Boston skyline from Boston Harbor.

25 years

Three-minute read

Twenty-five years ago right around the time I write this I was sitting in my first college class.

Turns out, it was a key moment of my life.

It’s not often that something like this can be so easily pegged to a particular date. In this case I can recall it because bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughn had died the night before.

A quote from Vaughn was written across the blackboard of my Journalism 121 class. The professor, a blues fan, was especially hit. “Awful,” he said to the class. “And right after he’d cleaned up.”

Indeed.

The untimely death of someone so young and so long ago feels like a beacon laid down in the past, a reminder of how much time has passed and how much has been lost.

I think back to me as a young pup in class and difference between the aspirations of what I wanted then. Am I where I thought I’d be?

I’m not entirely sure why I chose journalism as a major even as it shaped most of my life. I think I may have said something about “Hey, I can write” when I ticked the box on my college forms. Regardless, I was now sitting in a journalism class.

It was taught by an affable, shaggy professor with a room-filling laugh. He both walked and talked 100 hundred miles per hour and was usually seen with a disorganized stack of papers and trailed by a string of students like baby ducks struggling to keep pace.

His oft-repeated journalism mantra: “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.” Good advice for any profession.

We, of course, got in an argument almost immediately. During his class intro about journalism being the search for truth, he began polling the class: “Tell me something that’s true.”

“Truth is relative,” snot-nosed me said assuredly. We argued about whether his shirt was yellow or not, with him taking the “Of course it is” argument.1

We’ve disagreed a lot through the years – I lost a pitcher of beer bet to him over the ‘92 elections – he was an important mentor and friend.

What became clear quite quickly was that 21-year-old me really wanted to become a reporter.

After years of aimlessness - I’d been a janitor, carpenter, warehouse worker, layabout – I finally had a goal. I set out quite intently on it. Yet, aside from working my student paper and some internships, I never did become a reporter.

I did work in news. Looking back, it would even seem that I had a carefully executed plan. But not really. I just did stuff.

I ended up as a co-founder of a daily newspaper without really setting out to be one. I co-founded and launched several websites. I ended up at a top-tier newspaper.

Not bad for someone who failed to meet his goal.

Earlier this year I broke with the news industry and set out on a new path. It’s not at all the career that 21-year-old me expected to find himself in. It’s all new and daunting and exciting.

I look at the timeline that stretches out behind me and think about the one ahead, I realize that they are both about the same length – 25 years. 2

I’m back at that college desk, pretty much. Looking for a change, making a fresh start and learning as much as possible. Embarking.

As I write this, I am on a ferry to Provincetown, Mass. I just stood out on the deck and watched Boston recede into a dot that disappeared over the horizon.

That’s how I feel. The place I began is just out of sight, in the distance. Another place is ahead. I’m somewhere in between.

  1. For the record, I remain correct about this. Color is relative and based on language. Primitive languages – even Greek and Latin – did not have words for colors. Even modern languages assign different meanings. Russian doesn’t have a word for pink. It’s just light red. Russians can “see” shades of blue Americans cannot because of language used to talk about shades of blue.
  2. Assuming that I live to an average age.