16 months ago, current TIE student Graham North was backpacking through the Eastern Hemisphere. Worlds away from their hometown in Atlantic Canada, he and his then-girlfriend spent a year, and nearly their entire life savings, photographing massive protests in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, feeding Oreos to crafty monkeys in Cambodia, and breathing fresh local air on a cultural adventure that Graham considers the best year of his 28 year-old life. In December of 2011, he submitted his application to HGSE from an Internet café in rural Tanzania.
Over the next few months, Mr. North continued work as an advertising copywriter in Newfoundland, where he concocted catchy Porta Potty slogans and awaited his potentially life-altering decision from Harvard. This week I had the chance to sit down with Graham in Gutman Café to further discuss his background, influences, future, and the peculiarities of being Canadian.
How did your year of backpacking influence your decision to apply to HGSE?
Graham: A trip like that is an opportunity for consistent reflection. It puts your priorities in perspective enough to realize that using all of your creative energy to sell lottery tickets isn’t necessarily the best way to go.
What about your time in advertising?
Graham: Advertising is the most creative industry I’ve ever worked in; it’s a really interesting, dynamic environment. And the creative energy is really high, which is what drew me to it. But I realized that there had to be a better use for creativity than doing what I was doing.
It was Ken Robinson’s Do Schools Kill Creativity? Ted Talk that really inspired me to think: what a powerful vehicle creativity could be and really should be in the field of education. You need to inspire before you can change, and he does that. He inspires people to re-think creativity in education. So that was my goal coming in. How can I use my creative energy in terms of doing that?
Would you ever go back to doing advertising-related work?
Graham: My theory on jobs is that if you’re constantly looking for opportunities to learn, you evolve as a person. Career paths, especially nowadays, are such ransom notes. The likelihood of me wanting to revert to what I was doing a year before, or two years before, is unlikely because I wouldn’t necessarily feel like I was evolving.
What’s your broad vision for the next 10 years?
Graham: I think it sounds ridiculous, but I would love to be a younger, more practical Ken Robinson, and go around and speak to people about the power of creativity and the way that it can inspire disruptive change. I think a lot people get caught up in routine, or political correctness, and I’d just be really interested to go around and stir the pot a bit, and inspire people to think about how big of an impact they could have if they leveraged their creative energy. If I could do one thing, it would be convince people to take more chances and be more original.
Graham: I love it. It reminds me of home. It’s close to home, so I like that. And also I’m Canadian, so I can maybe deal with the cold a little better than the Californians. It’s a great time to be someone who’s interested in entrepreneurship and innovation in Boston right now. When people talk about where you should be in the U.S. in terms of doing something small and energetic and innovative, it’s New York, Boston, or San Francisco. Boston wasn’t on that map before, but it’s totally getting into that space. Plus there’s the Celtics.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found about Americans since you moved here?
Graham: [Laughs] For the life of me, I can’t understand why no one knows how to use the metric system here. All of these incredibly, highly educated people, and nobody can make the conversion to what is unanimously the global standard for measurement.
Touché, Mr. North. Touché.