As acclaimed poet, Bob Ritchie --- or better known to many of us as Kid Rock stated, “It was 1989, my thoughts were short, my hair was long.”
In my case, it was 1986 –hair was moussed,
my arms were small - when I pulled up to Vose Hall that September day.
In fact, I was a walking swirly target and my dorm room begged for a tsunami nearly every night. Yes, we had those too. And no, you all aren’t that original.
While the business we have today …and Dr. Tracy was kind enough to say nice things about -- is focused online…excuse me…
Saurab? Saurab, just want to let you know that both Aaron and I saw your video.
I know all of campus if not the whole world saw your video…but we were particularly impressed and think you could teach us a thing or two more about going viral…
Also, since I hear you “represent Detroit” – we have a satellite office in the Motor City.
Tell you what, graduate from UNH…Facebook us, ok? Maybe we can work something out. Cool?
Also, I may need a little help on the intro here, do you have one more in you?
(Good Morning, Penguins!!!)
Fellow Trustees, Dr. Tracy, Fabulous Cushing Faculty, Friends and Family, Members of Student Body and most importantly, the Amazing Cushing Academy Class of 2011…
Cushing Changed My Life. And it is a life’s honor to have the opportunity to speak and celebrate with you today.
When I was in eighth grade --- I was labeled a disruptor.
And not in a good way.
The headmaster of the school I attended in Lancaster, PA wrote a personal note to my mom…
on my report card…instructing her that the best thing she could do for me that summer was to drop me off into the middle of the woods… alone with nothing more than a book of matches.
And that would be the best thing for me.
I mean, who says that stuff and who writes that stuff on your report card to your mom?
Fortunately mom didn’t – after I tested for a learning disability, we both knew the school and the guidance I was receiving there just wasn’t cutting it…
and perhaps that going off on my own wasn’t such a bad idea.
But instead of the woods of Lancaster, after an extensive search -- we hoped the woods surrounding The Town of Many Lakes would be a much better fit for this guy.
And I was pretty psyched!
That said, I didn’t like being labeled a disrupter --- or being labeled learning disabled.
So I came to campus in a pair of Vans, a Powell Perraulta skateboard in hand and a pretty big chip on my shoulder. I knew I had a helluva lot to learn --- and even more to prove.
Thanks to the incredible work of so many at CA – who I like to call the E.R. surgeons who perform triage on students here every single day: my advisor and mentor Rich Henry, the irrepressible Mike Deakin, Mark Burke, Cheryl Storm, Paul Dowling, Bill and Marci Wenning, Norm Carey, Wayne Sanborn, Bob Johnson and so many other who touched my life --
I learned to channel those disruptive tendencies.
Simply put, Cushing turned my life around.
I went from middle of the pack, underachieving to High Honor Roll.
From shall we say less than athletic --- make that a geeky, wheezy asthmatic kid – to a cross-country captain and Division One wrestler in college.
From being completely dependent on others… to charting my own course, managing my own time and relishing my independence.
Cushing taught me to listen -- valuable stuff given that I was a pollster later in my career.
Cushing taught me to work – whether it was Mark Burke telling me to “GET BACK in my room and BACK AT IT” during study hall --- or Paul Dowling, then Dean of Students and my wrestling coach – just needling me…in that spine-chilling Paul Dowling howl, “SNYDER, STOP DAWWGGIN IT” his encouragement to do 20 more sets of stairs in the main building.
Yeah…Did Cushing ever teach me to work.
And Cushing taught me…through being a four-year student, a proctor, through sports, and through class office …how to lead.
Much more so, Cushing taught me that I could DISRUPT the narrative that been written for me early in my life.
Cushing taught me and gave me the skills I needed in life to be a DISRUPTOR in a whole new set of ways…
And as an entrepreneur and a business owner --- Cushing AGAIN changed my life a little over 10 years ago.
The story of our company – New Media Strategies --- is a uniquely Cushing story.
And it starts “in the hills of Massachusetts” --- namely in Vose Hall. Where four, four year students – formed a friendship that has lasted 25 years --- and a business relationship that has lasted over a dozen.
I was working as a political pollster and a media consultant, and, as it goes with most entrepreneurs and most companies – it starts when one day you finally look around and say:
THIS SUCKS… there has GOT be a better way.
I had a hunch that the old way of talking to people wasn’t going to last much longer.
Now this was 1999, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter and before the rise of the blogosphere.
But regardless -- I stupidly quit my job ---- started to cobble together a business plan, some financing and a handful of clients– and in doing so, naturally -- I quickly turned to the ones I trusted the most.
I called my close friend and fellow Vose Hall dormmate, David Woolenberg, who worked in technology and kind of fancied himself as a budding investor ---and was thrilled that he didn’t think it …or I was crazy.
After agreeing to meet up for a weekend of debauchery at the Jersey Shore yes, this pre-Snooki and The Situation…
Before we headed home, Dave cut the first investor’s check to get NMS off the ground…
on the trunk of his car… while still wearing his swimsuit.
Soon after, his Lowe Hall roommate and fellow 4 year student Chris Cooke thought it all sounded pretty cool …and he wanted in on the action.
But the very best thing…And if I do say so myself, one of my very best sales jobs ever… was convincing my dear friend…and Class of 1990 Ideal Cushing Boy, Aaron Earls, to quit his job and come onboard to help me build New Media Strategies.
And that all went down at about four in the morning, staying at Dave’s apartment in Hoboken on a Yankees/Red Sox weekend.
The Sawks lost and that’s not the only reason why one could say Aaron’s defenses were down…
We changed the way the advertising and marketing world works… We created a disruptive company called New Media Strategies…
We built the 1st – and 12 years later, still the largest Social Media Marketing Agency in the world. Named one of the fastest growing companies in America – and what we’re even more proud of --- honored as… one of the best places to work. And it all started back here at Cushing.
Ladies and Gentleman – it is my profound honor to give you… 1990’s Ideal Cushing Boy…my partner and my dear friend… Aaron Earls. (Aaron speaks)
Thanks, my man. So, what do you all think about our 25 years and running bro-mance? Alright --- ENOUGH… ABOUT US
Class of 2011…Today SHOULD BE and IS all about YOU.
And In preparing for today – I thought a bit about what has transpired in the world – and what you have been witness to over the past four years from the Fall of 2007 til right now from this very perch in Ashburnham, Massachusetts.
Just a few game-changers that you’ve seen up close and personal here:
Election of Barack Obama – and that battle that raged in the primary just over the border in NH
Rise of Facebook from a dorm room 62 miles away in Cambridge
Passing of the Liberal Lion, Senator Ted Kennedy…
Election of Senator Scott Brown that captured the attention of the entire nation
And this year - The Incredible Arab Spring – brought not by brute military force, but by boldness, by ideas and by technology.
Every single one of the people or of the groups driving that action --- all of them were AND ARE DISRUPTORS.
They defied conventional wisdom.
And weren’t given chance…to succeed.
Think about it --- At this time in 2007 Barack Obama was barely an asterisk in Democrat polls…Hillary Clinton was inevitable and was certain to win…no?
Take down the media establishment from your dorm room??? You gotta be kidding me.
Ted Kennedy should have been the establishment’s establishment – but instead he took on the sitting President of his own party – in a run for the Presidency -- and nearly pulled it off.
Scott Brown… all of the self-proclaimed smart guys and pundits my wife and I know in DC – not one of them saw that one coming.
Massive change in the Middle East – that isn’t terrorist driven or a result of military action?? The CIA certainly didn’t call that one either.
The Point is…
It is a FAR different world TODAY from when many of you started Cushing – let alone from when I graduated 20 years ago. The establishment JUST doesn’t matter anymore. Not in music, not in politics, not in business – not in life.
So, Class of 2011 --- BRINGING IT BACK TO YOU – I don’t know about you but it’s tough for me to retain more I can count on my hand… and you are a lot smarter than me. SO I have 4 BITS OF ADVICE, nuggets or whatever you want to call it…to share with you – learned from CA, true to this day…
AND I swear at least one of them will work for you sometime, somewhere.
You ready? Ok, let’s do this.
First and Foremost: Be a Disruptor
Do not wait in line. The world will pass you by.
Now, that is not a license to be unprepared. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
Work your tail off. Prepare. Hustle.
What rules the day? Disruptive companies, disruptive technologies, disruptive leaders.
Again, I realize the irony of saying this from the commencement stage of a New England Boarding School, But The Establishment Doesn’t Matter Anymore…
Best Book on Business this year not put out by Harvard Business Review, but by JayZ. Decoded.
Download it. Learn from It.
Number 2: Accelerate When Going Uphill
We are IN the Hills of Massachusetts.
And any one of you who has ever run with your athletic teams or have jogged around here on your own…
You know first hand – We are surrounded by the hills of Massachusetts.
I ran Cross Country here.
And at first I HATED the hills of Massachusetts. Then I got used to running these Hills. Then I learned to love them.
Why? Because our opponents HATED them. And at Home we NEVER lost. EVER. It was like going to school in the Himalayas --- we were unbeatable at home…and won the New England Championship my senior year…sorry.
And I learned a few things from running those hills – and saw that the competition always dogged it when going up these hills…then I tried something…I’d just camp out a pace or two behind them going uphill… just grind them out for about half the hill…then I’d it turn it on and pass them.
And once you pass someone going uphill – they’ll fight for a little bit – a few steps, and then it was over -- they’ll give up. Because it’s too hard. It’s demoralizing to have someone pass you while going uphill – it broke them mentally.
So when it gets really hard --- double down. Work harder. Accelerate.
I use this in the boardroom and workplace all the time.
As they say around here – when things get tough -- “DO ONE MORE”
Number 3: Rarely Do Good Things Happen After 2am…
I lied. I said all 4 tips would be things I learned at Cushing. This one I learned in College – and way too late. But it will help you in College and in life.
College will be wonderful – a blast. Enriching, Educational – and a lot of fun.
I had fun – too much fun. I was not on High Honor Roll at William & Mary.
While this may not be the most important piece of advice – it may be the most useful -- Rarely do good things happen after 2am.
From Midnight til 1ish --- fair game. A lot of opportunity out there. From 1 to 1:30 – your ability to contribute positively to the world drops dramatically – but it’s still plausible.
Post 1:30 – Total Warning Track.
Let’s face it 98% of the time – you probably won’t be using your best judgment – even if you are being good and are all jacked up on coffee or Red Bull cramming for an exam in the library. You won’t be of sound mind…
Let me repeat: Rarely to good things happen after 2am.
Well…one exception… as you heard it was an o’dark hour when I convinced my guy Aaron to join me on what has been a pretty fun journey. Which leads me to #5
Number 4: Embrace Your Friends + Your Cushing Social Graph
Cushing brought me my best friends in the world. Some of the most influential people and mentors in my life are still here. If not for Cushing, my company wouldn’t have existed.
Embrace this place and it will embrace you right back…
It can help you in ways you never would have known or expected.
Class of 2011 -- Follow those four and you’ll have a huge leg up on everyone else.
When I sat where you are right now - I loved this place, but I was ready for a new adventure. Four years – beloved friends, mentors --- but it was time to move on.
But I didn’t know how much better prepared I was to meet the challenges of college and of the real world due to what I learned on this campus.
Independence, self-reliance, that life does not revolve around New England, that it’s not just East Coast centric, AL East-centric or even US centric ---- but GLOBAL – and that I never would have had an appreciation for had I attended high school at home in Lancaster, PA.
And lastly, the power and the support of friendships and relationships established on this very campus…
Change Happens. It might not feel like it, but Change Happens Right Here in Ashburnham, Massachusetts.
Big Things Start Here as Well…
This campus has produced: Kings, Oscar-award winning film makers, actors and actresses, talk show hosts and politicians, musicians, CEOs and entrepreneurs….unbelievable teachers and coaches – even some pretty stellar athletic directors ---- and tons of amazing parents.
Cushing Changed My Life. Over 20 years ago --- then again -- Nearly A Decade After I Left Campus.
It continues to do so today. For many of you – if not all of you… Cushing – in some way, shape or form -- Has
Changed Your Life – and CAN continue to do so.
We NEED you Class of 2011 ---- Be Bold, Work Hard, Have Passion and Be DISRUPTORS…and
Thank you, Cushing Academy…AND
Congrats, Class of 2011! You did it!