This weekend I had the honor of talking to my former high school football team before their Homecoming game. Three years ago I was asked to come in and do the same and it turned out to be the only game they won all season. As the mighty Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology Colonials were winless so far this season, we all hoped that my talk this year would have the same effect.
There are so many things I know now that I wish I had known back then, but I only had a few minutes with them before the game so I just focused on the two themes that I thought would be most worthwhile for them. Following is a rough transcript of how the pre-game talk went (subject to my memory, which isn't getting any younger!):
"Gentlemen, I am truly honored to be back here in front of you today. As Coach said, I was TJ Class of 1997. I played football for four years at TJ, three years as a two-way starter on varsity, and one year as Captain. After TJ I studied computer science and electrical engineering at Rice University, where I played fullback for the Owls. Professionally I have spent my career starting up and leading clean technology companies. It has been 14 years since I sat where you're sitting right now and it is clear to me that, even though I got a lot out of TJ football during the four years I played, I've gotten so much more out of it in the 14 years since. I'm hoping that, by sharing some of that with you today, you'll be able to get even more out of your own TJ football experience.
So what do you get out of TJ football? Lifelong friendships, certainly. Matt and I (Note: my classmate and TJ quarterback, Matt Young, came too, reinforcing this point very well.) are at the age when everyone's getting married and it's amazing how, when a TJ football player gets married, there are invariably many other TJ football players there at the wedding--and often some standing up there beside the groom. We went to different colleges, took different jobs, and are now scattered around the globe . . . but there is a bond that is forged when you stand together on the field of battle, united against a common foe, and that bond is not easily broken. So look at the player on your left, look at the player on your right, and understand that, for better or for worse, you'll be stuck with each other for quite some time!
But you get so much more from TJ football than just relationships. You see, what happens up there on the football field is really a manifestation of that which happens to you in real life. Think about it: every day billions of people and organizations and businesses and teams set out to achieve some goal or overcome some obstacle or conquer some foe--just as you do on the football field. And, just as happens on the football field, it's not the team with the most resources that wins. It's not the business with the most capital or the athletes with the most physical prowess. No, it's the team that executes on the field of play when it counts. It's the team that demonstrates the greatest teamwork, leadership, discipline, and heart when it matters most. This is why startups are able to go up against Microsoft and win. This is why PhDs from schools you've never heard of are able to win the Nobel prize. It's not about what you have; it's about what you do.
Teamwork, leadership, discipline, heart . . . these aren't subjects you can learn in a classroom. These aren't traits you can read about in a book. These are intrinsic characteristics that you develop up there on the football field. So you think you're out there playing a game but you're really training yourself for the rest of your adult lives. I certainly didn't realize that when I was playing football here but it is so abundantly clear to me now.
The greatest lesson that I learned from this TJ football training ground is how to deal with failure. The world's greatest leaders are defined not by how they deal with success, rather how they respond to failure. This is because the path to success invariably winds its way through many failures first. Some people--most people--accept these and give up. Others learn from their failures, growing stronger, better prepared and even more motivated for success. These are the people who become truly great.
Sounds easy, right? But failure is hard. When you really set your heart on something and then fail to achieve it, it hurts--it hurts bad. I know. Lord knows we experienced plenty of failure in my TJ football days. And I know you guys have had your share of failure so far this season too, so I can imagine how you guys must be hurting right now--maybe a little frustrated, maybe a little downhearted.
A natural response to repeated failure is to stop caring. If you don't yearn so much for victory, it doesn't hurt so much when you don't achieve it. If that's how you feel right now about tonight's game against Marshall, I won't think any less of you. As I said, it is a very natural defense mechanism that saves a lot of people a lot of pain. But, if that's how you feel right now about tonight's game against Marshall, then don't you dare set foot on our football field. Decades of players before you have shed blood, sweat, and tears on that field--often against very long odds--so, if you're out there with anything less than 100% commitment to and belief in victory, it's a dishonor to yourself, to your team, and to everyone who's ever worn the uniform.
There is so much I'd like to share with you through the benefit of 14 years of 20/20 hindsight, but I just have these few minutes. I hope you will at least take away from this that what happens out there tonight will be more meaningful for the rest of your lives than you can possibly realize right now. The question is: are you going to let it be just some silly pastime? Or are you going to take it, own it, and ensure that is a source of strength and pride for you that pays dividends throughout your professional and personal lives?
I can't answer that question; only you can. I would give just about anything to be out there fighting alongside you tonight, but I can't. My time is passed; now it is your time. I will be cheering hard for you and sending you every ounce of strength and energy I have but, at the end of the night, it's you guys who have to get it done on the field.
Seniors, I'm especially talking to you. You have less than three hours of game time left in your TJ football careers. Three hours! That's a blink of the eye in your lives. Every play, every minute, every moment counts; you'll never get a second chance. So get out there tonight and get it done. Don't let up for even a second and leave it all on the field. Do it for TJ, do it for the fans, do it for your coaches. Hell, do it for me; I flew halfway across the country because I want to see you win! But most of all, do it for yourselves. You are Thomas Jefferson Colonial football players and you deserve victory. Go out there and take what's yours."
Wow, written out like that it seems really long but I don't remember it taking more than a few minutes. Regardless, the team fought a hard battle and won the game at the last moment. I don't know if my words "reached" anyone but I hope those young men found them beneficial.
The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying Fall weather and catching up with family and friends in Northern Virginia. Now I'm back in 90-degree Houston but still glowing from a wonderful weekend.
Last weekend Katie and I went to Phoenix to visit her sister. When we planned the trip, we had an ulterior motive too: get our canine fix with Kelly's newly adopted dog, Kona! Now, due to the timing of our own adoption of Max, we no longer needed the fix but we new it would be a wonderful trip anyway.
After having Max just one week, we dropped him off at Pet Paradise to be reunited with his buddies for the weekend and then we headed to the airport. I pulled a really dunce move and left my driver's license at home. I had scans of both my driver's license and my passport on my laptop but that was obviously insufficient. Just when it was looking like I would have to return home (in rush hour) to retrieve my license and then take a later flight, we received a very welcome surprise: TSA offered to help.
They took me into an isolated area and grilled me with questions about my identity, verifying my answers against a database of everywhere I had lived, which cars I had registered, etc. Then they gave my luggage the full treatment, checking every nook and cranny of it for sketchy stuff. Finally they gave me the full treatment, patting me down--well, up, down, and every other which way too! I passed all the tests so, after 20 minutes or so, they let me through. I was incredibly impressed with the professionalism and courtesy they showed me throughout the process. I know it's not easy to keep millions of travelers safe every day but they did it with aplomb. Seriously, well done, TSA!
Kelly and her boyfriend, Mike, picked us up and took us immediately to The Vig, a bar/restaurant. We ate, drank, watched college football, and met up with their friends there; it was great weather for outdoor merrymaking! Then we went back to their house to meet Kona. We had another pleasant surprise, though: they were sitting two other dogs for the weekend! All the dogs were sweet and fun and it was clear that it was going to be a good couple of days.
Saturday we went to the dog park, had some breakfast, and then hiked Camelback Mountain. Mike and Kelly had made the hike many times but this was Katie's and my first time hiking anything in awhile--and we decided to make the attempt in our Vibram FiveFingers barefoot "shoes." The terrain was very desert-rocky so it put our Vibrams to the test, but we scrambled up OK. Coming down was a little slower as we focused on ensuring we had enough grip and tried to avoid stepping hard on jagged rock surfaces. It was hot and tiring but a very rewarding experience.
Afterward we treated ourselves to Thai food at Fresh Mint. The food was excellent, the oldies playing in the background were great, and the Joe Montana memorabilia on the walls (The owners are from San Francisco.) was very welcome. The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing by the pool, cooking dinner, and watching 300.
Sunday we played some beach volleyball then had brunch at a vegan restaurant that offered many raw food options. I put together an entire meal made of raw dessert items: black cherry cheesecake, blueberry acai pie, chocolate donut, chocolate walnut brownie, chocolate macaroon--all raw! It was delicious and very filling.
We stopped by a microbrewery to watch some football before being dropped off at the airport for the ride home. A friend of mine had very kindly overnighted my driver's license to me so I managed to avoid extra TSA attention on the way back. Max was elated to see us again when we picked him up.
Now, after nearly two weeks with him, he seems really to have adjusted to our house and life. We were sorry to leave him for a weekend but it certainly was a wonderful 48 hours!
After reading Falan Mouton's article laying out her rationale for not donating to Rice ("Rice just a business; donations are purely optional for graduates," October 8, 2010), I was tempted to write a response pointing out flaws in her logic--e.g. contending that the Rice "product" ceases creating value for its "consumers" the moment they graduate--and her apparent misunderstanding of how businesses work--e.g. most businesses with the aim of having "no upper limit" will need to raise capital too.
Instead, though, I would rather focus my words on why I *do* donate to my alma mater: because I love Rice. I loved Rice as an undergrad. I loved Rice as a grad student. And I have *really* loved Rice as an alum. The cost of educating one undergrad is roughly twice what Rice takes in as tuition. Rice isn't just trying to meet its costs, though; it has grand ambitions to be better each year, but such ambitions aren't realized for free. When I donate to Rice I know my money is going to make a positive difference for the entire Rice community.
I'm not selfless either; some of those funds come back to me directly via alumni activities. The Association of Rice Alumni is an incredible network of interesting, diverse, successful alumni and, unlike at our peer institutions, there is no fee to join and there never will be.
In the nine years since I've graduated I've learned that you get out of Rice what you put into it. So donate time if you can. Donate money if you can. But don't do it because you think you "owe" it to anyone. Do it because you love Rice.
Happy Rice Day!
Bryan Guido Hassin
Lovett College 2001
Master of Computer Science 2002
Katie and I took a big step this weekend by adopting a golden retriever from Golden Retriever Rescue of Houston. We both grew up with goldens so we were sure that we understood what we were getting into in terms of temperament, activity level, size--and volume of hair! We also felt that this was the right time in our lives to move forward with this kind of commitment. Even as recently as a couple of years ago it would have been unthinkable but now we have settled into enough of a routine and committed to a future together such that we know we can handle this new responsibility.
After spending some time on the GRRH website, we filled out an application which had a primary purpose of verifying that we understood the cost, time, and discipline commitments involved as well as screening for any signs of abuse.
After GRRH approved our initial application, we received a call from their coordinator to discuss in greater detail our lifestyles, home environment, and preferences. We were hoping for a young (1-3 years) but already trained golden that would socialize easily with other dogs and people. Katie and I are both very social so a dog that we could take to the dog park and to friends' houses would fit best with us. We were targeting youth so that its joints would be OK with all the stairs in our three-story townhome. Katie and I both grew up with female goldens so we had a natural bias toward getting a girl but we also knew we would love a boy just as much.
Based on the profiles on the GRRH website and on our phone conversations with them, we identified 5 candidates for potential adoption. The next step was to talk with the trainers and foster parents of each dog. The first trainer we contacted was actually training two of the dogs on our list. One of the dogs was incredibly sweet but apparently had a really hard time being around other dogs and the trainer just wasn't sure that was addressable. The more we talked with the trainer, though, the more we fell in love with her other dog, a three-year-old boy named Max.
On Thursday we made the decision to meet Max in person Saturday morning. He came in with his foster mom to Pet Paradise, where he had been boarded. We met them both there and had a chance to play with Max a bit, witness him showing off his tricks/training, and chat with the foster mom about her experience with him.
In short, it was love at first sight. He was incredibly sweet and very gentle but still with great enthusiasm and energy. He was quite smart and had been picking up his training very quickly. Unlike any golden I had seen before, Max was a very light cream color, almost white; apparently this is the British style of golden retriever.
At the end of our session, Katie and I said our polite goodbyes and let them know we'd come back to them with our reactions shortly. We made it maybe four steps out the door, though, when we looked at each other and, without words, we both knew that this was the dog. We decided to skip the formal decision process, turned right around, and said we'd take him if they would let us. By the time we reached our car in the parking lot, we had a call from the coordinator saying that the trainer and foster mom enthusiastically approved of our adopting Max so we could sign the adoption contract and pick him up as soon as we liked.
As we didn't have any dog supplies at home we delayed pick-up until the afternoon. In the meantime I picked my brother up at the airport and we worked out together for the first time in three months (Consequently I can barely move now out of soreness.) while Katie went to PetSmart for our first stock-up.
After lunch all three of us went to Pet Paradise to pick up our new boy. He was very excited to see us again and super easy to manage on a leash, in the car, etc. We introduced him to his new home, which he took to immediately, and spent awhile showing him around, taking him for walks, and just getting to know him a bit.
His first night was a rough one. While boarded (presumably) he had contracted kennel cough, the canine equivalent of the flu. This meant he was up all night with a hacking, productive cough (worse than Smuckers, on Seinfeld!) and, hence, we were up all night as well. Around 5 AM we finally took him to the vet just to make sure it wasn't something more serious but they put him on some antibiotics and confirmed that we would just have to wait it out for several days. No problem, as long as he's OK!
Sunday was a lovely day for all of us, lazing around the main floor, watching football, and introducing Max to the housemates. His cough is already getting better and he loves all the people around him showering him with attention. He still needs some training around where and when to do is business and not jumping up on people/things but, again, he's a smart boy and learning quickly. We have all the patience in the world to work with him because he is such a wonderful addition to our family and we just love him so much!