Monthly Archives: May 2012

Northeastern University Graduation – 04MAY12


I am so jealous of the NEU class of 2012. My commencement speaker back in 2010 was the CEO of American Express – I listened to about five minutes of her speech before turning to the book I had brought… it was just that dull. I mean, I’m sure she had interesting information to share, but it wasn’t interesting to me, so I didn’t listen. But when I heard that the class of 2012 was getting Colin Powell to speak… well, I made sure that I’d have a ticket to sit in on that speech. I ended up getting one of my friend Allison’s spare tickets – thankfully her family only needed three, and since every student is issued four tickets… we were in business.

I slept a bit late that day, but thanks to some lucky traffic and my outstanding knowledge of driving around Boston I arrived just after the graduates had finished filing in, and the president was just starting in on all of the honorifics and honorary degrees. By the time I had found a seat, the people being honored were just starting to talk, and so I had just about ten minutes of relaxing before the main event (in my mind) began and Colin Powell started speaking.

First things first – he is obviously a public speaker, and obviously knew what he was doing. Instead of following the standard “joke, serious, story, advice” pattern that most speakers stick to, he meandered through a whole series of subjects… subjects that somehow all flowed together logically, yet were unexpected. I learned a lot about him, in that half-hour, and gained a lot of respect for the work he had done and the impact he had made on the world. And, most importantly, I came out of it with a new and renewed sense of purpose… a stronger drive to accomplish something.

So without further adieu, here’s a quick rundown of his speech:

  1. Colin Powell busted out of Engineering school. I did not know this… but it makes me feel a bit special for finishing where he didn’t. But now I have to live up to being a four-star general…
  2. He’s a lucky SOB – a random blind date he went on shortly after commissioning as a 2nd LT led to a 50 year (and running) Marriage.
  3. He had the graduates stand up to wave to their parents as a way of saying “thank you”. This is Genius. Not just for enforcing that he’s a friendly/family guy, but by making people move – when people sit still, they tune out. When they’re standing and moving, they pay attention.
  4. He did tell funny stories (not jokes, but stories), such as how he tried to play hookey from his own graduation by going to a nearby bar. But his mom not only noticed he was gone, but knew where he had went… going so far as to send his cousins over to drag him back.
  5. He was funny in a self-deprecating way – he mentioned his own GPA being almost exactly a 2.0… purely because he had a nearly perfect 4.0 in his ROTC classes. To be honest, a 4.0 in ROTC couldn’t actually help much, at least at Northeastern, since a semester is worth ~16 credits, and most ROTC Classes are only 1 credit… but it was still a good way for himself to bring us up to his level, and to make him (a prestigious general) more believable.
  6. Loving what you do is important, as is accepting that your career may take unexpected turns. Colin Powell mentioned that not once did he, as a child, dream of becoming the Secretary of State. But he loved being a soldier, and worked hard at it. And thus, excelled. Do what you love, simply because you love it, and rewards will somehow follow.
  7. Work in Politics – not necessarily at the national level, but at the town level. This spoke to me, since it really epitomises the idea of “You may not be able to do everything at once, but you can do something at once.” Too many people (myself included) ignore politics because we feel we can’t effect it. Not true, we just have to start small before working our way up.
  8. Compromise. He used the ultimate example of “The founding fathers, sitting around a table in Philidelphia, compromising”. And it was, and still is, legitimate. Being stubborn is important, but being stubborn to the point of destroying any chance of success… that’s unacceptable.
  9. The “Free World” means economics, and that means companies. This was a rather interesting section of his speech, and a section that I feel a lot of people may disagree or find fault with. The basic kernel that I took away from it is that, while our government is important, it’s role is more the protector of our economy, than the other way around. His point seemed to be that the cold war wasn’t won by democracy, but rather by capitalism – people realized that they too could be rich, and wanted a part of the action. And this is still true: the “Arab Spring” wasn’t fueled by democratic leanings, but instead by a desire for the wealth and power of capitalism.
  10. We need to win the “education arms race” and create a country of college graduates if we plan on continuing to compete in the global market. Simple and true.
  11. We, as graduates, need to give back to the community in order to help America succeed. The way to do this, at least as a start, is to tutor children. His point was that a persons success is decided very early in life – if someone learns to enjoy learning, they will do well… but if they aren’t in an environment where they can learn and grow, they will fall behind. Thus, as graduates, we should work with Big Brother Big Sister and other organizations to help “in danger” kids to become as successful as we are.
  12. “Fixing the world vs. simply helping a child”… the idea behind teachers. To reiterate the above point, Colin talked about how, if everyone works together to help each other, that is far more effective than any single person can be… even if each of us only helps one other person, that will make a greater impact on America than any President or General can.

And with that, he quietly finished his speech and stepped down… though the amount of cheering forced him to get up again and take an extra bow or two before the rest of the ceremony went on. The northeastern “Nor’Easters” a capella group sang, awards were awarded, and the recession of the graduates commenced. It was nice, and normal, and boring… especially when compared to the commencement speech.

Looking back at his talk, I am honestly amazed at how good of a speaker Colin Powell is… and that’s saying something, since I expected him to be very good. The way that he wove everything together… each idea on its own was strong and moving, but not necessarily connected to the others… until he pulled them back in. It was almost like he was sending out various strands of a net, that he pulled tight at the end of the talk. It was excellent.

Hanging out at the Loj 20APR12




As usual, the night didn’t start when I thought it would. One thing I have come to accept about myself is that I will almost never be on time to anything that isn’t 120% urgent – interviews and meetings I usually make it for, but meeting friends and waking up… those don’t happen when they’re supposed to. So when I was about 20min late to meet Mike before heading up to the Loj, I wasn’t really all that surprised about it.

What did surprise me though, was that I was still alone an hour later. This time it was Mike playing the trump-card and being an hour and a half late, thanks to getting locked into the clean room at his office, trying to finish a project that ended up taking way longer than anticipated. But he did finally arrive, we did get the car packed up, and thus we did finally hit the well-known road up towards New Hampshire.

On the way up we ran into a few quick adventures around a Hannafords supermarket where we stopped to pick up our food for the weekend. Picking up the food itself was pretty simple, and the adventure came from us trying to find a microwave to warm up the pre-prepared stuff that we had bought for our dinners. For some reason Hannafords didn’t have their own microwave, and when we asked the woman at the check out, she was… less than helpful:

Mike – “Excuse me, do you guys have a microwave we could use?”

Cashier – “Why don’t you just use the one in your kitchen?”

M – “well, we’re going camping, so we don’t have one with us…”

C – “Ohh! Well then just go use the one in your mom’s house!”

Ben – “we’re done here”

It should be noted that this woman was completely serious, in her mid-thirties, and fully aware of her surroundings. She just couldn’t understand that we didn’t live in that town. Interesting.

Anyways, we finally found a microwave at a gas station about five miles away, after checking a Boloco on the way, and so even with her “unique” advice, we were able to eat a semi-warm dinner, courtesy of Gulf Mobile.

The rest of the drive up North was simple, clean, and “as usual”. We listened to music, talked, caught up, and relaxed as we usually do. Getting up to the Loj was as-usual as well, though the amount of food we brought up was a bit heavier than normal, thanks to our plan to stay through until Monday. It was honestly kinda nice to be breathing heavily as I walked through the front door, for once… it reminded me of the first few times I went up to the Loj before I had any stamina or endurance for hiking.

Once we were unpacked and set though, Mike and I quickly adjurned to the back porch. I love the loj atmosphere, but recently I’ve been more in search of quiet and relaxation instead of the loud socializing that usually happens indoors. So I poured myself a tumbler of whiskey, grabbed my jacket, and sat out on the porch watching the stars wheel overhead.

Mike and I chatted about the past, discussing our families and tribulations in our lives. Honestly, I spent a lot of time talking about my Grandpa on my Mom’s side – telling the stories that he had told me when I was little. Stories about his escape from Nazi-controlled Austria, stories about his time in England before he came to the United States. But I mostly told his stories from when he was an engineer in the Navy, funny stories about playing pranks and fixing radios, and even teaching his professors about circuits since they were still so new at the time.




I’d forgotten just how loud the Loj can be in the mornings… It’s not a bad thing, but it’s just impressive how people who normally sleep until noon (such as myself) can find themselves so energized to move at 07:30 in the morning. Since I was the first of my group (Mike, our friend Alex, and myself) awake, I cooked us up some bacon and eggs for breakfast, pulled out the lunch supplies, and went about making myself a pot of coffee. Our goals for the day were simple – Alex was going to do some major biking around the area, and Mike and I were going to do some sea-bound adventures using Mikes new Kayak. Since we had plans that didn’t really require the entire day we took the morning easy, relaxing and eating a leisurely breakfast before leaving the Loj around ten or so.

Ed Note: See Post entitled “The Pirates of the Androscoggin” to hear about the Kayaking Adventures

We got back to the Loj around… a bit before sunset. That, right there, is one of my favorite aspects about staying at the Loj – I don’t tend to keep track of time until the day I have to leave. I mean… I remember vaguely what time it should be, based on the sun, but I do my best not to watch a clock, or let myself check my phone to see how soon I should start dinner. Dinner happens a bit after sunset, lunch happens when I’m hungry, and breakfast happens when I wake up. Everything else just sort of fits into that schedule.

Anyways, I spent a bit more time reading than I should have, aiming to delay dinner a bit until the rest of the NUHOC crew was done cooking their dinner. After about half an hour of waiting for them to start though, I realized that I should just sneak in and get my dinner cooking early – eat before everyone else, versus afterward. And so Alex, Mike and I ate – Steak, with potatoes and asparagus. It was amazing, though made a little bit less amazing due to the fact that we couldn’t eat outside due to the rain. Stupid rain.

The rest of the night was a single long and slow chill-fest, to the background song of a rather vicious game of Civilization. I made myself a big mug of Hard Hot Cocoa (See Recipe below) and curled down with my book to do some serious reading; I had just started reading The Hunger Games series, and intended on finishing at least the first two books this weekend.

I did get interrupted at one point by some LCT’s who wanted me to go over some stuff with them, but otherwise it was a perfect night – cocoa, my book, Mike playing guitar in the background, and a wee fire in the fireplace to keep us warm and to keep the atmosphere perfect.




Today, I let Alex wake up early and cook the breakfast. Since Sunday is traditionally the day that everyone drives back to Boston, it’s generally the day that people sleep in and take a relaxed breakfast. Alex, Mike and Myself were staying until Monday, but we really didn’t have any plans for the day – we had wanted to do some hiking, but since it was pouring rain out none of us were really feeling all that motivated to really get moving.

So instead we ate Pancakes and Bacon all morning. There’s honestly nothing like home-cooked pancakes served up in a woodsy cabin on a rainy spring morning – everything was just better that morning; the food, the drink, the conversation… even the few coals in the fireplace seemed brighter and warmer.

We did finally leave though, if only to make an expedition down to North Conway to do some exploring and shopping. The trip started out fun enough – Alex met a hot climber woman about three times his age who he instantly fell for, and I had fun checking out the old climbing gear that IME had for sale. But before too long the rain started getting to us, and all three reached the same decision at nearly the same time – we were ready to head back and rejoin the little fire in the fireplace.

We cooked and ate a good cold-weather lunch of chile and sandwiches before I started to get restless again and headed out to do some quick hiking around the Loj. Every time I have a low-key weekend up North, I end up hiking the Shelbourne trail… its gotten to the point that the trail and I know each other completely – I don’t think about where I’m going, and it doesn’t lead me astray. I just walk… and my feet synch up with the path.

This time I actually stayed on the “official” trail for the entire time, versus tearing off in a random direction like I usually do. I took the time to make myself do a bit of an “After Action Review” of my job hunt, and life back in the United States, finally taking stock of what I’ve done since coming home and what I should be doing. It’s nice to introspect every so often, and I find that doing so while on a hike is really the best way to do it – you’ve got something keeping your body energized, but you don’t really have anything distracting you, since the woods have a tendency to keep to themselves. It’s nice, and by the time I got back to the Loj I had a head full of new ideas for my job search.


The rest of the weekend was pretty normal and uninteresting – dinner on Sunday night was fun, but normal, and the rest of the evening consisted purely of reading and rocking out on the bongo drums with Mike and Alex, in what we’ve entitled “The Loj Recordings”. We’re working on getting them edited and cleaned up, so maybe they’ll be posted some day soon…



Recipe for NUHOC Hard Hot Cocoa

As taught to me by Alex Wilson


1 part Irish whiskey

1 part Peppermint Schnapps

4 parts hot cocoa


Serve the Cocoa steaming hot – the booze will cool it down to just the right temperature