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Grad goes from hippie town to Stanford business degree
STANFORD -- In the 1980s television sitcom Family Ties, Michael J. Fox played Alex Keaton, a teenager who rebelled against his ex-hippie parents and became a whiz kid in business.
"I doubt if I'll ever be as successful as Alex Keaton," laughed 26-year-old Tim Jackson, who will graduate from Stanford University June 13 with a master's degree in business administration. "But, yes, my life has been somewhat like that."
When Jackson was 7 years old, he moved with his mother and two brothers to Byron Bay, a former whaling town on the easternmost tip of Australia that was rapidly becoming a mecca for Australian surfers and hippies seeking alternative lifestyles.
"People grew their own food and drugs; there were tie- dye shirts, windchimes, lots and lots of crystals. They're still big on crystals, reading tarot cards, stuff like that," Jackson said.
"To give you an idea, at a wedding I attended there recently, the best man was a 'channel' for the Archangel Michael."
Although Jackson's own home was never a commune, his mother, a nurse, befriended many travelers and invited them to stay in extra beds at the family beach house. Unemployment in the area still runs about 45 percent - but nobody seems to care.
"The unemployment benefits in Australia are quite good, so the attitude among people in the town is, 'I don't really need to work. I can just do what I want.' The lifestyle is so comforting that it's easy to get sucked in. It's totally acceptable to just sit on the beach and do nothing each day."
The three Jackson brothers reacted to the situation in different ways. The eldest ended up joining the army, while the youngest stuck around to enjoy life on the beach.
Tim, the middle son, immersed himself in his studies at the local high school. Always a good student, he was accepted at the University of New South Wales - no small feat from a high school where only about 13 percent of the students were college-bound.
Jackson eventually earned a degree with honors in chemical engineering, then changed his career path and decided to pursue management consulting with the Sydney firm of Booz-Allen & Hamilton Australia. The firm is now sponsoring his business education in the United States.
Jackson has led an active life at Stanford, participating in the Business School's Rugby Club, its Manufacturing, Entrepreneur and Adventure clubs, and he was elected to the Business School Student Association Social Committee. He also helped out with Project SOAR (Students Offering Alternative Realities), a program for disadvantaged East Palo Alto youngsters.
In some ways, life in Byron Bay was good training for Jackson's two years at Stanford. For one thing, it helped him appreciate the diversity of the Stanford students he encountered.
"I grew up trusting everything and everybody, without questioning lifestyles," he said. "One of the things I came away with was the ability to accept people as they are."
At the same time, he said, "I find that in America everybody seems very argumentative. Americans like to drag out an argument, but from my point of view, it's just another opinion. That has made me uncomfortable in some of my classes here."
Jackson plans to return to Sydney and work with Booz- Allen & Hamilton after graduation. But he'll always have a soft spot for Byron Bay.
In some ways it's changed, he said. Australian stars, like Paul Hogan and Olivia Newton-John, now maintain beautiful houses there, and most of the remaining hippies have moved up into the hills.
On the other hand, "People still do the weirdest things and no one blinks an eyelid. I was there at Christmastime, sitting on the beach, when a woman landed in front of me. She'd been sky- diving - naked."
It's as if he never left.
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