Failure has its own success, and struggle is necessary for growth.
In the summer of 2016, I attended the Engineering Experience (E2) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While I was there I met Dr. Mareena Robinson Snowden, who was a PhD Candidate at MIT’s Laboratory of Nuclear Security and Policy. She is now a Graduate Fellow with the National Nuclear Security Administration. I had the opportunity to listen to her lecture. She told my class about when she first began her college career. She was looked down on by professors and peers and told that she didn’t belong in her field. She was judged, discouraged, and felt out of place. She told us about the day she cried in a bathroom stall and wondered if she wasn’t meant to study nuclear science. I listened to her and felt my eyes well up. Her insecurities resonated with me and helped me to realize how much strength it takes to follow your dreams. She had one professor who believed in her and encouraged her to continue studying. She told us that this experience taught her that struggle is necessary for growth.
I was fortunate enough to have professors, as well as my parents who encouraged me. Growing up, my mom always told me that a hard-earned C was better than an easy A. I took this as an opportunity to challenge myself. I took classes that were out of my depth. Sometimes this led to embarrassment and insecurity, but I found more opportunities that way. I gained more experience. My new perspective is that the less I know going in, the more potential I have to learn.
Whatever you choose to study, you will struggle. You will question yourself. You will also discover your strengths. You deserve every ounce of effort you put in. Your endurance makes you worthy of your accomplishments. Never stop fighting for your dreams, because every failure has a lesson to be learned and a new success to follow it. Never stop trying; empower yourself.
Never quit because it is too hard.
There were times where I struggled with math. I would get frustrated with physics. I would want to give up when teachers pushed me aside. The truth is, I almost gave up on STEM. I questioned if it was for me – not because I didn’t like it, but because I didn’t know if I truly belonged. That was the crucial distinction. One day, my mom asked me “do you want to quit because it’s hard, or because you don’t like it?” and those words ring through my mind every time I find a challenge. I love what I do. I find value in the challenges of engineering. The stress makes me stronger. The interest I have in engineering brings me happiness. When you are tested by something you love, remember that difficulty is relative. Every step we take into the future gets harder and looking back, all the steps we took in the past become easier.
A note to parents, teachers, and other influential people in the lives of our youth:
Hopefully, the lessons I have shared above will help youth like me find courage when pursuing their dreams. However, the ultimate push they need is your support. I have been to nine different schools across the country. Each place had its own educational challenges, but the one consistent thing I noticed was that kids need your trust. They need to know that you believe in them. They need to know that you may not expect them to succeed, but you at least expect them to try. Trust them to take risks that will help them grow. You are our greatest advocates. When a youth wants to challenge themselves, never ask “are you sure?” Instead, help them find the resources to succeed in pushing their own boundaries. Show them that they have support. Help them find the loopholes that will accelerate them to a positive future. The adults in our lives have the option to be our greatest champions. It’s the people who took chances with me that I remember the most. My Mom, my Dad, Mrs. Meister and Mrs. Sandy, Professor Pruitt, Mr. Krause, and my Boys and Girls Club advisors Cherokee, Drew, and Dianely. They are why I am here today. They are why I fight to become a better person. They are why I fight to give others the chances I have had. They are my champions.