30 at 30 List #18: Life Experiences

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

Life begins at 30 is a fun slogan to put on a T-shirt, but the truth is that my life before 30 was full of meaningful and memorable moments that inarguably changed the course of my life to make me the person I am today. While a few of my milestone life moments have indeed taken place since I turned 30 last September (and others will happen in the future) the countdown of my top life experiences spans the full range of my three-plus decades of life so far.

30. Working at Giant Eagle
103801472_331880150_0I used to make the joke that I graduated from Giant Eagle University. From May 2002–October 2006, I was a grocery bagger and shopping cart wrangler at the Yorktown Giant Eagle in Erie. Starting as a junior in high school and continuing into my senior year of college, the big bird was a big part of my life. At the time, especially on rainy or snowy 6-hour carts shifts, I complained a lot about my job. But in hindsight I wouldn’t change a thing. Working at Giant Eagle helped me save enough money to buy my first car, a 1993 Honda Civic. Additionally, having a job forced my reclusive teenage self to socialize with customers and coworkers. I met a lot of interesting people in my time working there, including some friends and girlfriends—one of whom I now proudly call my wife!

29. Winning the 2014-15 Polish Falcons Nest 610 Thursday Night Bowling League
IMG_2440Perhaps this is a case of recency bias, but I’m proud to proclaim myself a bowling league champion. Our league may not be PBA-worthy and our team may benefit from the balance of handicap-aided scoring, but a win is a win. Anyone who knows me that I love a good competition. Being asked to join the Polish Falcons league with some of my Prep teaching colleagues three years ago was an honor. In my first year in the league, we finished tied for last place. The following year we finished in second place. Then, last year, we began the season with a 4-0 week and never looked back, finishing as wire-to-wire champions. According to my teammates, who have been bowling in the league much longer than me, this was the first time that our team, the $piderz, won the league. Although my individual average has improved each season, I have a lot of room to grow as a bowler. That in no way lessens the satisfaction that I feel knowing that I am a champion.

28. Carnival Cruising with my family
In February of 2010, the Hubert family set sail on the Carnival Sensation. It was the last family vacation before I got engaged—actually, I think it’s the last time the whole family went vacation together, period—and it was (mostly) fun for (mostly) everyone. From a successful night of blackjack in the ship’s onboard casino to being kissed by a dolphin to riding jet skis off the coast of the Bahamas, the trip was time well spent. Besides, even if the temperatures weren’t always typical of a tropical paradise, the white sandy beaches certainly beat white snow-covered land we returned to in Erie.

27. Roadtripping with my brothers to Myrtle Beach
In August of 2009, my brothers Mike and Jeff and I drove to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to visit my friend Ryan. In addition to brotherly bonding and quality time with an old friend, our time in Myrtle Beach included seeing Counting Crows perform in concert along with Michael Franti and Spearhead, Augustana, and Cherine Anderson. The Saturday Night Rebel Rockers Traveling Circus and Medicine Show did not disappoint!

26. Visiting Los Angeles with Jessie
On the break with Magic
Our primary reason for visiting California was our friends’ wedding, but conveniently Pete and Jasmine’s wedding weekend aligned nearly perfectly with our one-year wedding anniversary, turning our time in L.A. into a sort of anniversary vacation celebration. While we were only there for a few days, we made friends with some awesome people who we instantly connected with and felt right at home despite being a couple thousand miles from Erie. Unfortunately it wasn’t basketball season, so I couldn’t catch a Lakers game, but I did manage to get a few photos outside Staples Center.

25. Taking Creative Writing Poetry with Dr. Roessner
Pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school, high school, college, graduate school—I’ve taken a lot of classes in my lifetime. I’ve enjoyed many good classes and learned from many great teachers throughout my life. One class stands out from the rest: Dr. Roessner’s Creative Writing Poetry class, fall trimester, junior year. Ironically for a class about creative writing, it’s hard to find words to describe exactly what made that particular course so special. It was the poetry, sure. But it was also the professor. Most of all, it was the people. The students in that class became a community. For a few months together we wrote, critiqued, analyzed, and discussed each other’s poetry. We had personas. We had pen names. We had an understanding that what we shared in that class—in our writing and in ourselves—somehow meant something more than a letter grade or a GPA calculation. I have never before nor since experienced the dynamics of that classroom community, neither as a student nor as a teacher. It was truly awesome.

24. Watching March Madness with the Mercyhurst Crew
I was a commuter student in college, so I “missed out” on the traditional campus living experience. No dorm room. No cheap apartment. No beat up house for rent. My brother Mike, however, did choose to live on campus. He was renting a house on East 38th Street, and his place was notoriously (how can I put this nicely?) … “unclean.” The place was arguably a biohazard. But the people that congregated there were legendary, especially at tournament time. Watching March Madness basketball with a dozen or more of your closest friends hour after hour, day after day might be what heaven is like (minus the biohazard). 

Hubert_OLC jersey23. Earning OLC Basketball’s MVP Award
Basketball and Hyperbole Hall of Fame member Bill Walton once said that he peaked at age 12. That’s hard to believe considering that Walton went on to win 3 Naismith Awards in college as well as an NBA regular season and Finals MVP in the pros. I don’t think I peaked as an athlete at age 14, but the 1998-99 Our Lady’s Christian School MVP plaque I received that year was the last such award bestowed upon me. OK, so I have no business being in the same paragraph as Bill Walton. I still take pride in what I accomplished as an 8th grader and remember my basketball career fondly, as unheralded as it may have been.

22. Making it to the CYO basketball state tournament
Speaking of my basketball career, it took an unexpected turn in the fall of 2001. The previous season as a sophomore on the Cathedral Prep junior varsity team I had started a number of games before and after a bad ankle sprain forced me to miss a sizable chunk of games in the middle of the season. I spent the summer training hard and attending every open gym and voluntary team activity in hopes of making the varsity team as a junior. Instead, the coaches cut me from the team. I was devastated but not defeated. I joined my parish CYO team and helped St. Jude win the city championship. Unfortunately, we fell short of a state championship; however, the success and fun we had that season helped to ease the disappointment of being cut from the varsity team at Prep.

21. Enjoying the Stag and Drag with the Dream Team
If you’re not from Erie, a stag and drag is a party/fundraiser held prior to a wedding. Find yourself an Erie friend and attend one—it is a lot of fun! If you are from Erie, read this discussion thread from wedding site theknot.com or this one to see how perplexing this idea sounds to people from other parts of the country who are unfamiliar with this tradition. Yikes! Anyway, our stag and drag was not a financial coup nor was it intended to be. It was nevertheless an unequivocal success because it gave our families an event to work on together and provided our wedding party (aka the Dream Team) with a chance to hang out and get to know one another before the wedding.

20. Surviving an apartment fire
On Sunday, December 6, 2009, I woke in the middle of the night to the sound of fire alarms. When I opened the door of my apartment, the entire hallway was filled with smoke.I hurriedly grabbed my wallet and cell phone. I was disoriented and frantic. I later noticed that I put on mismatching shoes. Thankfully, I and everyone else that lived in that apartment building made it out safely. However, the building needed to be torn down and much of what I had was lost. Fortunately, the most irreplaceable things that I wanted to recover were recovered: a box of letters that I had from Jessie and my dad’s ceramic Christmas ornaments. It was a scary, harrowing, and humbling experience that helped me to appreciate what really matters in life.

19. Buying a house
After getting married, Jessie and I moved in to a townhouse together in Millcreek. It was the perfect first home together, but we knew that we eventually wanted to start a family and would prefer more living space. The house hunting process began casually, discussing our wants and needs and scoping out houses online. After getting a realtor we toured many homes throughout Erie and Millcreek. At one point, we even thought we found the one only to learn that someone else had beat us to the punch. We later realized that we wouldn’t have been able to afford that house anyway. The process took longer than we expected, but we eventually found a house that we loved and could afford. On August 30, 2013, we officially became homeowners.

18. Experiencing Cursillo
I have been blessed in that my ongoing faith journey has had more peaks than valleys. One of the most meaningful peaks for me was experiencing a Cursillo weekend at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Harborcreek. At age 23, I was one of the youngest people making a Cursillo that weekend, and I sometimes question whether I would have had an even better experience if I had been around more people from my peer group. Ultimately though, I believe my unique gifts and talents were brought to that group on that weekend for a reason, and that the gifts and talents of others were shown to me on that weekend for a reason. It was a faith-filled few days that remains a part of my spirit today.

17. Learning in Kentucky
Of all the important spiritual experiences in my life, the time spent in Kentucky in the summers of 2006 and 2007 were the most meaningful. I never doubted God’s presence during my time spent in Appalachia. When I signed up for what was ostensibly a mission trip, I had some preconceived ideas of what the week would be like. By the time I returned home, I had a different perspective. Kentucky was as much about recognizing and appreciating the gifts of others as it was about giving of my own time and effort. During the day our group helped with small home projects like repairing a footbridge, painting a roof, or bailing hay. However, I later realized it was the time we spent building relationships with the people of Kentucky that mattered most of all. More important than the type of work someone does is the type of person he or she is. The hospitality and warmth of the people we met throughout the week stuck with me and served as a reminder of the kind of people we are all called to be.

16. Celebrating my high school graduation
When I graduated from Cathedral Prep in 2003, it felt like a formality. My parents threw me a great graduation party that stretched into the wee hours of the morning, yet I took it all for granted. Don’t get me wrong; I had fun. I celebrated the day, and I appreciated all of the gifts people gave me. However, my 18-year-old self did not fully comprehend all of the variables that were in my favor to help me succeed nor the people—namely my parents—who had worked so hard to help me get ahead in life. I know enough now to realize that not all children are born into such a privileged position where graduating high school feels like a given. It is my hope that as a parent that I will repay the debt I owe to my parents by helping my children (God-willing) to succeed. Additionally, as a high school teacher myself, it is my hope that I will help all of my students—the haves and the have nots—to succeed, too.

15. Watching Michigan Defeat Notre Dame at the Big House
SDC10340I easily could have gotten carried away and littered this list with sports moments. Those who know me know that big wins for my favorite teams play out like big moments in my life. For the sake of keeping the list open, I kept all of the “seen on TV” moments off the list and included only my favorite in-person sports moment. It was September 13, 2009, and Jessie and I were attending our second game ever at Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines were hosting rival Notre Dame, and it was a beautiful day to watch football in Ann Arbor. It was a great game. The teams combined for 28 fourth quarter points. Michigan trailed 34-31 in the final minutes. That’s when Tate Forcier led a game-winning drive and connected with Greg Matthews with 11 seconds left to give Michigan the 38-34 win. That was probably the high watermark of that season and Tate Forcier’s Michigan career. Still, celebrating that final touchdown in the midst of the Michigan student section was an unforgettable moment!

14. Attending my first Counting Crows concert
I have attended seven Counting Crows concerts, and it is very difficult to rank them. Seeing them front row this past December was awesome. However, I don’t know if it’s possible to ever top my first concert experience. I was a senior in high school and my favorite band, Counting Crows, was coming to Erie to perform at the Warner Theater. My friend Ryan and I had great seats, and Counting Crows put on a mesmerizing performance. I already loved the lyrics of lead singer Adam Duritz, but seeing him pour out his soul into every word on stage made me feel an even stronger connection. Plus, I was blown away by the musicianship of the band. I went home after that concert and covered my bedroom wall in Counting Crows lyrics. That concert was the night that cemented my status as a Counting Crows fan for life. 

13. Graduating college
I graduated summa cum laude from Mercyhurst College (now Mercyhurst University) in 2007 with a BA in English and dual concentrations in writing and creative writing. When I started at Mercyhurst I felt very isolated. Since I worked at Giant Eagle and lived at home, I spent very little time on campus outside of the classroom. Eventually, after declaring as an English major, I made some friends and found a comfort zone with some excellent professors. By the time I graduated, I was sad to say goodbye to Mercyhurst and the people I had met there. 

12. Being hired for my first full-time job
I spent my first year out of college working as a temp in the corporate communications department for Erie Insurance. The people I worked with were great and I was being paid to write—no complaints there—but the temp position didn’t include benefits. So, in the summer of 2008 I accepted a job as a copywriter for Tungsten Creative Group, a local advertising agency. Our office was this cool 19th-century house. Inside they had brightly painted walls and sitting beside my desk was the giant “Baked Fish” my dad had made as part of the Go Fish public art project in the early 2000s. I even got my first personalized business cards, which were square rather than the traditional rectangle shape. Plus, Tungsten rekindled my long lost love for the Mac computer and got be back onboard team Apple. In the end, it proved to be a job rather than a career for me, but I learned a lot from the good people at Tungsten and value my time spent there as an important part of my life story.

11. Earning a master’s degree
Because I was always A student in high school and graduated summa cum laude from college, I never thought unemployment was something that could happen to me. Yet in May of 2009 that’s where I found myself. I knew that being laid off was a business decision—nothing personal—but I still spent a few days feeling sorry for myself. Then, I regrouped and did some soul-searching. I decided to listen to a little voice in the back of my head (it sounded a lot like the voice of my mother) that had told me years ago I would make a good teacher. I eventually enrolled in Mercyhurst’s graduate program in secondary education. After one term I earned a graduate assistantship working in the Center for Student Engagement and Leadership Development. My schedule was crazy, but thanks to the support of my tremendous advisor Dr. Blystone and everyone I worked with in my role as a GA, especially Darcey, Sarah, Monnie, Dave, and Mike, I graduated from Mercyhurst with a master’s degree and my teaching certification in 2011.

10. Delivering the eulogy for three grandparents
I was blessed to grow up knowing all four of my grandparents.Each one of them taught me a lot about life and love. Then, in the period between October 2006 and August 2009, three of them passed away. On each of those three occasions, I was asked to write and deliver the eulogy at their respective funeral. As a twentysomething, it was a daunting task, but I was deeply moved knowing that my family entrusted me with such a serious responsibility. I spent hours crafting each eulogy in an effort to honor their lives, and I hope that my words had them smiling in heaven.

9. Coaching at Fairview High School
IMG_0100After earning my master’s degree in 2011, I failed to find a full-time teaching position for the 2011-12 school year. Instead, I put my time in as a substitute teacher at various schools throughout Erie County. Being a substitute teacher was not ideal; however, it was a blessing in disguise. As a sub, my schedule was flexible enough to allow me to accept my cousin Keith’s offer to coach the 9th grade boys basketball team at Fairview High School. I had previously spent one year as an assistant coach at Villa for the 2006-07 season, but being a head coach for the first time was one of the greatest experiences of my life. My team had only 7 players, which made practices a challenge and intra-squad scrimmaging impossible. Thankfully, I was blessed with a tremendous group of young men. Their energy and enthusiasm inspired me, and, in turn, I tried to do everything I could to inspire them as their coach. Our season had its ups and downs, but that group of guys will always have a special place in my heart as my first team.

8. Teaching at Cathedral Prep
In March of 2012 I received a call that changed my professional life. Finally, my substitute teaching days were done.  Nearly a decade after I graduated as a Rambler, I was going to be returning to Cathedral Prep to teach English. Since then I’ve gone on to become the English Department Chair and advisor of the students’ online newspaper, The Rambler. Each year I have improved as an educator, and I look forward to continuing my professional development in the years to come—practicing the lifelong learning ethic that I hope to instill in my students.

7. Honeymooning in Hawaii
After getting married, Jessie and I flew to Hawaii for our honeymoon. We spent three days on the Big Island and a week on Maui. I have never seen a more beautiful place than Maui. The weather was absolutely perfect every day. Warm but not stiflingly hot with a calm ocean breeze. In place of the thunderstorms I’ve grown up with in Erie, Maui treated us to a seemingly daily misting of a rain that was more refreshing than anything. From snorkeling in the ocean to a mountaintop sunrise, Jessie and I shared some wonderful moments together in Hawaii. I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to afford a return trip, so I’m glad we splurged on the honeymoon getaway.

6. Giving an unofficial campus tour/having an unofficial first date on 4.15.05
If you have read my previous lists, you have already learned about 4.15.05 the music and 4.15.05 the poem, so I’ll keep this explanation short and simple. On April 15, 2005, Jessie asked me to give her a tour of Mercyhurst’s campus because she was thinking she was not going to be able to attend Allegheny and wanted to look into an alternative option. We were just friends at the time, although there were indications that we were both interested in something more than that. The night was filled with lots of music and great conversation, and it ended with an unexpected first kiss, which is what turned the unofficial campus tour into an unofficial first date. The rest, as they say, is history.

5. Becoming an older brother three times
In 1987, 1989, and 1990 I became a brother to Mike, Jeff, and Molly, respectively. I may make the occasional off-hand complaint about being the test dummy child, but in general, I love being the oldest sibling. I have always taken my place in the birth order seriously and tried to be a role model for my younger siblings. I am far from perfect, but it is important for me that they know I am someone who is always there for them if they need me.

4. Getting engaged
On July 3, 2010, I proposed to Jessie at sunrise on the beach at Presque Isle (and she said yes!). I wrote at length about my rationale for why I chose to propose at sunrise on our engagement blog. I really recommend reading the whole post, but the bullet points version is as follows: aesthetics, symbolism, memorability, simplicity, and timing. As I wrote in that blog post, “anyone can decide on a whim on a nice summer day to head down to the beach after dinner and catch a sunset, but if you’re going to see the sunrise, it takes real commitment—like the commitment we’ll be making to each other in marriage.” For the rest of my life, whenever I see the beauty of a sunrise, I am reminded of the beauty in us.

3. Being born
Of all the milestone life moments on this list, this is the only one for which I can take absolutely zero credit. Even my siblings being born had to have at least a little bit to do with how awesome I was as a baby. But being born? Thanks, Mom and Dad. I literally owe my life to you. 

2. Finding out I am going to be a dad
This past February, Jessie showed me the positive pregnancy test. Just like that, I was able to cross off the number one item on my list of things I want to do in my 30s. Since then I’ve made a list of parental promises to Baby Hubert and consulted with Jessie about some potential baby names. Because I have been blessed with such great parents in my life, becoming a parent has always been a dream of mine. In approximately three and a half months, I will be responsible for another human life. Whoa. I have so much to learn. I have so much to teach. I have so much love to give.

1. Being married
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I intentionally labeled this item “being” married rather than simply “getting” married because while it’s easy for me to point to my wedding day—exactly four years ago—as the day we became married, the truth is that being married every day to Jessie is the best. That doesn’t mean our life or our marriage is perfect. It doesn’t mean that we live happily ever after in some fairytale land free of disagreements and arguments. In reality, there are moments when marriage is hard. Really hard. However, it is in those challenging moments when the commitment we made to each other in marriage is more valuable than ever. Jessie and I are very different people. We have many different interests and different personalities, but we share the same value system. We communicate well. And most importantly, we Love (with a capital-L) each other no matter what.

As we celebrate our four-year anniversary, I don’t have any special secret to share about why our love is stronger today than it was on the day we became married. Communicate. Love. Those are both verbs. As long as we actively do those two things, we can do and get through anything together.

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