"Timing Alone Is Not Everything" by Provost Bill Bussey
We all hold dear those moments when someone who mattered shared something that mattered. Those moments for each and every one of us made all the difference. Yet, memory is a tricky thing. More likely, those steppingstones of epiphanies were connected by a silo of similar moments that simply didn’t take hold. Maybe the first time around, we didn’t want to hear it. Maybe we just needed to grow up. Or hit bottom. More often than not, we just needed the time to believe in ourselves. Yet, to be able to act upon a shared truth takes a great deal more than just good timing and desire.
When Nobles (’97) and Harvard (’01) graduate Mike Roiff left college, he became a management consultant for a prominent Boston firm. A dream job for many, but not one that built upon Michael’s true interests. At Nobles, he played the director Zach in A Chorus Line and co-starred in a production of Same Time, Next Year with Sara Bouchard (N’97) that competed in the finals of the state high school drama competition. He also served as the Nobles SLC president during his senior year. At Harvard, outside of the classroom, Mike spent three years as a member of the Hasty Pudding Club, helping craft productions, not to mention roasting actress Drew Barrymore in his final year.
When Mike returned to Nobles for his sister Tracey’s graduation, he recalls two faculty members, Chris Pasterczyk and Bill Kehlenbeck, being somewhat thrown about his career path as a management consultant. Mike boiled down their concern to something that echoed his own feelings at the time: “I thought you’d do something interesting.” Neither felt that Mike could possibly be passionate about being a management consultant. And truth be told, Mike didn’t share his news with unbridled glee.
When I asked Bill Kehlenbeck about his nearly twenty-year old conversation with Mike, he replied, “That conversation rings a bell. That’s very much the thing that I would have said to him. I thought that he was incredibly creative with diverse interests and talents, particularly in the performing arts. It seemed that he was making money for no other reason than to just make money. That wasn’t the Mike Roiff that I knew.”
And that was not the Mike Roiff that Mike Roiff knew. Looking back, Mike lays it out: “In a weird way, I felt like I let people down. It was the right job for someone but not me. I realized that I should do things that I believed in. Something that I loved.”
Months later he left his job, worked with a comedy improv group and moved to Los Angeles. Soon thereafter he re-ignited his love for producing all things theatrical only to quickly realize that Los Angeles was not a theater hub like New York City. What followed was grueling, but eventually in the years that followed Michael got his hands on a terrific script, found funding, and produced his first movie in 2007, the critically acclaimed and financially successful Waitress. Since then, Mike has produced more than ten films. Yet, the exciting news is that Waitress the film has evolved into Waitress the musical, which will open on Broadway this April.
Mike credits much of his success to his Noble and Greenough experience:
“At Nobles, students are encouraged to try anything that they may wish to do. And sometimes that means being lousy. I’d do things onstage that would fall flat. And then I’d get back up there and do something better the next time….
Nobles is a warm, safe place but it is not false. You aren’t awarded a trophy for just showing up. That’s one of the best things about Nobles: you can lose. And that is a valuable thing to learn.”
The sooner we allow our kids the value of falling short, of the importance of getting back up and giving things another shot, to accept that hard work often does not yield immediate dividends, the better chance that we will raise confident children who are more likely to follow their hearts. More likely than not that won’t take hold until years after they leave Nobles. That’s just the way it often goes. If we love and support them unconditionally at even the most frustrating moments, but especially when they fail, they will be in a much better position to accept the guidance from someone who has earned their respect and trust, someone who does not fear to hold a mirror up to their face at the perfect moment and say, “This is who you are. Now be it.” And that may indeed make all the difference.