Scattered across time, the constituent pieces of a single moment begin to gather.
“Beasley, will you speak at the alumni dinner this year?”
“Um, sure. I guess so. Anything in particular you want me to say?”
“Well, if you can give us some comments about your time at U Lowell and what it meant to you that’ll be great. Maybe mention any professors you remember. You know, stuff like that.”
“OK. Oh yeah, how many people will be there?”
“At the dinner? It’s the annual dinner so let’s see; all the deans, donors, friends of the university and alums like you. I’m guessing a few hundred, give or take.”
I nod. And after my nod a month passes by.
“Hey, Beasley, do you know what you’re gonna say yet?”
“I think so. I’ve been mulling it over and just have to write it down so I don’t forget, you know, if I get nervous or something when I’m up there speaking.”
“Great. If you want, you can send me the draft and I’ll review it for you.”
“No, I’m good. But thanks.”
A remaining week drifts by and, in that week, I finalize what I wish to say about my time at Lowell.
Then, the night is upon me.
And unbeknownst to me the last of the pieces scurry forward to join the gathering.
Utensils clink and clank as I pick at my salad. The room’s murmur softens as the dean calls my name. And hearing my name I wished I’d taken the chance to go to the bathroom before we’d sat down. It woulda been nice to have peed before stepping up there.
Creeping up my spine, and spreading across my shoulders, a burning sensation settles at the base of my neck. Skin crawls, clammy. As I approach the podium I wonder if those around me see me glowing red.
I would really like to pee.
Thank you, Chancellor Meehan.
And thank you Deans Falcon, Nash and Talty.
I guess now that I’m up here I doubt you’ll stop me mid-conversation. So it’s probably safe to share a secret or two. Well, here goes.
Following my graduation from Lowell in 1986 my grandmother threw a party for me. If memory serves me correctly I was the first of her grandchildren to graduate from college.
So, a party was in order.
Now, by the time of graduation I had become boring and rarely drank. And as many in my family had yet to become boring, many glasses were tipped that evening. Toward the end of the party my grandmother – never one to refuse a “wee sip” – came up to me and, with both hands, grabbed me by the shoulders.
She shook me and said, “Jesus Mary and Joseph, Beasley. We’re so proud of you. You know, me and the girls were just talking in the kitchen and we all thought you’d be in jail by now! Or worse!”
She pulled me into a hug before walking away, amazed I had finished college.
And she wasn’t too far off. Truth be told I was rather socially active before arriving at Lowell. I mean, it was the 70s. During high school I partied in New York City, regularly making my way into discos like Studio 54. And, when my parents were away I threw wild toga parties and generally did not do well at anything. Except partying.
And, then, after high school I came to Lowell.
For no other reason than you had a good hockey team and I heard engineers made a lot of money.
Unfortunately, after earning a first semester grade point average of well… let’s just say it was somewhere between 0 and 1.0 (inclusive) … I flunked out.
And in addition to flunking out of school I was also kicked out of a boarding house in which the only rules were no firearms and no motorcycles over the first floor. After I was kicked out they added new rules.
I returned home to NJ and attended community college. While a student at community college I worked part time jackhammering streets and installing refrigeration systems for a friend’s dad in New York City and Paterson. That work was hard; so hard I figured I better try to study. After earning my first collegiate C’s and a couple of B’s, I asked if I could return to Lowell.
The late Dean Leo King met with me, accepted me back and placed me on academic probation. After he approved my return he took his pipe and pointed it at me. “I’ll be watching you.”
And he did.
He watched me and he helped me. He met with me every month; the dean of the school took the time to meet with me each month. He guided me towards my first academic successes.
And across the river, on North Campus, the late Dr. Daniel Diamond and Dr. Ralph Gentile in the Economics department opened my eyes to the world of business. I learned to apply myself.
I became passionate about learning.
While attending Lowell I worked part time for Colonial Gas and for the first time paid my own way. I rented an apartment on Fletcher Street – across from the Lafayette club – and earned A’s.
I became independent.
I put down adult roots.
And they took hold. Here in Lowell those roots took hold.
And after graduation from Lowell I was hired by First Bank. I worked for the late Walter Armstrong and George Duncan. At George’s bank I learned to apply the Sundown Rule. I learned the buck stopped with me.
And I learned how to defend a business decision in commercial loan meetings before the senior loan committee.
I remember my first loan committee presentation. I was terrified. Before the meeting, Wally Armstrong saw me pacing the halls, nervous. He placed his arm over my shoulder and gave me a big squeeze. He told me not to worry. “You’ll be fine,” he said.
Then, when my first senior loan committee presentation was about to begin I looked to Wally for assurance and an introduction. His cheeks grew red. He leaned back. He began to chuckle. And instead of introducing me, Wally simply yelled out “Fresh meat!” And they had at me.
And, you know, two years later, while a student at MIT’s Sloan School, I was forced to defend my case study presentations and research to classrooms full of brainiacs from the future.
And guess what? Wally was right. I did fine.
I applied everything I learned at Lowell and did well.
Because of what I learned here at Lowell I held my own.
Thereafter life with two small children, now young adults, a wife in medical school and a small business kept me busy for years. And I drifted away from Lowell; drifted away from the university; drifted away from the city.
And then, many years later, on a crisp September morning, my father responded to an incident in New York City and did not return. And just like that he was gone. My mother, an Irish fighter and former banker herself, had cancer at the time and she passed away after a five year battle.
And after the loss of my mother we sold her house – my childhood home.
By then childhood friends and high school classmates had moved away. My siblings and I were scattered through New Jersey, Illinois and Massachusetts.
And when we sold that home I found I no longer had a place to which I could return.
Nowhere where I could say, “I’m going home.”
And that’s hard.
Of course, my family and I have a home filled with love here in Massachusetts.
But still, when friends would say to me, “Hey, Beasley I’m heading home for Christmas” or “I’m going home for Thanksgiving. How ’bout you?” I just smiled. Jealous.
And when you don’t have a hometown to return to you can either force a jealous smile or you can look for a place to call home.
So I looked.
I looked to Cambridge; home of my graduate school education. I looked to Somerville; the city I so very much love and the place of my young family’s first house.
And I looked to Lowell.
The place where I put down my first adult roots.
The city where I learned how to get up after getting knocked to the mat.
The school that gave me a second chance.
The university that prepared me for life.
And when I looked to Lowell I was greeted by Deans Falcon, Nash and Talty.
I was welcome by alums and students and a faculty passionate about student success.
So now, if you’ll have me, here at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, I have a place to call home.
Tilting my head to the left I wipe my eye before folding type-written notes and returning the document to the jacket pocket of a rarely worn suit.
Leaving the podium, the last of those pieces come together.
And with the last piece gathered, I am engulfed in the bloom of a single moment.