Tag Archives: Harvard

A Stranger Gave Me $45,000

31 Dec

In 2004, someone I don’t know just gave me $45,000. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t even ask for it. In truth, I didn’t do anything special to deserve it. Here is what happened.

At the time, I was a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School. I was extremely active with extracurriculars….student council president, editor of school paper, school tour guide, class marshall, etc….blah, blah, blah…the point is I was everywhere. Call it an overdeveloped sense of responsibility or pure boredom; I was just trying to make things better. One day in the late spring of 2004, I walked down to my student mailbox and pulled out an envelope with my name on it. Typed out on 8.5 X 11 paper in 12-point Times New Roman font, there was a letter…


I still have the letter hanging in my office.


May 5, 2004

Dear Chris –

I hope you do not think it presumptuous on my part, however I wanted to let you know that I have taken the liberty of providing for assistance toward your tuition and certain other living expenses associated with your last year as a Master of Divinity student at HDS [Harvard Divinity School].

I feel truly blessed with this opportunity to be of some assistance to you as you prepare for the journey ahead. In return, my only wish is that upon graduation you will consider channeling your vast potential in a way that can help relieve the pain and suffering of others, particularly those in the more disadvantaged layers of our society.

In the meantime, please accept my best wishes for the highest measure of success and fulfillment now and for the years ahead.

I remain forever,

A Friend

Please make an appointment with Bob Coughlin, Coordinator of Financial Aid, at your earliest convenience in order that your grant award can be finalized.

Now, I didn’t really pay much attention to the letter when I read it. I didn’t know if it was a joke or really what it even meant. Luckily, my journey to find answers ended just upstairs in the financial aid office. I entered, asked to see Bob Coughlin, and sat down in his office. Bob then explained to me that someone, he could not reveal who, had paid for my last year of tuition at Harvard. In addition, this person included a sizable stipend for living expenses on top of that tuition. I was floored. Never in my life have I felt that emotion. It was a mixture of pride and embarrassment. The total award came to a little over $45,000. Just handed to me with the hope that I would channel my potential to relieving the pain and suffering of others. It’s quite an expectation to put on an ambitious Harvard student, but it remains a guiding light for me.

As I walk forward into 2013, I’m reminded of all those who have helped me along my path. Thank you.


My Educational Path

18 Dec

This is my response to some questions about my path before and after Harvard Divinity School. Since I get questions about this a lot, I figured I just post this here as well.


Some Career Advice…

18 Dec

I went to Harvard Divinity School because I thought it would prepare me for a life of meaning. It did. When I was asked to provide some career advice to other Harvard graduates, I jumped at the chance. I didn’t want to talk about networking, or finding a mentor….all of those things we’ve heard before. I wanted to address the fact that no matter what advice you’re given….your own career path is going to twist and turn and therefore the best that you can hope for is to learn along the way.

Antecedents and Managing Your Temptations

16 Dec

The following is a true story. In 2006 a 18-year old Harvard freshman (let’s call him “Charlie”) was brought into a large room and sat on one side of an old oak table. On the other side of the table are the stern faces of his history professor, his academic advisor, the Dean for Academic Affairs, and the Chair of the Ethics Board. Charlie was accused of plagiarizing significant portions of his final paper on the Napoleonic Wars and, much like his essay’s antagonist, faced the threat of undignified exile.


This was a particularly troubling case because Charlie was well-known across campus for raising money for local charities. The question is, why would this guy, who in most ways would be a model student, be sitting in a room answering questions about his moral fiber?

Understanding the answer to that question is important if you don’t want to sabotage your own success.

It turns out that Charlie plagiarized his essay because he was worried about getting it done on time. He found himself staying up all night the day before it was due struggling to formulate a single coherent sentence and in that weakened state turned to the internet for a quick solution. Charlie’s case is so common in fact that college’s actually use “start your papers early” campaigns as part of their ethics training. In this sense, procrastination itself is necessarily a bad thing, but it can dress bad things up in a nice red bikini so that it becomes a lot more attractive. Procrastination is what we call an “antecedent” to plagiarism. And the more you think about antecedents the more you’ll realize that like Charlie, your success has a lot to do with how well you manage your temptations.

You already do this to some degree. If you’ve ever set your alarm clock on the other side of the room because you know it will force you to wake up, then you know how effective this can be. So, if you’re prone to avoid performance reviews with your employees, then you better schedule it. If you’re tempted by the fattening foods at the company’s restaurant, then move your business lunch to the salad bar down the street. Setting yourself up to win is an important part of you overall achievement strategy. Your willpower is a limited resource (see: “Training Your Success Muscle”) so if you don’t already have a safety net in place when that time comes, then you are choosing to fail. Everyone knows not to lie, cheat or steal, so why do people they do it? In many cases it’s because they simply failed to manage their temptations. You may be feeling great right now about your progress, but when the going gets tough (and it will) what will you do then? And most importantly, what can you do NOW to ensure that you won’t become another Charlie?