Move over, “Michael S. Roth ’78”—the Huffington Post has a new Wesleyan representative in town, and it’s Max Nussenbaum ’12. Sometimes known for his “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” cameo (phenomenal audition video included) and his desperate attempts to get Sylvie Stein ’12 to go to prom with him, Nussenbaum has spent the last eight months or so in Detroit, working for Are You a Human as part of Venture for America’s inaugural class. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to tell your Wesleyan friends and Wesleyan friends’ parents that you’re moving to Detroit after graduation, Nussenbaum’s compelling recent Huff Post piece, “Move Where You Can Matter,” is worth a look—as it is for anyone who’s ever felt the urge to resist the gravitational pull of the Wesleyan-Brooklyn Alumni Industrial Complex:
I talk to a guy who’s spending his next year volunteering in a Nigerian slum, and he asks me why I’d ever move somewhere as downtrodden as Detroit. Everyone makes the same dismayed face, asks the same incredulous question: “Why would you go… there?”
And “there” wasn’t just Detroit. At Wesleyan, my alma matter — like at most elite schools — “there” was anywhere that wasn’t a select handful of high-profile cities: the Bostons and New Yorks, the D.C.’s and L.A.’s. We were a cohort raised with tunnel vision, a graduating class who couldn’t find Ohio on a map and who thought “Oklahoma City” was an oxymoron. Don’t get me wrong, I was more than guilty of this myself: I heard Venture for America talk about underserved parts of the country and my first thought was Queens — you know, since everyone was moving to Brooklyn.
At any rate, Nussenbaum concludes, moving to Detroit was the right decision—in part because of the ways a fresh-faced liberal arts graduate can matter at a start-up without “slaving your way up the PowerPoint hierarchy,” but also because the city simply “craves people”:
When you get to Detroit, the city screams at you to do something. It doesn’t matter what — just do something. This message is embedded in the feel of the city: in the wide, radial streets, where hipster bicyclists cross paths with 70’s Pontiacs, and in the rotting buildings, post-apocalyptic in their disintegration, that cry out to be rebuilt into something amazing. And it’s made even more pressing by the practical opportunities: the abandoned properties that can be bought for a month’s rent and the cops who won’t stop you, or even necessarily notice, if you want to make some street art of questionable legality. It’s an amazing feeling to walk down the street, spot a new business opening up, and realize that — partly thanks to the connections I’ve made through Venture for America and partly thanks to the entrepreneurial community’s interconnectedness — I’m only a few phone calls away from the person starting that business.
Reading Nussembaum’s piece as a second-semester senior without settled post-Wesleyan plans, I was struck by the strange reality of choosing where to move after graduation, maybe because I’d never thought about it in the same overwhelmingly obvious terms before. Most of us move wherever we can find gainful employment, however we define the term—right? Some of us go where the best grad program is. For others, it’s the industry. If you want to go into film, you’re probably moving to L.A. If you’re into finance, it’s probably New York. And if you’re unemployed, it’s inevitably your parents’ house. So it goes.
But what if you want to be an entrepreneur? Where do you move? And why?
“I moved to Detroit because the city is full of empty spaces, just waiting for me — for us — to fill them up,” Nussenbaum concludes. While abstract, that’s the best definition of entrepreneurship I’ve read all day, and maybe all year.