LaGuardia ASAP Semi-Annual Awards Ceremony
April 20, 2009
Make it happen! Each time I see this phrase, I think: "This is not just a cluster of simplistic words, but a philosophy." All of my life, I've had to "make it happen." I grew up in the rural countryside in an extremely poor family. My mother worked the nightshift as a nurse and my father, a Vietnam veteran, was practically crippled by a drunk driver. At times we shopped for food at the local dollar store and on rare occasions were treated to McDonalds, even though doing this meant that my mother had probably spent her week's lunch money for the trip. My brothers and I were never able to wear name brand clothes or stylish shoes, nor did we have the newest video games. What we did have were wonderful parents who encouraged us to do whatever it took to overcome life's struggles and succeed. My mother would tell me: "Life is yours. Get out there and live it the best you can, and never give up the struggle." With the grace of God and the loving support of my family, I was able to reach out of that poverty to become the man I am today. I was able to make it happen.
So, many of you may ask, "How did he manage such a feat?" I did what those in my family have done for generations: I joined the military. The Army did a great deal for me; it gave me money for college, let me experience the world outside the small town I grew up in, and gave me the opportunity to make my life happen. This didn't come easy. There were tours in Korea and even a combat tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a matter of fact, most of the six years I spent in the Army were filled with struggle, but I say to you this: it's that struggle which gives life meaning, and if you quit struggling then life will beat you and you‘ll end up on the street living off others' charity.
Fellow students, each of you is doing just what I did when you walk through those campus doors every day. You are affirming that you are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed in life, no matter what hardships come your way and what obstacles might present themselves. You are saying that you are willing to fight your way to the top. I encourage you to fight; never give up the fight, because it's worth it. At times it may seem hard and you're going to want to quit, but remember this day and these rewards you earn for your hard work and sacrifice and remember that a clear future is ahead. If you come from a background such as mine, I would like you to contemplate the words of former president Richard Nixon, who said, "Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain." This suggests that when you've been at the bottom of life and eventually rise to the top you will have this great appreciation not just for the riches you have but for the journey it took to get there. Each of you has the amazing potential to succeed, get out there and embrace the opportunities that life has to offer.
Now none of you has to do this alone. During every great battle, allies are needed for the fight. ASAP is there to be your ally. I am so proud to be a member of ASAP. My peers in the program have taught me about life in the big city and my advisor, Ms. Arlene, has been a constant source of knowledge and unrelenting support. I am often in her office, seeking her wisdom, and each time she is there to guide me every step of the way. That custom-tailored support is what makes ASAP such a special program-and, let's face it: the metro cards and free textbooks aren't bad, either. As I get ready to leave LaGuardia, I look ahead and can see clearly what ASAP has done for me. The program has provided warmth and a fabric of memories that will remain in my heart forever. From this country kid who moved here from Kansas, to all of you, I want to say thank you.