Photo by K. Macdonald

For over 400,000 alumni and the 42,000 students about to start the new school year, Ann Arbor is one of the most real, genuine and authentic places they will ever know.  It exists to deliberately transform lives.  That’s a tall order.

This week Ann Arbor goes through a metamorphosis.  Almost overnight the parking spots disappear, the lines double at the coffee shops, and the median age of the city drops by almost half.  They come from every state in the Union and from more than a 100 countries.  You can almost feel their anticipation of what is about to happen.

Pine & Gilmore in their book, The Experience Economy, describe this as Transformation.  It is the ultimate level of economic progression.  It is fundamentally a set of experiences staged to guide the individual to a different state of being.  Ophthalmologists do this with Lasik surgery and executive coaches do it for individual leaders.  The person is essential saying, “Change me.”  In the case of Ann Arbor, parents willingly turn over their wallets and their children to the University and to this community with the hope that their sons and daughters will leave changed.

How do we do it?  With experiences.  Some of the experiences will be guided such as the introduction to Chinese History or Marketing.  Some of the experiences will much less formal such as eating their first Fragel (Fragel = Fried Bagel covered with cinnamon and sugar), a Blimpie Burger or a Zing Bar.  Some of the experiences will be adventurous like painting the rock, visiting the Arb, or canoeing down the Huron River.  And some of the experiences will be heart thumping like being one of 109,901 all in the same place on a Saturday afternoon.

Experiences have the power to transform us.  Someone much wiser than me once said we are the sum total of the experiences we have had, the people we have met, and the books we have read.  There are lots of all three in Ann Arbor.

What places have transformed you?