To my fellow Seniors, I think some of us might agree that we have taken a pretty long road to get to today. Many things have happened in my life: some good, some not so good. I think about how amazing it was to have lunch with my mom at Oxford University on my trip to the U.K. a few years ago. In contrast, I remember being screamed at in front of everyone at the ballpark by my Little League coach because I didn’t know I could run to first base on a dropped third strike. I do admit I’ve had more ups than downs but, it doesn’t mean my downs have been any less stressful or all my highs unforgettable. For sure, it has not been a perfect life, but it has been mine and I would not trade away any of my experiences for anything.
My most recent experience: I got accepted to my first college, Seton Hall University. I can’t begin to express the moment to you. Honestly, I think I was jumping up and down more from relief than excitement. The whole college process is grueling: standardized test after standardized test, working to find the right colleges for me, worrying whether my essay would get me in or make me look like a fool, college applications out of my ears and, finally, the worst part of all . . . the waiting. Frankly, if I never see or hear the terms SAT and ACT ever again, it will be fine with me.
After my excitement cooled down somewhat, I thought about it and realized my own road has not been very long at all. In fact, I’m just starting to move through my first traffic light in life. All of us seniors are kind of there. Some are still reaching the signal. Some are waiting to turn left. Some are aiming to do a right turn on red. A few of you are beginning to move through the intersection along with me. I say we’re only dealing with our first intersection because it’s still Trimester 1. We won’t be getting through that very first intersection until we cross that stage in June with our diplomas in our hands. Only then will we start facing head-on the most exciting part of our lives as adults headed to college.
See, I think up to now I’ve truly been travelling on just a road. It’s slower, simpler, easier to change directions, more forgiving of my mistakes . . . and I’ve made many. Adults, however, don’t go on roads. They travel on life’s highways. It’s faster, a lot more complicated, changing is more difficult, mistakes have a bigger cost, and you can’t just worry about yourself. I see it with my parents every day. They worry about how to pay for my and my brother’s college, the house, and the bills, not to mention the daily logistics of going to work, getting us to school, sports practices, internships, and rehearsals, plus putting food on the table. I watch what they do and all I can think to myself is, “Wow! They’re crazy.”
But wait a second, am I not staring straight at my own future craziness? Think about it. If I do badly in a couple of college classes, the university won’t feel bad for me. They’ll just take away my scholarship. If I swim badly for the team, I just get cut by the coach. If I don’t work my butt off and graduate, my dreams might be forever out of reach. If I don’t reach my dreams, what happens to my chances for a wife and family of my own? What about a nice home and Porsche? For me of course, it must be Porsche. It’s scary, but so what?! I can do this. I know I can. Like my dad tells me so often that I can’t stand hearing it anymore, “Austin, you must stay on it. The future is out there but only for those who consistently work hard.” He’s right. I must stay on it.
My mother, thank goodness, is a little softer than my dad except when she’s mad, and then she’s tougher than my father times two. She says, “There will be good and bad in life. It’s all in how you handle it.”
Over summer, I landed this monster internship with Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino. I know they prefer not to be recognized but, I am so very grateful to Paul Galletti and Robyne Freels for helping me get the connection. I went in for my interview and I was more nervous than ever in my life. This was a really big chance for me and I had no clue what to expect. I just went in with my new suit on, wearing one of my dad’s ties, wondering what was going to happen to me. I thought I had a great meeting with the head of operations but then no one followed up. My heart sunk. So, now, this is where I am thankful to my dad who encouraged me to call, and call, and call until someone answered. He told me persistence tends to win out more often than I could possibly imagine. After a ton of voicemail messages, I got the head of operations on the phone and, like magic, he offered me the internship. I thought my head was going to explode I was so happy.
He told me to come in only a couple times a week because he did not want to ruin my summer. It was very nice of him, but I thought about what my mother told me about how it’s all in how I handle things so, I decided on my own to go down there every day, all day long, my whole summer. As it turns out, they really needed the extra help and, when I was there, I worked as hard as I could. My reward? They invited me to meetings about LAX airport and San Pedro revitalization, the homeless challenges, harbor issues with foreign governments, community problems from real estate to drugs, you name it. I even, recently, rode all over the city with the department assistant putting up holiday wreaths on government offices! I was getting a taste of all things I’d been dreaming about: working in politics, government and international relations. Plus, I’ve met so many amazing people. It’s been sort of like driving on life’s highway with a learner’s permit. The team was even agreeable to me coming once a week during school. Now, when I see them, they actually ask me when I’m coming back because when I am there it frees them up to work on other things. So, per Mom, I’m handling myself well, getting the experience of a lifetime and making myself confident about wanting to work at the United Nations one day.
I can see now that I must appreciate all the good things that happen in my life and look to learn from my lumps from the not so good things that will come. Life’s highway is really scary, but even more exciting. It’s clear to me from the advice of my family, teachers, advisors, friends and co-workers. My future success will be defined by my work ethic, how persistent I am and, most importantly, how I handle the situations life presents in front me. I love you all but, especially, my family. Each of you has played a role in making my life’s highway look glorious. Thank you.Click here for full video.