On Friday, I introduced my students to Matt as a Do Now assignment. I related the following story and asked them to give at least a 10-word summary of each the two “chapters” involved in Matt’s story. As a homework assignment, they were to relate the story of someone they knew who had been knocked down, but who got back up.
Matt graduated a little over ten years ago from our school. He had academic struggles, but he was the best basketball player in his class. He also worked hard at his sport. He went to all the open gyms, all the team camps, and all the practices from the seventh grade through high school. His work paid off, and he was a starter on the junior varsity his freshman year and the captain his sophomore year. However, a group of phenomenal freshman joined the team his junior year, and he saw little playing time on varsity that year. At the end of the season, the team was ahead by 20 points at the end of the last game. Some would have said that it was time to put in the junior who had not played, but who had paid his dues. Instead, a freshman was put in the game.
I remember how mad Matt's dad was in the stands, but Matt never said anything. He did stop playing basketball and made the decision to play football his senior year. Most people told him it would never work for him to join the football program this late in his school career. This was a football town, and all the players had been in the program since middle school. Despite what he was told, Matt joined the summer pass and catch league and learned the defense that the team played. During the pre-season, he played very well and earned a starting position. By the end of the season, his defensive backfield coach said he was the best defensive corner who ever played for the school. Matt had speed and quick feet, and he learned the discipline of a sport from basketball. He learned how to anticipate a pass and when to break on the ball as well as how to guard an offensive player. The most important skill he had, however, was determination and a willingness to try when he didn't know if he could be successful.
Can you imagine how Matt felt when he realized that he probably would not be playing much on the basketball team his senior year after all those years of work? Ray Bradbury says, "Sometimes you have to jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down." Matt decided to take a chance when he did not know if he could be successful. He felt that he had to take the chance because he was down; and without taking the chance, he could not get back up.
But there is more to Matt's story. I am not exactly sure how, but Matt got into Virginia Tech. A group of his friends went to Tech together, and they all majored in business. When they graduated, all of them got great jobs with major corporations, all except Matt that is. His grades were not as good. Instead of starting on the road to his career, Matt joined the Army. He was sent to Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne where he earned the Bronze Star for courage in combat. He attended Officer's Candidate School and came out as a lieutenant. He went to Korea for a time, but when the 101st was sent to Iraq, he requested to rejoin his outfit because he felt it was his duty to stand with those who had fought with him in Afghanistan. When his tour in Iraq was over, he left the Army as a captain.
When Matt entered the job market this time, employers were far more interested in hiring him as a decorated war hero and leader of men. Matt is now married to a beautiful lady and is a program manager for a major corporation. Imagine how Matt felt when he graduated from college and found no job offers and saw his friends go off to promising careers. Nick Vujicic said that if a man falls down, and he tries to get up 100 times and fails 100 times and quits, then he will never get up. Nick finally found a way to get up, and so did Matt. Neither found it to be easy, but each was successful. As Nick said, it is how a person finishes that counts.
Students often have no experience working through defeats when they cannot see a possibility for success. Many parents lack those experiences as well, or they do not share them. The result is that teachers have to take the time to provide stories that can support the belief system that is the foundation for persevering through the tough times of life.