When I was 16 years old, a friend of mine started her own non-profit organization for teenagers. She did it not out of a desire to make her résumé into a stellar, unrealistic display of accomplishments to impress colleges, but rather out of a genuine passion — one that I’ve found in few other people.
This past spring, after three years of incredible dedication and hardwork, she was invited to President Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative summit in California and got t actually talk with Clinton about her work.
I think her humility shocks me the most, not that her accomplishments aren’t impressive enough — she was recently featured in Seventeen magazine and will be honored by Glamour Magazine’s “Women of the Year” awards this month. She has been to summits at the U.N., spoken at universities, conventions, high schools and hospitals nationwide and been featured in countless newspaper articles — all with the insight, confidence and poise of someone twice her age.
And through all this she is entirely selfless, completely dedicated to what she was when she started — helping individual people, one at a time. For months, she would send out a motivational text message to a group of almost 50 girls every single morning — a small message of hope, regardless of what was going on in her own life.
I bring this up not because Clinton just delivered a moving keynote address on our campus, but because I think Steve Jobs’ death last month reignited the age-old investigation of what “success” means.
In the glut of media coverage surrounding Jobs’ death, I think Rolling Stone magazine’s recent cover story, in their increasingly obnoxious and ever present tendency to wax nostalgic about the bygone days of the 1960s, best alluded to this exact issue — the conflicting characteristics of the enigma of Jobs and what it means to be successful.
We’re drawn to the duality in people — how two characteristics can coexist without causing a seismic rupturing, how this man could be an absolute genius and yet have such a broken family life, such a fractured concept of human relations, such a professed affinity for the effects of LSD on his imagination and career.
His seemed like an impossible duality — arguably the most brilliant mind in recent history left his bohemian college after less than a year, dropped acid, set off for India on a quest for enlightenment and was more interested in playing Bob Dylan songs with his girlfriend than writing Java when he was young, holing himself away in a cabin, stoned and denying impending destitution.
And yet he worked harder than it seems possible to be able to work, with the single-minded devotion to his work found in precious few, and succeeded, by all conventional standards, to a degree achieved by precious few.
My friend who started her non-profit has this same work ethic and she went to community college, which arguably allowed her to give more time to something more meaningful — her organization. So many erroneously and infuriatingly believe the community college is the dumping ground for hopeless derelicts.
The New York Times recently ran an Op-Ed column entitled “Will Dropouts Save America?” in which the author argued that America needs job creators, and job creators don’t come from academia and brand name colleges — they come from people who pursue their true interests at all costs.
They come from the people who are brave enough to drop out and take calligraphy classes while living from dorm room couch to dorm room couch, earning money from bottle deposits and eating a weekly free meal at the Hare Krishna temple down the street, like Jobs did after leaving Reed College.
They come from the people who have opened their minds — the artists, the musicians, the ones society has labeled truants, outliers, hopeless cases.
So maybe instead of watching Fox News to open your mind like Clinton advised us, what you really should do is take a calligraphy class, rewrite Dylan lyrics, teach yourself an instrument, read novels from the Beat Generation, stumble on your creativity and don’t look back.
Buletti is a member of
the class of 2013.