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The First Night of My Epic College Graduation Trip

May flowers herald high school and college graduation season, a time of my life I remember fondly.


Four graduation caps are held high by students in front of a building
Graduation

Commencements mark a major inflection point in life, and often people find themselves in a liminal space as they await the genesis of their scholarly or career pursuits.


As I quoted in my previous article on liminal spaces,


"Liminal spaces are transitional or transformative spaces. They are the waiting areas between one point in time and space and the next.
Often, when we are in liminal spaces, we have the feeling of just being on the verge of something. Liminal space is, of course, a literal space. And there are plenty of examples of physical liminal spaces, as we will see below in this article. But there are also spaces of liminality in our mental states. This, too, is a type of liminal space."

I was definitely in a liminal space in May 2000 as I prepared for a European college graduation trip that would traverse 14 countries in 52 days.


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I had just graduated from The University of Texas at Austin and was excited to start my career on Wall Street. As a generous gift before I began the rest of my life as a corporate working stiff, my parents had booked me two months of summer European travel.

Austin Rosenthal in front of the UT Tower at college graduation of The University of Texas at Austin
My College Graduation Picture

My monumental European graduation trip would consist of three parts and take me from London to Athens to Scandinavia and back.


First off, I had a month with The Flying Longhorns, a group of other recent university graduates, on a bus tour from London to Athens.


The second portion I would spend in the French Riviera and Amsterdam, and the final leg was with my family on a luxury cruise through Scandinavia and Russia.


I had only been to Europe once before, as a small child, and now I was a newly-minted college graduate about to become an investment banker.


My excitement for the trip was overflowing like the Colorado River after the winter snow melts.


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The overnight plane ride took forever, but when when I arrived in London early the next morning, there was a placard with my name on it as I exited immigration.


Apparently, I was one of the last of our group to arrive, and as I boarded the Flying Longhorns tour bus, I met the 20 fellow UT-Austin graduates with whom I would be inseparable for the next month.


As we sat through excruciating morning rush hour traffic on the motorway from Heathrow to Central London, our tour guide (who couldn't have been more than ten years older than us) gave us a two-hour orientation of which I remember not a thing, because I was scribbling notes in my travel journal (which I still have today).


First on our agenda was the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.


Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace from May 2000
Changing of The Guard

We then had fish and chips at a traditional English pub, where we then launched into a massive pub crawl in Central London.


a barman pulls a pint from a fancy tap in a pub
London Pub

Aided by a few pints and a stopover at a Chinese restaurant in London's Chinatown, one of our group had sourced the iconic Time Out magazine, which was the nightlife Bible back in those days.


Inside, we found out that Pearl Jam was to play at Wembley that very evening (May 30, 2000), and I convinced everyone to buy tickets.

As the motley crew headed back to our hotel to check in and get ready, I was amazed with life.


I had been in London for less than 12 hours, and here I was with 20 newfound friends about to embark on an incredible adventure.


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A few hours later, I was jostling in the mosh pit at Wembley Arena in London, England as Pearl Jam performed live on stage less than 50 feet away from me.


Finding myself surrounded by a sweaty, pulsating throng of European concertgoers in an iconic venue watching my favorite band of all time, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.


As my musical heroes played their megahits “Dissident,” “Black,” “Rearview Mirror,” and “Alive,” I was transported into an out-of-body experience, and I was not the only one. Even the band thought the show was incredible - according to Wikipedia:


“The album was recorded on May 30, 2000, in London, England, at the world-famous live entertainment venue Wembley Arena. It was selected by the band as one of 18 "Ape/Man" shows from the tour, which, according to bassist Jeff Ament, were shows the band found "really exciting."[1]

Here are some images of the Flying Longhorns group from the first night of my post-graduate Europe trip (yes, we are drinking booze out of hotel room coffee cups):


A group of UT students on their college graduation trip to Europe
The Flying Longhorns

As you can tell from the photo, things got wilder as the night progressed, and very few of us slept that night.


As I boarded the early morning bus with the rest of the posse to head to Paris via Dover and the English Channel, I would never have imagined that I would be working in Europe only a few short years later.


Here is a bonus story about my first European business trip:


My first European business trip    

After working at J.P. Morgan for three and a half years, I joined a startup boutique investment bank, thinking that I was going to get rich and retire by the age of 30.  I was part of a team that was commercializing the ideas of a Nobel Prize-winning economist, and we were hosting a very important conference for potential clients in The Netherlands.  

The company paid for five of us, including myself, to fly business class from New York to Amsterdam, and we were staying at the Hotel De L’Europe in central Amsterdam, which is one of the fanciest hotels in the city.  We arrived in the morning from our overnight flight and conducted a few business meetings over the course of the day.

That night after dinner, we left the two senior investment bankers we worked with at the hotel, and the two other younger guys and I hit the red light district for some drinks and some marijuana.  I do not recall much of the end of the night, but I remember looking at my watch around 2am and thinking, Oh God, we have a breakfast meeting at 7am!  UGH.  

Thankfully, I had been wise enough to set a wakeup call for the morning.  I awoke in a still drunken state as one of the hotel employees was shaking me out of my slumber.  Apparently, I had slept through multiple wakeup calls, and the hotel was worried that I was incapacitated (I get the sense that in Amsterdam this happens frequently), so they had sent an employee to enter my room and physically check to make sure I was ok.  You only get that kind of service in five star hotels.

After the initial shock and as I got my bearings, I checked my watch.  It was 6.45am.  I threw on my business suit, probably still smelling of the beer we imbibed the previous evening and went downstairs to breakfast.  Sitting alone in the breakfast room was the President of our company.  He inquired where the heck was everyone else - the company had probably spent at least $25,000 for us to be at this breakfast, and I was the only one who showed up thus far.  He was furious.  

As the junior person on the trip, it fell to me to rouse everyone from their deep, alcohol-induced jet lag.  Miraculously, I was able to bang on their hotel doors long enough to actually get a reaction, and by the time the client had his coffee, the rest of the gang joined us for breakfast.  

All's well that ends well, I guess, but I do not recommend getting minimal sleep on a business trip before an important meeting, especially when the Head of your company is traveling with you.     

I am glad that this trip avoided disaster, as our firm ended up winning an important Dutch client on this trip, and I eventually moved to London to launch a European-based business because of this mandate.     

Stay tuned for more stories from both my epic grad trip and my career, and congratulations to all the new graduates out there this season!

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