University of Illinois Tufts University College of the Holy Cross Phillips Academy
Classical Association of New England American Classical League Greater Boston Cooperative Library Association Debating Association of New England Independent Schools
About Travels in Greece 2002

"I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said, 'I drank what?'"--Val Kilmer, Real Genius

The Search for Troy (or at least a good book)

Early Years

I was born and raised in Methuen, Mass, by a father who was Canadian and a mother who was Lebanese. Both my parents were and are top-notch people who put my sister (3 and a half years my junior) and me first. They were actively involved in both our lives and pushed us to excel. My maternal grandfather continues to be a source of inspiration to me, although he died when I was only nine and had Alzheimer's for most of his last few years of life. "Uncle" Ralph Richards would tell me about how proud my Giddo (Arabic for "Grandfather") was when I was born: "I asked him, 'What will they name him?' He said, 'Michael, of course, after me,' and his buttons were popping off of his chest!" Giddo, I have been told all my life, was a hard worker who despite his massive frame was a gentle man who did what he could for others. He worked hard and did not use his intellect or physical strength to appear better than someone else. I have tried to live up to his example and am glad to have his name as my own.

The day we moved from a two family house on a busy street to a palatial house in a cul de sac, January 4th, 1982, was also the day my Giddo died. Even at the end, my parents were with him at the hospital, and he is in our hearts and prayers still today. When cleaning out the attic a few years ago, when my parents moved to a smaller home, I found a cup I had given my Giddo when only a few years old, with "Hi Grampa" and my picture on the front. Inside the cup I found a second picture, this one with my Giddo and me together on the couch. The cup and pictures have been on my desk since then, and I scanned in the picture of us together and keep it in a folder on my computer.

I attended St. Monica's School for my elementary education, and my teachers were surprised when I was accepted at Phillips Andover. When I started at Phillips, I had to pick a foreign language. Not having had any prior language experience, I figured I might as well take on a challenge. Enjoying mythology in eighth grade and anxious to read the New Testament in its original text, I took Greek in my freshman year... and failed miserably. Not one to give up, I kept at it, despite my parents' pleas to give up. The grammar was tough, but I enjoyed translating Herodotus and Sophocles, and even Thucydides, with Dr Pottle and Mr Kip and Mr Krumpe. By the end of junior year, I was in a class of only three students and would be in a class of only two people (myself and Mr Krumpe) for senior year. It was at that point, intrigued by the energy and love of classics, that I decided to take Latin 10-20 (two years of Latin compressed into one) with Dr Pascucci. He truly was a gifted teacher, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to learn at the feet of such a wonderful man. 

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Holy Cross/Tufts

Visiting colleges was our "family vacation" the summer before my senior year, and I am certain my sister is still angry with me for that reason. When we toured the College of the Holy Cross, I knew that I truly enjoyed the language and history and literature of the Greeks and Romans, and to be away from that during college was a terrible notion. I had prior to that point decided to attend Wheaton, but then decided to see what other options existed. When I realized how great the classics department at Holy Cross is, I knew I had met the place for me. And, I figured, if I did not like it, I could always transfer.

Choosing Holy Cross was the best decision I ever made. Not only did I enjoy being there, but the college has opened many doors for me in my life, in terms of later employment and also life lessons. The faculty at Holy Cross were as brilliant and as dedicated as the faculty at Phillips, and people like Blaise Nagy, Tom Martin and Fr Vodoklys proved valuable mentors. When I needed to talk to someone, I could lean on any of them for support. They encouraged and assisted me in going to graduate school and also in obtaining a teaching job, first at Westford and later at St Sebastian. My teachers at Phillips and at Holy Cross inspired me to persevere amidst adversity and to be a dedicated teacher as well. The opportunity to work on the Perseus Project with Prof Martin was an amazing experience, and I was able through this experience to gain computer skills and see how they could be applied to classical studies. He was patient with me and let me figure things out even when it would have been easier for him to do it himself. Prof Nagy was my advisor and also a second dad to me. He spoke on my behalf to Westford Academy when a position opened up there, and he also recommended me to St Sebastian School later. As for Fr Vodolklys... we could spend days translating Chrysostom and Augustine together, and he was willing to do tutorials with me (even though he did most of the work). When I visit the Cross, Fr usually greets me with a "Look what the cat dragged in," but I can see the warmth in his eyes. He wrote a remarkable letter to Westford explaining to them why I would be a great teacher, although I at that time had no experience in teaching. These teachers gave me a chance and paved the way for my later accomplishments.

One of the tutorials I took spring of junior year was with Prof Martin, a new course using Perseus to evaluate a word or theme in Thucydides. While tough, the course was exciting and the students knew we were on the threshold of a new approach to classical research. At the end of the course, each of us had to pick an author we liked and use Perseus to write a research paper, analyzing the Greek text in detail. I chose to write on the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, and under Prof Martin's advisement entered the final paper for submission in a regional publication, which would display the use of Perseus in conducting research. The paper was accepted by the committee and subsequently published. For the first time, I felt like a classical scholar, and I was thrilled to see my paper bound and distributed to high schools in New England. I never knew until earlier this year that the paper was published on the Internet as well, until I was playing on and did a search for my name. I found my paper on the ablemedia site, and I also found that a few colleges were using my paper as required reading in their courses! I was greatly surprised in the fall when a student in my Ancient History course found the paper and made copies for the other students in his class! The paper can be found at ablemedia, and is also available here in pdf format.

In February of 2002, I completed the M.A. in Classics at Tufts University, defending qualifying papers on Herodotus and Tacitus. Next step was the M.S. in Library and Information Sciences, which I started in 2003 at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Malden Mills

While in college from 1991-95, I worked summers at Malden Mills in Lawrence, Mass., where my dad works as a truck driver. As a child, I considered it distasteful to go to work at the same place as my dad, having grown up with his stories about the politics of the company. After making very little as a waiter at Friendly's during high school, I accepted my fate the summer before freshman year at the Cross and went to work in the warehouse. I still remember interviewing for the job and Jim Lucas thinking I was too scrawny to do the work required. I went out with him to the shipping floor and picked up an 80-lb bag of material, lifting it over my head and placing it on a metal cart for loading onto a truck. I admit to having great difficulty accomplishing this task, particularly due to the roll of material being nearly five feet long. But, my tenacity proved fruitful, and I spent the next few years during summer and winter breaks in the warehouse and shipping areas. One aspect of the process I proved most suitable was tracking missing materials. Once a roll of material enters the warehouse from manufacturing, it has to be placed in a location and entered into the system. With a few thousand rolls of material and nearly a million square feet of warehousing space, in up to four different warehousing facilities with multiple floors, it was typical that you would lose a dozen or so pieces of material a day. I would take the missing pieces list each week, track date and time the material was manufactured and bagged for conveying to the warehouse, and determine where warehouse workers had stored material around the same time.

Upon graduation from college, I was talking with one of my managers in the warehouse about my plans to go to grad school part-time, and he offered that I come back to the Mill as a supervisor. I started that summer as a full-time employee of Malden Mills and was glad to be part of the warehouse/shipping administration. I still had set my sights on teaching, but I figured I would wait until I completed the M.A. first. I wound up enjoying my work, especially the people I worked with, and I most enjoyed the money I was making. Then the huge fire hit on December 11, 1995...

When I came back home from college, I also took on responsibilities in my parish as advisor to the youth group and Sunday School teacher. I was given a spot on the Parish Council and would often go from work to the church for meetings. The Council was finishing up our meeting on that Monday night in December when my mother called the church, telling me not to go back to the Mill because there was a tragic fire there. She knew there were times when I would have more work to do at the warehouse or had access to computers there to work on papers for grad school. She also worried that I would hear about the fire on the radio and want to help. So, I drove home and watched the news on tv in shock. I watched as a wall of the manufacturing building fell amidst flames, a building where earlier that day I had met with processing managers about faulty labels on bagged goods.

My father was already asleep when I went to his room to tell him what was happening. He woke up as I told him the Mill was gone and we were both unemployed. I was not worried about myself, as I knew I could find a job somewhere else. But, my father had worked there for nearly 20 years and had no high school diploma. My sister had just started college and I wondered how my family would survive. My dad just said, "Aaron will take care of it. The Mill will be up and running tomorrow. Now, let me sleep so I can be ready for work in the morning."

The next morning, I called my boss and asked what was going on. There was still much confusion over what was going to happen, whether Aaron Feuerstein, the president of the Mill, could or would continue. By early morning, I was told to come in to work, that Aaron was going to give a press conference shortly and we needed to set up space for him in one of the warehouses. We had no light and no heat, so there was lots to be done. I helped set up generators and anxiously waited with others to find out what was to happen. A little after 9 AM, Aaron stood in front of his employees and announced that operations would resume and he would pay all employees, whether they had jobs or not. The warehouses were untouched, while the manufacturing buildings had been destroyed. Over the next few days, we worked to ship material to customers while assuring them that we were still alive and kicking. From the upper floor of one of the main warehouses, we were able to take some amazing shots of the devastation caused by the fire. Once I get those pics scanned in, I will link them to this site.

Of all the things I have done in my life, the most memorable for me were those next six months of recovery. We outsourced most manufacturing and gradually prepared to move the warehousing and shipping operations across town, allowing manufacturing to resume in our old buildings. By April of '96, I was in the old WoodMill facility, with six floors and over a million square feet of space. We had to overhaul the entire facility to allow for shipping docks and open areas for storing material. Most of the first floor was for storing material to be shipped out over the next few days, while the upper floors were for warehousing material over longer periods of time. From the beginning of the move to the WoodMill, I was part of the management crew overseeing the operation from the new facility. We had to set up not only loading docks and racks for storing materials, but also fully-functioning office spaces for supervision and management. On the first floor, we had double-stacked offices (the first floor had a height of nearly 20 feet) with the upper level for supervision of incoming goods and the lower offices for outgoing goods. I had offices in the upper level at first, as we moved new goods to our new home and kept shipping goods to customers from the old buildings. When the Assistant Warehouse Manager was called for service to Bosnia for a year, I took over his duties. I began to focus more on health and safety, including forklift operation, and I developed lessons for teaching safe work practices to warehouse workers.

The next few years and stories of working at the Mill could take up several websites. I am sure someone will write a book about the recovery years someday. The Mill is still trying to pull itself out of its massive debt from loans that had to be taken out to restart the company after the fire. In August of 1997, one of my professors at Holy Cross called me to inform me of an opening in a Latin job at Westford Academy. I applied for the position and for the next year taught three sections of Latin while assisting in the library and computer lab in the afternoon. At night I would work at the Mill, setting up shipping for the next day's shifts and conducting training sessions for the night shifts. My course work at Tufts had already been completed, so I had only the comprehensive exams and qualifying papers to do. Once the end of the school year hit, I was totally run down and sought a voluntary layoff from the Mill. I had already started to separate myself from the operations and enjoyed teaching. So, by the summer, I was no longer at the Mill, my one-year teaching contract at Westford was done, and I started looking at a real teaching job.

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Saint Sebastian School

I had been offered a position at Westford in the library and technology aspects of the school, but I really wanted to be in a classroom. I also disliked the fact that the school was doubling its number of students from 900 to 1700, meaning an increase in building size as well. I was told that I would be teaching again in a couple years, but when a call came from St Sebastian's about teaching there instead, I said farewell to Westford and moved on to Sebs.

In September of 1998, I began teaching at Saint Sebastian School, where I am in my fifteenth year. In addition to teaching Ancient History and Scriptural Studies classes, I oversee the Library and Technology aspects of the school, creating a network to connect three buildings and multiple classrooms to the web and each other. During my years at Saint Sebastian’s, I have established e-mail for faculty and staff, organized a library catalog with online patron access, assisted faculty to devise methods of utilizing technology in the classroom, and provided general support to faculty and students. I also managed to finish the M.A. in Classics at Tufts University over the next few summers.

Our objective was always to provide a suitable atmosphere for learning, but our collection was meager and we were isolated, with no access to interlibrary loan or other resources available to schools with a certified librarian. When asked for my thoughts on the matter, I informed the school of my desire to pursue a Master’s in Library and Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an endeavor they heartily supported, and which I completed in 2005.

As of February 2013, I remain at St. Sebastian's, handling library, instructional technology, intranet, and academic database administrivia, as well as teaching one or two courses a year; sometimes Scripture, Ancient History, Latin, or Computer Science.  I have also taken on responsibilities with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges on Visiting Committees; participated in colloquia on Thucydides and Plutarch; and served on the executive committee of the Classical Association of New England, currently as president-elect, taking on the role of president in the 2013-14 year.  My full CV can be found here.

I was fortunate to meet my wife in 2006, and we are blessed with three wonderfully active children! 

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Copyright © 2002  Michael Deschenes. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/8/13 .

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