It 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).