Travel adventures- a break from the mundane

Admissions travel can be incredibly boring.  Admissions folks like to say, “The faculty think we’re always traveling first class to tropical destinations where we spend our time in full-on tourist mode.”  I don’t know if faculty actually think this, but, as with all stories, there is some truth and some fiction.

There are most definitely some perks that come with admissions travel.  You do get to see some pretty cool sites that you may not have otherwise seen.  You also rack up the frequent flier miles and hotel points. The downside is, there are far more Worcester, MA visits then there are week-long stays in the Bahamas.

More-often-than-not, travel consists of too-small rental cars, coach seats in the back of the plane, and solitary meals.  It can be hard to keep your spirits up and to break out of the doldrums.  To do so, you sometimes have to be willing to act on the mundane—the object that you might easily drive by, walk by, or completely ignore.

This has happened to me more than once as I’ve spent countless days on the road in my career in admissions. Once while driving down to Richmond, VA from D.C., I saw a little sign on the side of the highway that said Frank Lloyd-Wright house.   I had some time and decided to pull off and see what I could see.  It turned into a great solo tour of Wright’s Pope-Leighey House. Crysalis Vineyards is another found off the road gem that I would return to every year.

The latest mini-adventure started at a taco joint in Denver, CO.  I happened to stop in there for lunch and saw a random postcard by the register.  IMG_4732It had a squirrel and to pairs of cowboy boots and a phone number to call.  I grabbed one, and read the back of it while I ate my two fantastic tacos.

I’m not sure if it was the squirrel, or the “Only $60 a pair!” that caught my eye, but I was definitely intrigued. I googled the phone number and didn’t come up with much except for a seldom updated, campy looking Facebook page.  I put it aside, and then, finally, decided that I would be forever filled with regret if I didn’t call the number and embark upon this adventure clearly laid out in front of me.

I called the number at 9:00 a.m. having about an hour-and-a-half before I needed to head to airport to catch my flight back east.  Of course, the guy who picked up was eating a taco at the same place where I saw his card.  He gave me his address and said he would meet me there in an hour. IMG_4704

I arrived at a small Sears-Roebuck house that was decorated on the exterior in a style that is exactly what you would expect from a guy who’s primary form of advertisement is a postcard with a couple of pairs of boots, a squirrel and a phone number. George, the proprietor, was one the steps, smiling and welcoming my inside.

Me and my boy, George!

The inside was cramped, onside with used furniture that he was planing on selling, and the other with a shelves of boots—tons of them. I tried on a half-dozen pairs of them without success, my man, George, chatting away the entire time, )He was a talker) until I finally found a pair of gently used, handmade boots from Peru in my size.  They fit great, looked a little different (in a good way), and were the right price. I walked away a happy man, and on time for my flight.

Is there a lesson here? Yes, I think there is. It is that when provided the opportunity to travel, wether it be 10,000 miles from home, or 10, you should do so with eyes (and mind) wide open.

You never know when a great pair of cowboy boots are just around the corner.


Tidbits from old notebooks

Last week I posted about my collections of various notebooks while I was on a crazy trip to Houston, Texas for a school fair. Part of the inspiration for that post were the four notebooks I brought along with my in my carry-on. I’m not really sure why I brought all of them. I could have easily left two of them behind, but I brought them none-the-less.

I’m glad I did too. One of the notebooks was an older one that I had filled a while back with a whole collection of random notes. I did stumble upon some gems from conferences I had attended in the last year. I also had some good notes from Jim Collins’s, Good to Great and Stephen E. Ambrose’s, Dwight D. Eisenhower: Soldier and President. Below are some of those:

“You have only 11 seconds to make a first impression. Make it count.”
This is from a conference presentation about tour guides given by the admissions team at Maderia. Good advice.


“In your first 90 days as a new director, you should force yourself to be uncomfortable and do not allow yourself to regress in the comfortable.”

“Focus your energy on the things that only the director can do.”
“Never check email in the morning.”
These were from a webinar for new directors of admission given by Ben Douglas of St. James School and Andrew Weller of Ridley College.
I don’t have a direct quote here, just some of my handwritten notes I took while reading Jim Collins’ Good to Great. I feel like the power of that book might be diminished a bit after the recession and the fact that a bunch of the companies he references in the books were total criminals, but it still does have value. I particularly like his use of a bus as an analogy to staffing. He describes the importance of getting the wrong people off of the bus, the right people on the bus, and the right people in the right seats on the bus. Once you do that, then your organization can reach its potential.

And finally, from Stephan E. Ambrose’s biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Soldier and President: “…only a man that is happy in his work can be happy in his home and with his friends. Happiness in work means that its performer must know it to be worthwhile, suited to his temperament, and, finally, suited to his age, experience and capacity for performance of a high order.” 

My Notebook Obsession

I’ve become rather notorious for my notebooks. I have one with me constantly, and I take notes in every meeting in which I am a part.  There’s something satisfying about putting pen to paper rather than just plucking away a keyboard. For me, there is something in the motion that helps me to remember.  Regardless, I figured I’d share my current notebook methodology here.

Black, medium-sized and squared. This is my primary note taking notebook. It goes with me to every meeting, conference, or any other opportunity where I need to take general notes. I go through about one or two of these a year. I like and the portability of it. I prefer squares to lines because of my doodling habit. It also helps if I ever need to map something out. The pocket in the rear is perfect for storing receipts from travel. I never throw them out and will often go back and review my notes, especially from conferences.

Continue reading “My Notebook Obsession”

My Social Media Sabbatical

I took a social media sabbatical last year—not a full on, delete all of my accounts and don’t post anything sabbatical—but for the first time in 7 years I didn’t have a Facebook, Twiiter, or some other school/college account attached to my phone/computer. I also limited my posting to many of my own accounts as well. I didn’t spend a ton of time on Twitter, in fact I hardly posted anything there at all. I did use Instagram a lot, and posted to Twitter and Facebook through that, but otherwise, the Twitter and the Facebook were quiet compared to where they had been years prior.


Why did I do this?

After starting social media projects at two schools and pretty much being the social media guy at both, I was feeling a bit stale. I also had started at a new job which was very demanding of my time in other areas. We also had someone who was producing some really good content here for us as a school and we didn’t need more of it. In short, I didn’t need to be on it and thus, I wasn’t.

What did I gain?

No new personal insight, that’s for sure. I did, however, come into the end of the summer refreshed and ready to reengage with social media on an institutional level. It was nice to not have that pressure of creating content for multiple channels everyday.

i thought a lot about collaboration.

How do we spread the work across multiple offices and how do we make sure we aren’t duplicating content? I’m still a big believer in the idea that there should be one main account for a school rather than special interest accounts. While the audience for the Alumni/Development office obviously differs from that of the Admissions Office, but there are similarities, and there’s no reason we can’t tag-team events to make sure we have both covered.

I took a step back.

When you’re focused on creating content you can get hung up and lose sight of the big picture—the why? I used to spend a lot of time tracking engagement stats. It’s important information to have, but if you get too much into the numbers, you can lose sight of the big picture goals you may have.  How are your efforts in social media helping your annual fund numbers? How are they helping enrollment?

Looking ahead.

Now that I’m back on the horse, I’m excited to reengage in social media, if not as a direct user then definitely as an influencer. We’ve started getting to work our multiple offices across our campus can coordinate, collaborate and create while keeping the big picture goals in mind. I’m really excited about the work we’re going to do this year.


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.