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Signing in for the long haul September 17, 2012

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I decided to pull over along the I-76 roadside to document my arrival. Most of my journey to Colorado took place along I-80.

The old-timer on duty at the Welcome Center’s information desk was happy to greet me. “What brings you to Colorado?” he asked.

“I’m starting my new life as a Colorado resident,” I said proudly.

“Wonderful!” the volunteer replied, and then he directed my attention to the guest book at his side. “Let’s tell the governor.”

He said this without an ounce of sarcasm, so I couldn’t help but oblige. I doubted the governor of Colorado spent much time thumbing through the state’s various registries. And, as I signed in, I wondered, “What kind of new resident am I anyway?” After all, I didn’t even know ‘my’ governor’s name.

The visit to the Welcome Center became the final pit stop on my 3-day journey across much of America. I left Rochester around midday Friday, but not before one final walk-through of my beloved suburban house—my sanctuary for more than eight years. Standing in the sunroom, overlooking the backyard, I lamented over what I was leaving behind. In that moment, I allowed the emotion to overtake me.

But in boarding my car and beginning the trip westward, I found my thoughts transitioning forward, and my excitement mounting. New opportunities, new relationships and a whole new way of life await me. And along the way, the beauty of the American landscape helped to frame my reflections. My spirits soared!

I have since arrived at my destination. Although in my new apartment, I have few possessions close at hand. The rest of my things are likely a week or more behind me. Until then, sparse living conditions will certainly prove challenging.

Thankfully, I begin my employment with the University of Colorado Boulder today. I will direct a lot of energy getting accustomed to my job, getting acquainted with my colleagues and getting familiar with the campus culture. I’m excited to get underway.

I will always remember how my Colorado story got started at that Welcome Center. And after pulling away, as my car zoomed along I-76, it wasn’t long before the Rocky Mountains began taking shape in the distance. The intensity of what I can only describe as their ‘pull’ enthralled me.

I knew then I was arriving home.

Switching over to Mountain time August 27, 2012

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Enjoying the view from high atop Rocky Mountain National Park last August.

It was not my first visit. But the opportunity last August to attend a friend’s wedding in Colorado helped me put things in perspective. I kept thinking, “I could really make a life for myself here.”

Beginning next month, I will do just that. I am excited to report that future chapters of Stellavision will come to you from the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. I have accepted a position with the University of Colorado at Boulder, the flagship campus of the CU system, as the director of communications and alumni relations for the Leeds School of Business.

The Koelbel Building is home to the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder.

From the beauty of its mountains to its fit-and-active lifestyle—I love almost everything about Colorado. Its residents, I find, are laid back and welcoming, so I am confident of feeling right at home there.

But as you might expect, my emotions are many—and seemingly contradictory. First, there is raw excitement. I join a talented team of higher education professionals in performing work that I love. And in Boulder, I’ll be immersed in a community that is both enterprising and entertaining. Fresh opportunities and new relationships await me.

There is sadness as well. I leave behind the one place I have ever truly called home—Rochester and Western New York—plus family, friends and my beloved RIT. Sharing news of my decision with University News coworkers was bittersweet. While happy to accept their expressions of support, I shared their sadness that we will no longer be a team.

I may be leaving WNY, but I’ll still be a ‘Buffalo.’

Last week, even before my plans were official, I felt my first wave of nostalgia. Sitting on the bleachers inside RIT’s Frank Ritter Arena, scribbling notes for a story on a ‘summer school’ for youth hockey players, I suddenly sensed myself drifting back in time. In my mind, I saw myself among more than 2,000 orange-clad Tigers hockey fans, heard the chants of the Corner Crew, felt the intensity of the Pep Band, and sensed the excitement of near-certain victory.

Yeah, I’m going to miss this place.

But as they say, timing is everything. Timing absolutely influenced my decision. Much of what has happened in my life over the past year or so—some of which I have documented here—has swung the doors of opportunity wide open. And I feel satisfied with the portfolio of achievements I’ve tallied during my 12 years of service to RIT. Personally and professionally—it’s simply time.

The Colorado chapters of Stellavision begin in mid-September. The weeks ahead will provide ample opportunity to reflect fondly on the many chapters I’ve written leading up to this exciting new journey.

Memo from Western New York: We’re sorry! July 1, 2012

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Dear America,

We are sorry to learn that many of you are coping with sweltering, record-breaking heat. It must be VERY uncomfortable.

Letchworth State Park during out of many recent gorgeous summer days in WNY.

Still, we can’t help remember how you mock us in the wintertime when we go what sometimes seems like weeks without sunshine on our race to 100 inches of annual snowfall. For the record, we’re very comfortable today – currently 79 in Buffalo and 83 in Rochester – and awash in sunshine. Actually, we’ve lost count of the number of beautiful days we’ve enjoyed this summer, and the season’s only getting underway. We thought you should know. Stay cool, if you can.

Best regards,

Western New York

Remembering my Mom May 13, 2012

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I recall Mom’s intense interest in all aspects of my life. Isn’t that so like a mother?

It’s nice having an opportunity to reflect on Mom this year. That may sound strange, but I’m pretty sure her memory got shortchanged last Mother’s Day. Instead, I recall much of it spent at my father’s bedside. Just a week removed from his heart surgery, my focus was squarely on hopes and prayers for any signs of recovery.

Mom passed on 11 years ago, the result of numerous ailments that chipped away at her vitality over the course of a decade. Despite the physical ravages endured during that period, her mind remained strong and her spirit seldom wavered.

I have frequently said that the day I lost my Mom was the day I lost the one person who was intensely interested in every aspect of my life. Yet I remember getting annoyed by her seemingly redundant line of questioning intended to expose any detail of my life that may have gone unreported. Of course, I miss that now—and suspect I always will.

As is likely the case with most mothers, she placed the needs of her family above her own. Yet her success as a provider seemed to fulfill her greatest need, building the foundation upon which our family prospered.

I regret that I cannot share this day with her in person, but I find it uplifting to pause, reflect and ultimately reconnect with her in spirit. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

The middle-aged man in the mirror April 29, 2012

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I’m not sure I would have recognized him if I didn’t already know it was me. The thinning head of hair and the deepening lines surrounding the eyes are what threw me. I mean, yes, I’m well acquainted with ‘that’ me, just not as it’s reflected in ‘that’ mirror.

My siblings and I grew up in this home in LeRoy. So did our Dad. Soon a new family will begin creating memories here.

I arrive at the house about 10 minutes early. My brother Chris, along with my sister-in-law Gina, agreed to meet me there—our childhood home—to lay down some signatures and address one other matter. That house, which has been part of the Stella family for around 100 years, is soon to become somebody else’s home.

Since our Dad died last August, the family has stayed busy addressing his estate. The house is the one remaining piece, and soon a young family with two kids will take ownership. While the closing is likely still a couple of months away, my wish is to take a few minutes now to just walk around and reminisce on my own.

I find myself compelled to head upstairs, where as children my siblings and I began and concluded each day. Describing the space as ‘quirky’ is putting it mildly. Before reaching steps 11 and 12, normal-sized adults need to duck their heads to transition from the staircase and turn left toward the second-floor bedrooms. I have often joked that nobody in my family grew past 5’ 9” because the bedroom ceilings are no higher than 5’10”.

The ability of that space to trigger memories remains constant, despite the fact that few remnants of my childhood remain. But as I enter my bedroom—the one to which I retreated as a high school and college student—I’m struck by one thing that has so obviously changed. It’s me!

The mirror is the same, but the reflection looks so different from the one that stared back at me 25 or 30 years ago. I remember, as a young man, positioning myself directly in front of it as a matter of routine—poised to debate with myself whatever issue might have arisen that day. Even as a self-absorbed teenager, my instinct was generally to do what I knew to be ‘right’. Help myself, of course, but do no harm to others. Occasionally, as I weighed my options, that reflection would betray me. My motives, I’d realize, were not always pure. Corrective actions would sometimes be required. The mirror seemed able to set me right.

So I wonder, if the boy then could see the reflection of today, how would he react?

I suspect the first response might be, “What the hell happened to your hair?”  But hopefully, upon further consideration, he might say, “Hang in there, ol’ man, you’re still doing what’s right.”

And I hope he’d be proud.

– – –

SPECIAL RECOGNITION: I want to offer my thanks to my sister Pattie. After relaying this experience to her during a phone call, she said, “I feel a blog coming on!” Sadly, until that moment, I hadn’t been feeling it. Her feedback made me realize I did have a story to share. My hope, as it is always, is that somehow these observations are relayed in a way that resonate in the lives of my readers.

Humanity ‘on the rise’ at #140cuse April 19, 2012

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The drive back to Rochester provided our first opportunity to debrief on the insights we’d gathered for the day. My RIT University News coworker Scott Bureau, Student Government President Greg Pollock and I felt energized having just attended #140cuse—a full-day social media conference at Syracuse University.

Presenters both young and, well, my age shared personal accounts on their evolving relationships with social media—particularly as it relates to Twitter (hence the “140 characters” designation). The three of us have enjoyed an informal alliance to promote the use of Twitter throughout RIT as a way to enhance overall engagement among members of the campus community.

“I liked that they understand that social media is a tool,” Greg said as he reflected on the variety of presenters. And at that moment I realized he crystallized my own feelings.

More than just a venue for sharing photos and random commentary, social media is at its best when used as a ‘tool’ to build community and advance a spirit of goodness in our society. #140cuse offered up a treasure trove of examples. The event’s unique format gave dozens of presenters a mere 10 minutes each to make their cases—an ideal scenario for the generally unforgiving Stellavision attention span.

Greg Pollock, at left, RIT Student Government president, my University News colleague Scott Bureau and I enjoyed our day at Syracuse University for #140cuse.

George Couros, a school administrator from Edmonton, Canada, brought tears to the eyes of many with his presentation “140 Characters of Kindness.” With one tweet stating, “Taking Kobe to the vet,” George opened the door to a worldwide chain of support messages—including from numerous strangers—as he ultimately mourned the passing of his beloved dog. Alicia Staley, a 3-time breast cancer survivor, highlighted efforts to build virtual cancer support communities. And Bernia Wheaton, and economic development professional, described how social media engagement is producing widespread prosperity throughout the communities she represents in southern Ontario, Canada.

And there’s Sam Morrison. I first met the SU student several weeks prior at a similar conference hosted by RIT. His viral video, “One Backflip a Day,” has made him a YouTube sensation, and he’s using this platform to encourage all of us to set a goal—and then go out and make it happen. His energy and sincerity are very appealing. During his talk, Sam described plans to travel the world this summer and—using an array of social media tools—document how others in different cultures are striving to achieve their goals. Can’t wait to see that come together!

All to often we witness examples of social media activity intended to dumb down—or even tear down—the level of discourse in the virtual world. But the stories I heard and the people I encountered at #140cuse have revived my sense of purpose when it comes to my online identity.

As Jeff Pulver, creator of the original 140 Character Conference, reminds us, “Humanity is on the rise” because of the Internet. I need to commit my modest efforts to ensure that it stays that way.

Empty chairs and broken hearts in Christchurch March 8, 2012

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Lives lost in Christchurch during last year’s devastating earthquake are honored with the ‘185 Empty Chairs’ exhibition.

I notice armchairs, folding chairs, office chairs, patio chairs, even a wheel chair. In total, 185 white chairs sit there—empty—as a stark reminder of the human toll inflicted upon Christchurch.

Access to the city center is restricted due to the amount of damage that remains

Signs outside the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church accompany the chairs and describe “a temporary art installation reflecting on the loss of lives, livelihood and living in our community following the earthquake on 22 February 2011.” Each chair represents the absence of one who has perished. Similar tributes have marked other tragedies such as the 9/11 attacks and the Oklahoma City bombing.

I recall that day last year—hearing about the devastation and turning to the Internet for some orientation on a city of nearly 350,000 residents in New Zealand I had not heard of prior. Suddenly, now, I am enveloped by the aftermath that still clearly scars the community both physically and emotionally.

Work crews have started demolition of the entrance to the former Crowne Plaza Hotel

Entering the city limits, there are no obvious remnants of the earthquake and it appears that most residents of Christchurch continue on with their lives. But approaching the city center, the landscape modifies dramatically. Barriers deny access to areas still overwhelmed by damage, which extend for multiple blocks in every direction.

Of particular note is the fate of the Christchurch Cathedral. A great deal has been reported here in New Zealand about plans to dismantle the remains of the historic landmark, citing significant costs and the overwhelming difficulty of the repairs. That decision is a source of angst for some residents. I had hoped to get a sense of the damage myself, but the cathedral is embedded too far within the barriers.

One life remembered

Instead, I am struck by the widespread destruction that remains more than a year after the quake. Many buildings face demolition, including the Crowne Plaza Hotel. While watching some of the work taking place at that location, I gentleman on his mountain bike pauses alongside me. As a Christchurch resident, he can’t help but lament over what he sees.

“It’s such a nice city,” he tells me. “We’ll just have to rebuild.”

But for many who remain in this city, no effort can rebuild the lives that were lost that day—the loved ones who remain only in memory.

The sight of 185 empty chairs highlights the significance of their loss, even to a visitor who more than a year ago didn’t even know their community existed. I suspect I will always carry a piece of Christchurch with me from this day forward.

And now, a few words on Queenstown March 6, 2012

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…because it makes more sense to let the pictures highlight my time in New Zealand’s adventure capital. Sweet as, mate!

Rafting on the Shotover River is exhilarating, even if I do look like Sgt. Schultz from Hogan's Heroes. Regardless, I'd do this 100 times over.

The gondola brings me up the mountain, the bike brings me down, and the brakes keep me from slamming into a tree.

A guy needs to properly reward himself after taking part in so much adventure.

Yeah, I'd rather not discuss this.

The sky’s the limit March 5, 2012

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The view from high above Queenstown, New Zealand

I find there are few adventures more exhilarating than those discovered at lofty heights. Reward comes with the opportunity to look down at the world and visually consume a perspective that stretches to the limits of what the horizon will provide. It’s one of the reasons I still enjoy air travel.

Auckland's Sky Tower

Arriving in Auckland, my gaze immediately falls upon Sky Tower. As the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s impossible for anyone to ignore. Presented with one of the gloomier days since my arrival in New Zealand, I take advantage of the chance to check out the view from above.

The experience last week is similar to the one I recall from previous visits to the CN Tower in Toronto. The impulse, of course, is to assume the highest vantage point available. And as I arrive at the observation deck, I begin the slow loop around, first identifying familiar landmarks and then beginning the search for additional treasures awaiting my notice down below. I think it’s safe to say I’ve managed to view Auckland from about every possible angle.

Taken from Sky Tower, Rangitoto Island in the distance

And now, as I enter my second week in New Zealand, I begin my discovery of this nation’s awe-inspiring South Island. My journey brings me to Queenstown—also known as New Zealand’s adventure capital. To my delight, a hillside gondola ride is within a short walk from my hotel. Any guess on where I headed first?

The gondola deposits me high above Queenstown, which is anchored along the sparkling blue waters of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by freshly snow-capped mountains in the distance. Just when I think this country can’t get any more beautiful, I’m treated to one of the most amazing spectacles I’ve ever seen. The panorama is absolutely breathtaking! Photos fail to do it justice.

Lost in my outward gaze, it’s nearly impossible to pull myself away. But eventually I come to the realization there’s no choice. I return to the gondola for the downward journey; anxious now to see what adventures will greet me below.

The contrast between the palm tree and the snow-capped mountains is striking

Here's a look at Queenstown from street level

Bowled over March 4, 2012

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The New Zealand Blackcaps host South Africa for cricket at Eden Park.

“The stadium experience is pretty similar no matter where you are in the world, isn’t it?”

Looking around me, I can definitely see Kevin’s point. Making our way around the concourse of Eden Park, a 60,000-seat stadium in Auckand, I’m feeling I could be at any outdoor, major-league venue in America—minus the espresso that each of use carried in our hands.

Eden Park recently served as the epicenter of the world’s rugby community for the Rugby World Cup 2011, won by the host team from New Zealand. It’s not hard to notice during my travels around the country that the All Blacks, as they’re known, are a source of national pride.

The Blackcaps take the field following intermission

But on this day, Kevin and I are at Eden Park to experience another Kiwi passion—cricket. For his more than 3 years in New Zealand, this is only Kevin’s second live cricket game. Of course it’s my first, and I insisted that attending a professional sporting event during my visit was high on the “to do” list.

My fondness for cricket extends entirely from the joy of watching RIT’s international students play in and around campus, but my knowledge of the rules and scoring procedures is woeful. Kevin does his best to educate me on the key aspects, given his limited perspective.

As we settle into our seats, I increasingly sense a baseball vibe—right down to the drunken clown leading (successfully, to my surprise) the wave. But even with limited instruction, it’s easy for me to notice similarities with the mechanics of both games.

Kevin and I on a chilly evening for cricket

I’m immediately fascinated with watching the bowler—the athlete that baseball fans would most easily identify as the pitcher. Techniques between bowlers vary greatly, and I marvel at their ability to get the pitch anywhere in the vicinity of the batters. Hitting the ball anywhere on the field away from the bowler and his teammates without it being caught allows the batters to score runs, so it’s my assumption the bowler’s primary objective is to keep his opponents from hitting the ball effectively. I’m feeling good that I’m now getting the hang of this.

But alas, with one pitch, my understanding of cricket is turned on its ear. The batter fails to make contact, and the three sticks erected behind him go flying. The crowd roars its approval, and the bowler accepts the congratulations of his teammates.

“What happened?” I ask Kevin.

“The bowler knocked over the wickets, so the batter’s out.”

So I think about this for a minute, and I realize the wickets are always in the bowler’s crosshairs, and it’s the batters’ job to protect them from being hit. I recite this sudden revelation back to Kevin.

“I get it now,” I express with a broad smile. “This changes everything!”

“Yeah, maybe I should have started there,” Kevin laughingly concedes while reflecting back on his tutorial.

On this occasion, South Africa went on to beat the New Zealanders, but I did not leave Eden Park felling defeated. In fact, I believe my international sporting literacy may have chalked up a major victory.