This biography will be a continual work-in-progress. This is the story of my life: where I grew up, what experiences I had, and how I became the person that I am today.
I was born and raised in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a hybrid of rural Amish farmlands and Philadelphia suburbs. It probably was one of the greatest places for a kid to grow up, with very little crime and a great community feel. I more specifically grew up in the town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, which was quiet and noted for its unique history (The Moravian Church and General Sutter) and more modern accomplishments (Coolest Small Town in America 2013, one of the oldest continuous Fourth of July celebrations in the United States). I often refer to Lititz as a town out of a Norman Rockwell painting, so quintessentially American.
Outside of my geographic location growing up, I had a pretty normal childhood. I was blessed to have two really great role models: my parents. My mother, the youngest of five children, worked hard all of her life. Of all the things she gave her two children, myself and my younger sister, the most important to me was an example of what it truly meant to work hard. Starting out from a small farm in Hershey, Pennsylvania, she first became a nationally-recognized track-and-field runner and subsequently a marathon runner. Out of college my mother worked for a Fortune 100 (#3) company as an aspiring executive, then turned to entrepreneurship where she owned and operated two companies to put herself through law school, and finally became a partner at a small but prestigious law firm in central Pennsylvania. I could probably write a book on her accomplishments alone, but even while doing all of that, she had enough time and compassion to raise me and make sure I wanted for nothing. While I can definitely say that she inspired me to work hard, a hard work ethic is tossed around so much these days that the words have become meaningless; everybody works hard. What my mother instilled in me was the insatiable desire for success and for results. I get results. More than anyone else, she is the person that I attribute all of my successes to so far and I couldn’t thank her enough if I tried.
On the other side of the family, my father wasn’t the best example of a father I could have asked for (eventually leaving my mother before I was even eight), but I was lucky enough to have an amazing step-father to look up to for those uniquely masculine traits. He taught me humility, patience, honesty, and respect for other people. One story I remember in particular begins with an argument my mother and he had on a family vacation in New York City. My mother had stormed out of the restaurant we were eating at, leaving her two children and my step-father at the table. My young and inexperienced mind didn’t know who was right or wrong in the argument but I thought my parents were going to go their separate ways as we exited the restaurant and started heading back to the hotel. My step-father seemed completely relaxed, unfazed and collected, to the point where I finally asked him if my mom and he were going to break up. “Not at all”, he said. “Your mother and I will fight but at the end of the day, it’s just a fight. We still care about each other.” And they do. They are still together to this day and have had many more fights since then. I learned that fighting or arguments will always happen in life, based on disagreements between two sides. However, at the end of the day, these are just fights, and people can still get along as long as they recognize that, deep down, they still care about each other.
My parents were excellent resources when I had questions, dilemmas, or thoughts that I just had to share with other people. My questions on politics and the economy were answered as readily as what to do with the first girl I liked. I still seek their advice to this day as I look for internships or apply for scholarships. Through their recommendations, I also tried new things, including all types of sports (baseball, soccer, basketball, fencing, running, etc.), several instruments, cooking, reading new books, listening to new music, or trying out for new clubs and activities. While some activities I still do to this day like cooking, running, and reading, I believe my main takeaway is that I am not afraid to try new things. Even if I never continued to pursue an activity or a sport, simply trying shaped me in some small way and after all, you are as much of what you don’t do as what you do, a saying that still resonates with me.
After my family, my education is probably the most important aspect of my personal growth, starting with elementary and middle school. I had many teachers and administrators who cared about their students enough to go above and beyond the duties they were assigned, including a principal who invited me to speak on the morning announcements multiple times, a 3rd grade teacher who let me dance for the entire class, and a 6th grade teacher who believed in my abilities and moved me up to the highest level of English the school had. I had my political beliefs challenged by my 4th grade teacher after I shook hands with President Obama on his short stop to pick up Wilbur chocolate buds in Lititz. I received my first taste of theater in 7th grade from a couple who’s been performing all their lives and my first taste of academic competition in an 8th grade science fair. The people I interacted with then and the events that transpired in elementary and middle school were indeed small in the grand scheme of things but far from insignificant. All of these experiences, even the painful ones, helped build the base of the person who tackled high school rather successfully.
That brings me to my high school experience, the best and worst 4 years of my life so far (college has yet to prove to me that it can beat “the best” title). I started off 9th grade with hardly any friends, a handful of clubs or activities with my name on the roster, and a mediocre GPA and finished 12th grade with many loyal, caring friends who I still talk to today, a long list of clubs, jobs, and volunteer work with myself as an officer in many capacities, and ranked 10th in my class. Now it wasn’t easy to get to that point, and I put in many long hours on essays and equally long hours texting friends to get to that point. However, I would gladly do it all over again.
As I reflect back on my time in high school, there are a few interesting matters that still give me pause, one of which is the myriad of different friend groups that I had. It is interesting to me that the people you think are going to be your best friends forever actually disappear from your life altogether once they leave high school. It is also strange to me that people who you absolutely could not stand in 8th or 9th grade actually become some of your best friends by the time senior year rolls around. I had friend groups from the different activities I was in, based on classes we took together, or who had similar interests to my own, and no two years did I ever have the exact same friends. One friend in particular was my best friend from when I was in 10th grade, a senior at the time with whom I did everything and considered just as much a mentor as a friend. We were in musicals together, we hung out both in and outside of school for hours on end, and his family even took me on their summer vacation for a week. But as soon as he left for college, we fell out of contact and now I hardly ever see him. This is just one example of the friends from different grades that I’ve made during my time in high school but then never talked to again once they left for college, and it is a problem that many millennials like myself have. I have also contributed to the problem and I admit that I rarely reach out to say hello to the friends I’ve made in grades below my own. I’ll never understand how relationships form and crumble so quickly but I am more aware than ever of the fact that communication is the most important aspect of any relationship and that I’ve faltered with it as of late. Hopefully I’ll eventually have the determination and the time to reach out to people I haven’t seen in a while, including my best friend from 10th grade.
Another one of my reflections is the amount of dates I’ve been on throughout high school. I’ve been to 3 proms and 2 homecomings with some of the most beautiful, fun, intelligent, and caring women that I’ve ever met. I’ve taken girls to see world-class performers and to eat at very nice restaurants. I’ve done everything that a respectable man should when interacting with women (maybe to the point of being overly cautious) and so far I haven’t had much success. While I’m confident that I’ll find the right person eventually and I look back on these events with these ladies with much fondness, I still sometimes think of what could have been. On the other hand, my independence has definitely led to many of my successes in life, and it’s only now that I see the true benefit that comes with this freedom.
One final aspect of my high school career that had a huge impact was the opportunity to form relationships with many fantastic teachers over the years. I don’t think I’d be as near the functioning human being I am today without my 9th grade math teacher who taught be how to study and my 9th grade English teacher who taught me the importance of drama and performance, my 10th grade history teacher who told me I should pursue a career that I have passion for, my 11th grade English teacher who I still talk to and who brought out my cynical side as well as helped me develop my leadership potential, and my French teacher who developed in me an appreciation for all cultures, but most importantly that of the French. Out of all my teachers, there is one that probably had the most impact in changing the way I think, and that has to be my 12th grade AP English teacher. This was the first teacher to question the way I thought and what I believed in, and the humanistic and existential works we read pushed the boundaries of what I had thought my life meant up until that point. AP English was a turning point for my education, but it resulted in a more balanced and thoughtful human being and my now favorite quote from Hamlet: “The readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is it to leave betimes. Let be.” Overall, my educators in high school gave me a great start on the road to college and my eventual career.
Which brings us to the next chapter of my life: college. College for many people is the apex of their lives, so naturally I wanted to choose the best one possible for me. The process of choosing a college itself can be a daunting one in it of itself, let alone having the stress and academic rigor of senior year on top of that selection process. However at my step-father’s suggestion, I began the rigorous college selection process with the Princeton Review’s “360(-some) Best Colleges in America”. One by one, I went through each and every page and reviewed more statistics on academic prowess, financial aid, and fire-safety than I would care to remember. I first narrowed down the options to my top 50 colleges, then my top 25, and finally got a solid list of 12 to review more thoroughly, to visit, and eventually to apply to.
As I began visiting colleges, the realization that I would have to live in one of these places for the next four years (and pay money to these institutions for maybe many more years afterwards) dawned on me, and I began to be much more discerning in what I wanted out of my college experience: New York University was too urban and way too expensive, Boston University was too far away, Drexel University was too strict and Penn State University wasn’t strict enough. It seemed that I wouldn’t find the perfect university and I began to accept that just as I was heading out to visit Carnegie Mellon University. And wow what a disappointment! The arrogance that exuded from that school turned me off immediately and all aspects of the school’s presentation was maybe designed to impress but not to invite. I left that visit feeling dejected that my family came all the way out to Pittsburgh for nothing.
On the way back to our Pittsburgh hotel, we passed a very tall building in the center of a beautifully landscaped green area. There were students walking all over the place and I read the words “University of Pittsburgh” and “Pitt” on signs, sweatshirts, and buses. I had never heard of this college before and because I was feeling so down from my Carnegie Mellon visit, I decided to see if this university was having an admissions program on Saturday since we were leaving Sunday anyways. I found that Pitt was having an admissions program and I registered my family, hoping that we would be at least surprised with what Pitt had to offer. I was completely blown away. Everything that Carnegie Mellon lacked, Pitt had: excitement, energy, hospitality, and free stuff! Even my tour guide was the only one that I remember to this day and the tour of the campus that I received from her was as hilarious as it was informative. All in all, Pitt had made its mark on me and the university went from unknown to near the top of my list as I continued my college search process.
Fast forward to April and I’m now deciding between two schools: Penn State and Pitt. It’s obvious which one I chose from the color scheme on my website but it really was a hard decision: Penn State gave me a really nice scholarship and invitation to the Schreyer’s Honors College. It was also the perfect distance from my hometown and I would have been a 4th generation family member going there, a pretty good legacy in my mind. Pitt had a culture and a college town that I found myself in love with and if the hospitality I received during the admissions program was any indication of how I would be treated once in attendance, I was sold.
Looking back now, I think I made the right decision in choosing Pitt, but there are more and more attributes of the university that I’m finding fault with as I progress through the years. The first may have more to do with the culture of college in general, but I hate how a lot of social interaction revolves around the consumption of alcohol. As someone who won’t drink until age 21, this limits my interaction with friends to a considerable degree. Another frustrating aspect is that I happen to attend the most expensive public university in the country with no scholarship. While I still receive in-state tuition status by attending Pitt, the fact remains that I’m still paying significantly more money than other students attending state schools in other parts of the country and, with tuition rising at the rate that it is, more money than my parents or grandparents ever paid to go to school. Finally, I think I may have been disillusioned with the business school at Pitt. While I do believe it is an up-and-coming undergraduate business school with a great deal to offer to accounting and finance majors (to whom the school caters the most), I don’t believe this was the best school for what I now know I want to do with my life. Overall though, this is a fantastic university with a lot to offer and I will definitely make the most of my time here.
So now that I had chosen a college, I mentally prepared myself for the transition to living on my own. And what I found most difficult was not being away from my friends or family nor navigating a small city on my own but the new culture where I was now a small fish in a big pond. The academic competition was nothing like I saw at my high school and the professors brought a new level of challenge to the classroom that threw me for a loop in the first semester. My methods of studying in high school were no longer sufficient to get by in college, so I completely changed my routine of studying and learning. My choosing of extra-curricular activities was another radical difference from high school where I was used to being involved in a myriad of different clubs without too much effort. At Pitt, not only did each club come with more responsibilities and required more time commitment but there was also competition in getting into elite clubs and activities on campus. That was probably the hardest aspect of college life to get used to; there were now significantly more people with more knowledge, more experience, and more depth of character than I had ever been exposed to and that was a hard truth to swallow at first. Some of these people become your friends, but many of them are just more competition for internships, for officer positions in clubs, or prestigious scholarships. However, I see this new wave of people as another driving force to constantly improve, and as the competition becomes fiercer, I will become fiercer in the pursuit of success.
As for individual semesters, they seem to get harder and harder as I go. Freshmen year as a whole seemed almost too easy compared to sophomore year and I only suspect that it will get even more difficult. First semester freshman year was probably where I had the most fun, including going to see symphonies and musicals (The Book of Mormon) for pennies on the dollar, attending football games where I got to hold the huge Pitt flag on Heinz Field, and eating at really unique Pittsburgh restaurants. I also spent the entire semester training to be a tour guide for the university, a Pitt Pathfinder, which itself was like taking a class in the history and amenities of the University of Pittsburgh and far from an easy or enjoyable activity. The classes I took, while relatively easy in nature, were difficult to do well in because of the nature of how I studied and prepared for them, with Business Statistics being the most difficult class by far.
Second semester proved easier academically but more difficult socially as I had a lot less time for going on excursions throughout Pittsburgh than I had the semester before. While I still went to basketball games and ice-skated in the park for fun, I realized that with studying more and actually giving tours now that I was a full-fledged Pathfinder, I legitimately had less time to spend with friends and do these fun activities. However, this semester is where I had a sort of “a-ha” moment in that I finally learned what I was good at and what I wanted to do for the rest of my life through a class known as Managing in Complex Environments or MCE. I found MCE to actually be quite easy, the professor very knowledgeable about what he taught, and the group project that we did in the class (analyzing a corporation and reporting on what they did well and not so well) was also extremely beneficial to developing my capacity for group work. Through the project and the classroom learning, we learned a lot about how corporations work, specifically their supply chains and how functions within a corporation are assigned and carried out in a global context. With that in mind and while enjoying the customer-service side of my tour guide job, I decided to pursue a double major in Supply Chain Management and Global Management with the goal of entering the hospitality industry. I had always been drawn to hotels and restaurants for the way they made people feel and combining something that I was passionate about (hospitality) with two marketable majors that come with concrete skills in managing both people and processes is what I found to be my ticket to success.
Cruising along after finally figuring out what I wanted to do at Pitt, I now needed to start firing up my resume so that I could get experience working in more refined internships as I progressed through my academic career. I wanted to stay the summer in Pittsburgh and I was lucky enough to be recommended by one of my best friends and by a great professor for an internship working at the U.S. Commercial Service in downtown Pittsburgh and be paid a very nice stipend. I was also fortunate to work for the Pathfinders over the summer as a tour guide where I received free housing and an additional source of income. Between those two jobs I learned a lot of valuable skills and became close to some really great people who I’m lucky to count as my friends to this day. I also had one of the best summers of my life, where I was free to explore Pittsburgh like I had never before and experience a new level of independence.
Well summer ends, my sophomore year begins, and boy am I in for a struggle! I had some of the most difficult classes I have ever had, including numerous group projects working outside of the classroom. I fell in love with a girl only to be ignored and rejected. I had many internship interviews only to be turned down by almost all of the companies. And I took over probably more responsibilities than I could handle at my various other clubs and activities. Needless to say I was overwhelmed and dejected at times, but I never let it get to me, especially with many bright moments during the semester. I became a mentor to two amazing young Pathfinders and watched them grow into full-fledged tour guides themselves. I developed a connection with an amazing professor in one of my classes who instilled in me both practical project management skills and a new found love for analytics. I have an academic advisor who is proactive in helping me achieve my goals both personally and professionally. Finally, I ended the semester with the highest grades I ever had and raised my GPA to a level with which I’m extremely content. This semester was definitely a roller coaster but one worth every second of the ride.
Now, I’ll be studying abroad in London for the spring semester of 2016, so stay tuned for more of my story or follow my blog and social media profiles for up-to-the-minute action on what I’m doing next.