William (Bill) Powers

Mine is an American success story, but only if you read to the end. Entering BTHS in 1960, I traveled the Staten Island ferry with a small contingent of fellow travelers throughout most of my high school career. Graduation night 1964 was the last time I saw any of them, although I have made some clandestine attempts to discover what has become of them after all these years.
From Tech I traveled north to SUNY Binghamton, called Harpur College at the time, nestled in the beautiful rolling hills of upstate New York. I was a Chem major at Tech. While Tech prepared me well for college, I was ill prepared in every other way. Socially awkward, I became depressed, unable to concentrate on my studies, and ultimately given a psychological withdrawal after two years. This was at the height of the Vietnam War. My younger brother, who had been attending Harpur, also dropped out. He was drafted and sent to Vietnam, where he was killed in the Mekong Delta on his very first day of battle. I was adrift and aimless. The draft board called my number. At that time, I was seeing a therapist. When I went to Brooklyn for my medical, I was given a psychiatric 4F, which I always found odd since so many of my friends were trying their best to avoid the draft, when I, who had lost the ability to care, received one without even trying.
My brother had named me as beneficiary for his Army life insurance. I used some of the money to purchase grave sites for him and my parents, and traveled north back to Harpur, where I hung out with some friends and eventually purchased a dairy farm near Binghamton. Given my total lack of experience, it is not surprising that my career in farming didn’t last long. I then followed some friends out west, to Berkeley, California.
In Berkeley, I attended auto mechanics’ school through Merritt College. After two years, I was ready to graduate, but emotionally still broken and depressed. It was my auto mechanics teacher, a Mr. Pacheco, who saw my dire situation. He was not much older than I, but clearly wiser. I don’t know what would have happened to me were it not for him, and for that I here thank him. At the time, it might not have seemed like much, but in hindsight he had an important impact on what followed. He found me a job. Who knows whether I would have had the energy to do so otherwise.
For much of my time since dropping out of Harpur, I had been marginally employed, often homeless, crashing in pads here and there, even living for a spell illegally in an attic. Now, at 24, I began making a steady income. I quickly moved up to working in a repair shop, tuning foreign cars, rebuilding engines. I enjoyed learning something new every day. But after two years, I had enough. I wanted something more challenging. So, I decided to go back to college. I didn’t know what would happen there. I had to try again, just for the sake of trying. In 1973, nine years after graduating from Tech, I started college all over again, across the Bay, at San Francisco State. I started out pre-med, but quickly discovered it was math and physics that attracted my more analytical interests.
I’m deeply grateful for the opportunities provided me by both Merritt College and San Francisco State. Merritt College was, at the time, free. San Francisco State, as I remember, was $99/semester. Anything else would have been very likely out of my reach and resulted in a radically different trajectory for my life.
I was more than surprised by the success I had at San Francisco State. I was able to concentrate on my studies and did very well. I graduated in 1977 and was accepted into the PhD program at UC, San Diego. I confess that my time in graduate school was one of the happiest of my life. For the first time in my entire life, now in my 30’s, I had money to spare. I didn’t have to worry where I was going to rest my head AND I was doing something interesting. Maybe I was having too much fun because it took me 8 years to graduate, resulting in a 500-page PhD (that I’m probably the only one to have read).
After graduation, I had a brief employment at NOSC (Naval Ocean Systems Center) on Point Loma, before I headed off to Los Alamos National Laboratory for a postdoc in remote sensing. This lasted three years. About this time something I never expected was about to happen: I was going to get married to a gal from South Dakota.
When I moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico, at 38, I purchased my first home. Now that I was about to start a family, it was no longer just me that had to be considered. When my postdoc ended, work in remote sensing was difficult to find, but there were job offerings at the National Lab in computational high energy physics. While I wasn’t a perfect fit, I did have a clearance. And so began my twenty-year career at the Lab, moving ultimately up to team leader for a widely used physics code.
These years at the Lab were among my happiest. I loved my job and the mile-and-a-half high community. It was here that my three children were born and raised, among the canyons and national forests of Los Alamos. In 2007, I was approaching my 60th year. My oldest child was about to enter high school. We wanted to move after retirement to South Dakota where I could return to my earlier interest: farming. Rather than wait another eight years for all my children to graduate from high school, I retired at 60 to South Dakota, where I farm about 70 acres, and do what I have always done: write, even if it’s for my eyes only.