Life’s Most Defining Chapters

By David Mauer

Most people today won’t have the faintest idea what I’m talking about when I mention Operation Stony Brook, but that’s what the Suffolk County Police Department named the notorious drug bust of 40 students by 198 police officers early on the morning of January 17, 1968.  Thankfully, I was an innocent bystander but that event was one of many that would change the trajectory of my life during my time at SBU from 1965 to 1969.

There was a heavy amount of drugs on campuses everywhere, but culture wars, The Beatles phenomenon, opposition to the Vietnam War, and protests of all kinds  left such an indelible impression on my life that it inspired me to write a book about it.

Although I majored in economics and went on to head several national corporations, I started writing the book 40 years ago, probably in an attempt to sort out all the feelings and experiences I’d had in college.  But marriage, kids, career and life got in the way and I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.  Looking back on it, I’m kind of glad I didn’t because when I was finally able to return to the story it highlighted the many parallels it shares with the political and social challenges we face today.  And although it’s scary it’s also kind of comforting to know that we’ll get through this.

I titled it “Every Thing Is Possible” because that’s been a central theme in my life.

My time at SBU changed my life in ways I never thought possible, and I thought with any luck, anyone who reads my book would be inspired to change theirs.

A life-altering awakening

I went to a huge public high school with dedicated teachers who taught the basics and there weren’t many opportunities for enrichment courses or self -reflection.

When I got to SBU, there were classes on psychology, anthropology, philosophy and it really stretched my mind and opened my world. In particular, there was a philosophy class I enrolled in where we studied existentialism. One of the basic principles we discussed was that you can take control of your life, and the decision to act or not act on something is yours and yours alone.  The concept of taking responsibility for your actions struck a chord with me and it changed my entire thought process and how I wanted to go about living my life.

I wasn’t alone. This was a time when women’s rights, the civil rights movement, opposition to the Vietnam War, etc., were prevalent and forced many young people to make decisions about what they wanted their futures to look like.

I’ll always be grateful to SBU for opening my eyes and helping me navigate an unfamiliar time and world as I was a boy becoming a man in the 1960s.

Staying authentic and relatable

It was such a special and unique time and place in my life, and I thought it would make a fantastic and very relatable story. The friends and family members who’ve read it, all ask how many of the situations really happened.   I made sure the book was historical fiction, but as they say in the movies, “… was  inspired by real events.”

The characters all react to real-world events such as the bombing of Cambodia, the shootings at Kent State, or the first-ever draft lottery which is exactly what my peers and I had to navigate all those years ago.  I identify with the main character, but he really reflects the ways that each of us grew and evolved during that time. He’s innately intelligent but needs the college experience to grow up intellectually and emotionally.   It was such a transformative time in my life, but fast forward 40 years, as a recently retired business executive with no writing experience outside of writing very good memos, I just didn’t know how the hell I was going to finish this thing and attempt to get it published.

Teamwork makes the dream work

During a random conversation with a neighbor who had also been writing a memoir, he recommended I get in touch with Walter Bode, a seasoned book editor who has shepherded many other writers’ dreams into reality.  I got in touch with him around the time of the pandemic, which was so miserable for the entire world, but with so few distractions it was a good time to start and finish a book. I started out thinking that Walter would be my editor.  Being close in age, he related to my story so well that we decided to co-author the book.   We divided up the writing based on my outline and what started out as a business relationship turned into a true friendship as we worked together. It took us two years to finish, and it’s by far one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but Walter’s thoughtful nature and editorial professionalism totally got us to the finish line.

Deciding who you want to be

They say college is the best four years of your life. Some may agree, others may not, but for me, that undoubtedly proved to be true because, like my peers, we decided what we wanted to do and who we wanted to be. Although students often question the value of their academic courses, the real lessons are in learning to think critically.  We face huge challenges today, not unlike those that disrupted and inspired my class at Stony Brook.  Like me, I hope that today’s SBU graduates will  step out into the world knowing they hold the power to take control of their lives and have a positive impact in a world where everything is possible.

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