and sharp.  I had cable previous to my DIRECTV and it was crap.  DIRECTV’s picture is ten times better.

Their customer service is top notch.  No confusing mazes when you call their 800 number, bright, upbeat, and extremely helpful people when you call, the few issues I’ve ever had have been fixed almost immediately.  Their Twitter support is useless, but otherwise it’s overall great customer service.

Their interface.  It’s intuitive, bright and aesthetically pleasing.  I’ve used cable interfaces, and I can’t figure it out.  The channel order doesn’t make any sense and it’s ugly.  Plus I can easily record shows from my iPhone.

So why would I leave?

The one negative?  The price.  It costs me something like $95 a month.

So I bought a Roku hoping to save some cash and jump into the new hot thing.  Perhaps given my love of my current service, it’s not surprising that I’m disappointed with the Roku.

Here was my original idea:

Buy a Roku box – initial investment of $65
Subscribe to: MLB, NFL, & NBA (Sorry NHL) – $125,  $299, for a total of $593
I already have Netflix – $8.99
And I’m an Amazon Prime Member – $45 (student discount don’t ask me why?)

This would save me $300 in the first year and more thereafter especially given the Celtics season and hopes for the future.

Unfortunately, there were a few hitches in this pan.  One is that local teams are blacked out on these season subscription packages.  For MLB it’s 90 minutes after the end of the game.  On nights that Josh Beckett’s pitching, that literally means tomorrow. *Update* This is further proof that the west coast is the best place to live if you’re an east coast sports fan.  Football starts at 10 a.m. and even when Beckett pitches, Sox games wrap up before 9 p.m. Plus, you have a couple of decent teams to root for as you ‘B’ teams in the 49er’s and the Giants.

The other issue is the content.  Both the streaming on Netflix and the content available for free on Amazon Prime is, frankly, 97% crap.  It just stinks.  The same goes for all of the Internet TV channels on Roku.  They are all crap.  I’m all for choice and diversity, but when it’s all crap, then it’s not choice and it’s not diversity.  It’s just crap.

The interface.  While it looks nice, it’s impossible to find anything.  There’s just too much garbage.  I don’t want to have to go to 7 different services to get the content I want.  I want to go to one.  I also don’t want to wade through piles of garbage shows to find something that’s barely worth watching.

The service.  Ten or fifteen minutes into streaming something, the audio gets all screwed up turning Dora into a Syth Lord.  *Update* Upon further reflection, the distortion sounds more like the demon from the Exorcist I’ve googled it, and every message board talks about the lousy customer service Roku has, and I’m still looking for an answer.

So now I’ve got a Roku currently designated to streaming Dora the Explorer.   And that’s about as useful as I find this thing right now.

What to write when you’ve got nothing to say

This blog, like many others I’m sure, tends to go through long periods of neglect followed by a short flurry of activity until neglect creeps in again.

Of course I don’ t do this on purpose. Keeping up content is tough. It’s hard to find the inspiration, time, and a good topic. But often times, it’s because I’ve already written what I’m working through; I’ve just put it down in my head, and not on paper. And there the idea sits, unfinished, in rough-draft, an idea, thought, or something I’m working through. I’ll spend quite a bit of time working on one. I’ll revise, restart, redact, and reword it over and over in my head, just as if I was typing. This is how my brain works. It’s how I wrote my best man speech for my brother’s wedding. I say wrote, although I never put a pen to a piece of paper. I just went through the speech over and over again for three days as if I was writing a paper in my mind.

Writing for me has always been therapeutic—a way to visualize my thoughts and gain a new perspective. I was had a former roommate give my then current roommate that “The only way Drew ca. Communicate is through writing.”.

I fear that by not putting these ideas down on paper, I’m not getting as much benefit from the reflective process as I should. For one, processing information this way requires a lot of bandwidth. It’s like trying to put the waterflow of a firehouse through a drinking straw. The CPU just gets maxed out. It takes an incredible amount of time and concentration to get thoughts out and process them this way.

Writing though, allows ideas to flow more freely and it’s much easier to extract examine ideas. It’s much easier to read, revise and rework a piece on your computer screen than it is in your head. I’m able to complete ideas in a way that I can’t to do by running through these ideas in my head all day long. It also takes way less time as by having pieces of the idea written down, I don’t need to revisit it from the beginning each time. This is, of course, all pretty basic stuff here, but maybe writing it down will make it set in and get me to post here more often.

So there you go. When you don’t have anything to write, write about writing.

Getting away, reflection, and simplifying

When I first started here, I remember someone telling me that it was important to get away.  Actually, I think they were telling me about someone who told them it was important to get away, but I inferred that they agreed with that advice.

In my first year here, I remember the odd feeling of getting in my car and realizing that I had not been in it for over a week.   That little trip to Groton Market was the first time I’d been off campus in 7 days.

Certainly last year, I realized the importance of getting out and getting space.  For nothing else then to change the scenery and fight off cabin fever.  It breaks up the monotony and force you to change your rhythm.  In my case, I often head to my uncle’s and aunt’s the Burlington area.  That 3.5 hour drive also provides me the benefit of reflection.  Even just 24 hours away like this past weekend help me to refocus,

The boy enjoying some cold VT air during our 24 hours away

re-center, re-energize and re-prioritize.

It’s not that I find immediate inspiration on these trips—there is no ‘ah-ha” moment.  Rather it is that I find my mind more open to receiving inspiration.  I allow myself to soak in life.

I know I sound like I’m getting my zen on, and in some ways I am.  A book and a film have me thinking more about what I consume and my footprint that I create.  The Omnivores Dilemma is equal parts blowing my mind and scaring the shit out of me.  Scaring me mostly because there seems to be so little I can do to fight it.  Shopping local for food is easyier in the summer.  The winter months prove a challenge though.  Even then, there’s only so much you can do.

180° South has me thinking about sustainability and nature.  Also irony in that the founders of the two largest outdoor gear/clothing companies which have thrived on American consumerism are featured in it as activists and environmentalists.  I think they are now, and probably were in the past.  It’s just odd to me that their passion for the outdoors and nature lead them to create these companies which I now see on every prep school kid here.  As for myself, I’m no better.  Do I really need the 10 pairs of pants and 20 sweaters in my closet right now?  Probably not. They certainly don’t make me any happier.   If I go in, purge and toss eyverything out, then what?  Will that make a difference?  In the movie, Yvon Chouinard says that the hardest thing to do in life is to simplify.  I would suggest that maintaining that simplicity is just as, and perhaps more, challenging.

I think I will try to pare down my wardrobe.  I’ll also try to resist the urge to buy the next great thing.  When it comes to food, I’ll try to shop more locally.  I’m not planning on quitting my job and jumping on a boat to Patagonia, but at least that’s always an option.  It’s way down on the list, but it’s on the list.

New Year

I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution.  If you only evaluate your life once a year and set goals for yourself once a year than you have issues.  One of my most recent goal was to lose some weight after the New Year.  Luckily, I caught the flu and lost 5 lbs.  Mission accomplished there.

Looking ahead to the year, I decided to set some goals for myself.  I’m not calling them resolutions because they are not resolutions.  They are goals.

1. Listen to that little voice inside of me more.

2. Drink a little less

3. Stand a little taller

4. Speak more firmly

God, this is sounding like a Tim McGraw song.  This is why I don’t make resolutions.

No Place for Copy Cats

This post also appears at  You should check it out.  It’s decent despite the fact that I write for it.

Charlie Croker: You’ve got no imagination. You couldn’t even decide what to do with all that money, so you had to buy what everybody else wanted. 
Steve: Try this on your imagination, okay. That gold is already gone.
From the Italian Job 

I came across an unnamed college Web site the other day that looked oddly similar to the Saint Michael’s College blogger page.   At first I couldn’t believe I was seeing such fragrant laziness.  Below is a side-by-side comparison (I did my best to block out the other institutions name so as to avoid embarrassment).


Uncanny huh?

I think this is pretty egregious for three reasons:

1. You have to at least put in some effort.  When I built the SMC bloggers page in 2008, I took a great deal of inspiration from the Butler University blog page.  That page had photos of the bloggers, their names and bios, links to their blogs, and a Twitter feed (that actually didn’t work).  I incorporated each of those into our new page.  At the time my coding skills were relatively limited (still are) so the page came out the way it did.  I’m embarrassed to admit the amount of time I spent building that stupid page.  I know that it took me half a day to figure out how to change the color.   Despite a redesign when @MalloryWood took over in 2010, some of the key design features still hold true.

The point is, you have to own it, in order to make it work.

2. This is cheating.  Literally this is plagiarism.  You’ve taken 90 percent of a Web site, added your name and colors, and published it as your own.  If a student at your institution did the same on a research paper, they would be expelled.   It is the responsibility of the institution live by the same values it expects out of its students.

Now, I’m not suggesting there was malicious intent here.  I’m guessing that this is just ignorance at play.  That being said, you just can’t do this.  It makes your institution look bad.  It makes the institution that you copied look bad.  It makes you look bad.  And lazy.

3.  This damages both brands.  Your applicants overlap.  Small residential, liberal art, college in the north east.  Yup.  That means there will be plenty of cross over between your apps.  It makes the both of you look lame, packaged, and discredits any authenticity you’ve established.  Unfortunately for SMC, this means they need to change their page immediately because this other institution is making SMC look bad through their laziness.

I think SMC has to move here.  It’s already December and high application season.  In order to maintain their brand (which is pretty damn strong) and authenticity (also pretty damn strong) they have to roll out a new design.  Like the quote at the top says, “The gold is already gone.”  SMC has to rebuild it.

So what about that saying I hear over and over again, Copy And Steal Everything?

Clearly this is said tongue in cheek.  There is plenty of room to allow yourself to be inspired by others, but you have to transform that inspiration into a product that truly reflects your institution and brand.  Social media is all about authenticity, and your ripping off a site from another school, you’re not being authentic.

Pay attention. Look at what others are doing, and figure out how you can adapt them into your own channels. While you’re at it, keep an eye out for those who are ripping you off.