It was 40 years ago today

20120611095236915_0001It was approximately 40 years ago today that a Ridgefield Park High School guidance counselor by the name of George Holtz took a cursory glance at my academic file, tossed it across his desk at me and declared, “You're not college material. I'd suggest the military.”

A few days after that, I was thrilled to receive an acceptance letter from Northeastern University. I shared the news with a friend who, in turn, informed our RPHS French teacher, Norman LaCerte. The latter responded by sniffing, “Yes, well, obviously Northeastern has lowered its standards."

I pass along this information for two reasons:

– RPHS Class of '72 president John 'Johnny B' Barbetta has just announced the timing of our upcoming 40th reunion (and, naturally, I'll be interested in seeing how others have turned out). 

– It tees up a message I'd like to pass along to the 3.2 million American teenagers who will be graduating from high school this year. That message is two-fold:

– Don't let naysayers such as Holtz and LaCerte stop you from believing in yourself.

– Study the words of David McCullough, Jr., a Wellesley, Mass., high school teacher (and son of my all-time favorite author). You'll find the full text of McCullough, Jr.'s recent speech to the WHS class of 2012 in the attached link.

McCullough's words are a wake-up call to a generation that has been showered with praise from day one. Today's 18 year olds have been fawned on by doting parents, praised by teachers for merely showing up to class, and handed a trophy by coaches for finishing, first, second or even last in a sporting event. In other words, they've been rewarded for mediocrity, yet are about to enter a hyper-competitive world.

McCullough urged the Wellesley kids to wake up before it's too late. He challenged them “…to dream big and work hard, and to do each with a sense of urgency.” He warned students that success won't arrive at their doorstep '”…just because Mommy ordered it from the caterer.”

I agree with McCullough. Success is incumbent upon the individual. But, I'm also a big believer in the late bloomer phenomenon. God knows what would have become of me had I listened to Messrs. Holtz or LaCerte. Suffice it to say you wouldn't be reading a Repman blog right now.

A quick post script on LaCerte's comment: Northeastern University recently named me one of the 100 most successful alumni of their first 100 years.

Whatever success I may have enjoyed up until now is due in no small measure to my wanting to prove the likes of Holtz and LaCerte wrong. I suggest you respond to such nattering nabobs of negativity in the same way (while simultaneously heeding Mr. McCullough’s words).

14 thoughts on “It was 40 years ago today

  1. Amen to that, Joe. I think McCullough shares my concern that we’ve raised a generation that believes they’re entitled to the same success and income as their parents. But, they don’t want to roll up their sleeves and earn it. As Edison said, ‘Success is 99 percent perspiration and one percent inspiration.’ On the other hand, kicking back and chilling has its own merits. Everything in moderation, Bro.

  2. Actually I think its okay to dream small, work moderately, mind your own business, find love and keep it, and have fun, where you can. But this is just my tie-dyed 60s brain reasserting itself. Peace.

  3. Thanks Julie. I think it’s safe to say the HS guidance counselor in question has been pushing up daisies for a good quarter century or so.

  4. How encouraging that your guidance counselor suggested shipping you off to Vietnam.
    RepMan: Congrats on Northeastern University naming you one of their 100 most successful alumni.
    Where is that guidance counselor now? Success is the best revenge.

  5. Thanks Mike. That means a lot coming from someone I count as a key mentor. You’re the one who pushed me to get more involved with Counselors, and that decision has paid off quite handsomely. As for your HS counselor, he was right about one thing: you do play a mean guitar.

  6. They were both middle-aged then, Goose. Plus, even if they are alive, I doubt either would have the faintest memory of moi.

  7. True that, Chris. I do think the military was that particular guidance counselor’s recommendation for anyone he didn’t think measured up academically. Plus, there is something about a man in a uniform. You’ve always looked especially dashing in khaki.

  8. Thanks so much, Shira. While it was intended for high school graduates, the post is certainly applicable to college students as well. The sooner your peers lose their collective sense of entitlement (and ignoring the negative comments of those who tell them they can’t accomplish something), the sooner they’ll be on the road to success.

  9. A**holes. The guy who suggested the military also would have known that in 1972, joining the military meant that there was a small chance that you would be occupying a jungle and maybe not coming back. “Better dead than well-read?”

  10. I feel like negative criticism makes one work that much harder to prove the nay-sayer wrong. You should try to see if the guidance counselor or french teacher is still alive and tell them you did, in fact, become successful.

  11. My HS counselor told me either to apply to a trade school or not to lose my guitar because he didn’t think college was an option. Just underscores what you said….believe in yourself and you can accomplish anything. Nice job, well said and well written.

  12. This post resonated with me as a senior graduating from NYU in the coming year. I think the most memorable professors and mentors throughout high school and college for me were those who challenged my work and encouraged me to think outside of my comfort zone. The ambition and strive to achieve is still up to me though, and it’s important to remember that goal regardless of what people say whether positive or negative. Great post!