Do check out this very inspirational post on Quora.
I was about as under achieving as you could get.
Barely graduated from high school. Suspended, arrested, etc.
Luckily I went to an awesome community college and they turned me around.
The full story is here:
Given one of the suggestions, here’s the speech:
Failure is our only option
Have you ever been in one of those moments where you realized that gee, what’s the harm if I take the quick shortcut, who’s going to notice? (of course none of you did anything like that while here at Maryland) Well, I decided to take the opportunity to give myself an edge. As a Silicon Valley tech guy, I decided to use technology and the world to help me prepare for this commencement address. So, I asked people on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Quora to figure out what wise words you should be imparted with and also what they remember from their graduation speakers. You know what most people remember? Nothing! Zilch! Nada!
So knowing this, I realized, I can say anything I want! Although, I’m sure someone will post this on YouTube. But seriously, as I got feedback from around the world and wracked my brain about what to say, one theme began to emerge.
On your day of such great accomplishment, I’d like to talk about something we rarely celebrate: failure. And why we are counting on you to fail. Now bear with me, and you’ll see where I’m going.
We’re all products of failure. You don’t remember it, but your parents definitely do. From the first time you rolled over, to your first steps. These successes were a culmination of failures. Need further proof? Make sure to ask them over dinner to recount your potty training.
The funny thing is you can read all about me in the bio or my LinkedIn profile and you’ll see that I received my Ph.D in Applied Math from here 11 years ago. I’ve worked for the Department of Defense and been to Kazakhstan. But you won’t see all the failures that made up the journey. What you can’t see from my Facebook or LinkedIn page are what’s behind the most important moments of success all the failures.
While growing up in California, to simply say I was bad at Math would have been an understatement. My freshman year of high school, I was kicked out of my algebra class and had to spend the summer retaking it. This (unfortunately) would become my regular paradigm for the next few years. By the time high school graduation came around, two things happened to me.
First, I almost didn’t graduate. For the record, I did actually graduate, but it was only because a very kind administrator took pity on me and changed my failing grade in chemistry to a passing one.
Second, I got a girlfriend. Since I didn’t get into any of the colleges I liked, I opted to go to the local Junior College with her. Do you remember that moment when you first got here and tried to figure out what classes you’re supposed to take? Well, I had a winning strategy. I enrolled in all the same classes my she was taking.
One problem, the first class was Calculus. Wow, did I get my ass kicked that first day. It was then I realized that I wasn’t just stupid; I was really stupid.
As I looked around at everyone else nodding along with the instructor (including my girlfriend), it dawned on me, I hadn’t failed because of the teachers or the material. No, I failed because I didn’t try. I didn’t even put my self in a position to fail.
I was fundamentally afraid of being uncomfortable and having to address the failure that comes with it.
To me it was like when you get to the top of the high dive, walk out the edge, looking down that the clear blue water (you can even see the dark lines at the bottom of the pool) everyone telling you to jump, and then running back down the steps. I couldn’t commit.
So what did I do about my Calculus class? I committed. Instead of dropping out (my usual method), I went straight to the local library and checked out all the high school math books I could find. I then spent the next week going through them. And it was awesome. Suddenly I was failing at a problem, figuring out what I did wrong, and then course correcting. This feeling of being able to iterate was very new to me.
Now, five weeks later that same girlfriend asked me one afternoon why I was spending so much time on my math homework. It was then that I uttered the fateful words that I will never forget:
“I don’t know – It’s not like I’m going to become a math major or something”
Much to my great surprise, I ended up becoming a Math major. (Actually, I think my parents are still surprised). Then the same thing happened when I got here to the University of Maryland for my graduate work. I got my ass kicked by everyone, again. I failed my first graduate class and even got the 2 lowest score on my first Ph.D. qualifying exam. (The lowest score was actually by a guy who didn’t even show up.) I really, reallywanted to quit, but that wouldn’t be the uncomfortable path.
So I stayed in the game by failing, getting back up, and continuing to push forward. It was probably one of the toughest and loneliest years of my life. The next time the qualifiers came around, however, I had the highest scores.
The big take away I have from this is that tenacity and failure go hand in hand. Without both, you can’t move forward.