Road To Somewhere
Three Tufts graduates took off across the nation to interview inspiring figures in an experience captured by the PBS series "Roadtrip Nation."
Hitting the open road in a trip across the United States is a dream for many college students. Last summer, three 2007 Tufts graduates—Sebastian Chaskel, Linda Schultz and Michael Stone—realized this dream when they set off in search of an America beyond their "comfort zones," talking to people along the way who have forged their own paths in life.
Their experience was captured by "Roadtrip Nation," a PBS series that seeks to answer the quintessential post-college dilemma: "What do I want to do with my life?"
To answer this question, they tapped personal contacts and placed hundreds of cold-calls to set up nearly two dozen interviews across the United States, including U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), children's author R.L. Stine and country singer Teresa, the first artist to release a single in space.
"We wanted to get big names. But we also wanted people who were local heroes," says Schultz, who was recruited along with Chaskel by their friend Stone.
"We really wanted to find individuals who we felt had gone off the beaten path, had really pursued things they were passionate about, and then the success followed," says Stone, who heard about the show through Tufts' Career Services advisor Donna Milmore.
While the concept of "Roadtrip Nation" appealed to his interest in film and travel, the spirit of the endeavor also tapped into the reality of being a college student balancing dreams against debt and other practical concerns.
"I instantly knew this was something I wanted to pursue," says Stone. "It's really a movement, it's about exploring your path after college and [challenging] your definition of success."
Stone, Schultz and Chaskel with author R.L. Stine.
When Stone approached Schultz and Chaskel to complete the required team of three, they immediately agreed. "Of course, there was no way we were going to say no," says Schultz. Chaskel agrees, adding that the combination of film, talking to people and traveling "resonated with me."
Together, they applied for a "Roadtrip Nation" "indie" road trip, which allows participants to travel in their own vehicles instead of the show's trademark green RV yet still subsidizes gasoline, food and lodging.
After they were selected, the trio—dubbed "The Bon Voyagers"—planned their route around places they wanted to visit and people they hoped to interview. Ultimately, their two-week trip brought them through the eastern and southern United States, hitting cities ranging from Philadelphia, Pa., to Louisville, Ky.
Although the "indie" trips are traditionally filmed by the participants, the Tufts graduates' trip was filmed by the "Roadtrip Nation" crew, thanks to a grant from PBS' online partner MSN. The filming process, says Stone, was "extremely collaborative," as the Tufts grads helped produce segments and were exposed to many facets of production. Ultimately, more than a dozen short films from their trip were posted on MSN, and some of the footage may be featured on the PBS show this fall.
Chaskel, Schultz and Stone pose with the Rev. Billy Kyles.
With each encounter, the Bon Voyagers discovered a common theme: those who achieved success and happiness had all pursued their passions. This was particularly evident in a memorable interview with a civil rights activist, the Rev. Billy Kyles, who was at Martin Luther King Jr.'s side when he was assassinated.
In his interview, which Chaskel describes as "fascinating and inspiring," Kyles echoed the words of King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech by stressing the importance of being following one's dreams "There is only one you," said Kyles, who encouraged young people to use their unique abilities to affect change around the world.
Schultz said that this message, along with those of other interviewees, resonated with what she had learned at Tufts.
"A lot of people talked about doing something that's beyond yourself, that's important to you but is also answering something," she says. "This seemed reasonable to me, and especially being at Tufts. Tufts is a university that really tries to push for a global perspective, and I feel like it's not our job to only specifically answer our own desires."
Another common theme was developing one's own concept of success.
"I got to see how many people have chosen to live their lives, and how there is no formula to it, and yet they all seemed satisfied," says Chaskel. "It was this overall experience of stepping into people's lives for a while as we traveled that made this so unique and memorable."
Stone added that the interviews inspired them "to take a step back and reflect on, if you could do anything, what would it be?" They also learned, he said, not to "let others limit your potential path [and to] have an open mindset."
The Tufts graduates appear to be heeding this and charting their own paths, with all three currently working in fields they are passionate about. Stone is building a study abroad website with a childhood friend, Schultz is teaching English in Japan, and Chaskel is working on immigration policy at a New York City think tank.
During the course of their cross-country journey, the Bon Voyagers say one message came through loud and clear.
"Just go for it," says Stone. "It's so much more fulfilling."
Profile written by Molly Frizzell, Class of 2009
Photos courtesy of Michael Stone (A'07)
This story originally ran on Nov. 5, 2007.