Recently, I was asked to speak at the Junior High graduation at Thomas Edison Charter Academy (TECA). As I thought of what I would like to share with the students and their families, I couldn’t help but think about my own time during that age and period of life. Eighth grade was a marked year for me, as it was probably one of the toughest years I can remember. My family was going through an incredibly difficult time as my mother decided to leave my father and take my sister and myself to better, safer places. We had only been in the United States for two years, so we very much felt like recent migrants. And money was very, very scarce. Despite things getting a bit tougher from there for a while, today I am very aware that I’ve been able to build a beautiful, incredible life. The life of my dreams, actually. So what could I tell these eighth graders (80% of them Latino) and their families that could help them create the lives of their dreams, despite whatever circumstance they may have? My main message: Choose to be a game changer. Here’s my speech:
The first time my mother moved to the United States her cousins and sisters took her to a leather factory in New York. She told me how they trained for a day on how to make shoes, belts, and other leather goods. She also told me how the whole time, she kept on thinking “No way” and at the end of her day, she gave whatever polite version of “Hell no!” existed in the 1970’s. Don’t get me wrong, my mother was not ungrateful. She knew this job posed a great opportunity for someone who was raised in the country side of the Dominican Republic. She just happened to want more. She wanted to change the game. And so she moved back to the DR and worked her way up a large telecommunications company and national bank. Eventually she did migrate back to the United States, and unfortunately soon after found herself as a single mother cleaning houses. Yet, she was a game changer. She decided that the ticket out for her daughters would be an education. While juggling 2-3 jobs at a time, she began to investigate “What would it mean to go to college in this new country”? I remember our 4 hour drives to visit colleges. The gas money was a sacrifice, so eating on the road was out of the question. We couldn’t even afford McDonalds (which was probably a very good thing!). So my mother would pack up sandwiches and a thermos with juice, and off on our road trips we would go. We would walk around campuses wide eyed, knowing we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I have to admit, at Cornell University I had a small teenage outburst. I remember yelling at my mom in the parking lot: “How could we be visiting a school that cost $45K a year, when we couldn’t even afford McDonald’s!??” My mother told me to just believe. And I did. I ended up graduating from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and then spent 4 years in Finance. I then went to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, and joined Bain & Company in their Private Equity group. Today, I am starting my own company focused on improving the lifestyle of the Latino community. Because we need to change the wellness game for Latinos, mentally, physically, and spiritually. So today I ask you, graduates, to choose to become game changers. Whatever your circumstances may be, look at them and choose to change the game for yourself and your families. All it takes is belief, hard work, and perseverance. Choose to believe in a vision that elevates you to your highest potential, do not listen to anyone who dares to limit you. Work hard. And persevere. Working hard is not enough, you have to consistently work hard, persevering through any obstacle, not letting the process weed you out. It’s worth it. I promise you.”
So to you, my dear reader, I ask you to do the same. If things right now are not going so well, choose to change the game. Choose to be a game changer. Envision what type of life you want to live and start taking very small steps towards it. This is the hardest part. The steps are so small, and you think you will never get there. Worse, you think that all the days, weeks, months, years you will spend taking small steps will be too hard, too difficult, and the sacrifice you will have to endure will not be worth it. Your own mind gets in your way. I can tell you that it has been exactly 20 years since 8th grade for me, and almost every single year has required a tremendous amount of sacrifice, especially the first 15 years! Yet, I love my life. And I want you to love yours too. Let’s do it!
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Lots of love,