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1994: Hamline University

I wrote this essay in support of admission to a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program at Hamline University. I was excited about this program; it was just what I need at that point in my life. I was accepted, but then declined to pursue it further; there was another factor to consider.

 

An energy-sapping, all-encompassing weariness was all that I knew. My life for three and a half years had been an endless stream of airports, rental cars, indistinguishable hotels, and frustrating meetings with obtuse people. The project, the design of a new programming language for describing and converting data (called A Data Language), had begun with great promise, but endless arguments about schedules, resources and technical trivia had killed its spirit. To get anything done, I constantly fought with the people and systems that were supposed to help me. And on top of everything, I was fighting for a promotion that was long overdue. Strife had become my way of life, everything and everyone an opponent to overcome. It was just one of those times for gritting your teeth, toughing it out, and persevering. I knew there would be a price to pay, but I didn't care.

Eventually, the design of ADL was finished, I was promoted to Senior Programmer (the top rank of programmers in IBM), and joined another project, one where I wouldn't have to bear so much of the burden of leadership. But even so, I continually found myself in conflict with other people, not just at work, with family and friends as well. I seemed unable to drop the modus operandi that had enabled me to prevail in my work. Increasingly isolated, I turned to solitary activities, like snowmobiling, to release my frustrations and growing feelings of anger. I knew I could not continue in this vein, but saw no way to escape these self-defeating patterns.

An opportunity for change came unexpectedly, in the form of an early retirement program that made it financially attractive for me to leave IBM. At only forty-five years of age, I knew I would have to find other work, but I would at least have a few months to get my head together. As I walked out of IBM for the last time, I breathed a sigh of relief. However, if I'd known what the next two years would be like, I might not have left, and that would have been disastrous for me as a person.

A few months stretched into two long, unproductive years. I think of them as unproductive because I accomplished nothing of any significance, and brought home no bacon or bread to speak of. But in another sense, this was a period of highly productive retrenchment. I tried my hand at a variety of activities I'd always said I'd do if only I had the time. I wrote three chapters of a novel. I created models of sculptures out of toilet-paper tubes. I dreamed of starting a software business based on (with hindsight) an idea with no chance of success. I spent a lot of time and money on computers and training in new software skills. I even wrote part of my memoirs, all to no avail. Nothing held my interest for more than a few weeks, and nothing seemed to lead to anything profitable. I didn't think I wanted to work for anyone else, but I couldn't work by myself.

Finally, on a long, solitary snowmobile trip (650 miles in Northern Michigan), it finally dawned on me that I was still fighting, but now I was fighting myself. What I needed wasn't something I could charge off on by myself, a Don Quixote charging windmills. That's what I'd been doing in IBM. It's what I wanted to escape when I left IBM, but instead had brought all my frustrations out. The answer was simple, "STOP FIGHTING!" Be like a river that wears its way through limestone cliffs, not by fighting with the rocks, but by giving in to them. Very Zen, but an idea on which to evolve a new M.O. There were things I could still accomplish with my life. I just had to find the right channel to flow in.

At this point, I should probably say, "And that's why I want to join the Hamline M.A.L.S. program." But that wouldn't really be accurate. In truth, I've made numerous changes in my life over the last six months, and many more are in process. For one thing, I got a job, one that makes use of all that expensive training I paid for, and allows me to again work with a group of people on a common project. This time, however, I'm just one of the worker bees, and have no desire to be the "Queen Bee." I'm finding it difficult to sit back and watch mistakes being made, but now I am more concerned with the effects of my actions on other people. A quiet word here and there, sure, but none of my earlier tactics of intellectual intimidation.

A second change has been a move from Rochester into downtown Minneapolis, where the rich cultural and civic life of the Twin Cities can be not just occasionally sampled, but actively participated in: music, dance, theater, government, and festivals galore, a banquet to someone used to the slim pickings of suburban life. This was, in fact, a very big change. We rid ourselves of a house, a cottage, several boats, a snowmobile, and a long unused woodworking shop. We tried to make a clean break from our past.

A third big change is one that time has imposed on Lois and me. Our two sons had flown the coop. Both had completed their undergraduate educations and were living independently, Rich in China and Adam in Madison, Wisconsin. The transition to being empty-nesters was not easy for either of us. Our lives without children to care for was missing an important focal point. Lois filled her time with work and exercise, but I need something else.

Intellectual pursuits have always been important to me. I've been an avid reader ever since I got my first library card in the fourth grade, everything from the classics to historical novels, both science and science fiction, best sellers, and endless papers and books on computing. Strangely, the more involved I became in my work, the more narrow became my reading habits, for years mostly just science fiction. I must have needed it as a form of escapism, but now I am anxious to broaden my intellectual horizons, and to do so in the context of a community of people with similar goals.

And that's why I want to join the Hamline M.A.L.S. program! I am in a period of profound change in virtually every aspect of my life. I am seeking new ways of life, new ideas, and a new community of the mind. Hopefully, I will be able to contribute some of my own insights, as an intellectual, a parent, and a technologist to that community. Hopefully, I will receive from that community diverse and broadening experiences and ideas in return.

"Getting a Master's degree" was never of importance to me during my years with IBM. I was always too busy with work. But now, my priorities have reversed, with work primarily a means of earning the means to pursue my other interests. Yes, I could just go to the Minneapolis public library and start a personal reading program, but this would be yet another isolating, solitary activity. I want more than that. The M.A.L.S. program has what I want: stimulating courses, an intellectually alive community, guidance in determining and pursuing my interests, and an opportunity to contribute.

 

2014: In addition to this essay, I was interviewed by a Hamline admissions counselor. The interview went on for well over an hour, leaving me very excited about the program. I was accepted, but then declined to pursue it further. Everything I wrote in this essay was true, but there was another factor to consider. I had just started a job as a programmer on a complex project that required me to quickly learn a computing environment completely new to me, including a new programming language, a new operating system, a new relational database system, and new procedures. None of this had anything to do with my 25 years experience working for IBM. I decided that the new job plus the Hamline program was biting off too much to chew all at once. I thought the Hamline program could wait for a year, but that never happened.



To: Office of Graduate Admissions, M.A.L.S., Hamline University
From: Lois Demers
Date: July 5, 1994
Re: Richard A. Demers

 

I am writing to support Richard Demers' application for admittance to the Hamline University Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program. I am delighted that Rich has chosen to pursue this goal! I have known Rich for 30 years. In those years, Rich has demonstrated the creativity, perseverance, intelligence, thoughtful questioning, high energy and artful sharing which will obviously be demanded by your program.

Rich is a computer programmer and software architect by profession. That is the "short story". I could next describe how "novel" he is, but "encyclopedia" rather than "book" is a more accurate point of reference. He is a font of information on a vast array of subjects because he is an avid reader who, for some very irritating reason to those of us who must write everything down that we want to remember, he can recall it all, at the drop of a hat. Having a husband who can instantaneously not only explain why the answering machine is notworkinq but then can go ahead and fix it is only surpassed by the same man who as a father can answer the kids' questions about refrigeration as fast as those on Ravel.

Rich has been the instrumental force moving our family from adventure to adventure, be it a relocation from New York to Minnesota or a vacation from Germany to Taiwan. There is always something more that Rich wants to do: try a spaghetti squash or a jicama, rent a sail boat, drive a snowmobile, fly a glider plane, explore a cave, museum, city or Ethiopian restaurant menu, snorkel, tandem bike, build his own canoe.

Now Rich has decided he wants your M.A.L.S. degree. I can't think of a more suitable candidate for your program. Rich is an enthusiastic professional, quick to acknowledge the good ideas of others and eager to be part of creative discussions. Many times it is Rich who identifies an alternative way of thinking or supplies the relevant humor that allows friends and family to cross a difficult hurdle.

When Rich commits to a project, as he seems to be in the case of your Masters Program, he sees it to fruition, and he does it with the attention to detail and the belief that things can always be better which ensures quality results.

Rich is an extremely strong candidate for your program. He will be a dedicated, fully participating student. He will be a student who brings intuitive questions and experienced trials to your classes. I highly recommend Richard A. Demers.

 

1994: Hamline University

Désolé, pas encore traduit.