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A Conversation That Changed My Life

Just a couple of weeks into my junior of high school in the fall of 1982, I was sitting at my desk in social studies class waiting for class to begin, when my teacher, Brother Armand, sat down across from me. With his face just a couple of feet away from mine, Brother Armand bluntly told me, “You are a loser and you’ll always be a loser”.

Not a great way to start the day and more than just a little disturbing. But then Brother Armand explained, “You have more ability than anyone in this class, but you don’t give any effort. I’ll make a deal with you: if you give your best effort for our first exam and don’t do well, I’ll never ask you to study hard again and I’ll leave you alone.” Fair enough, and I quickly agreed…but of course, I had no intention of studying for the exam.

An Epiphany for Yours Truly

On the night before the exam, I was sitting in my bedroom reading sports magazines (while I was supposed to be studying) and I was bored silly. With nothing else to do, I picked up my social studies book and read it for a couple of hours. This was far from my best effort, but it was still more studying than I have ever done for an exam.

On the day after taking the social studies exam, Brother Armand handed my exam paper to me. My exam paper read at the top, “A-“. I was stunned. I had been a “C” and “B“ student all my life and I didn’t know what an “A” was. Was this some kind of cruel mistake, I thought. How could this be? My friends and classmates had always told me that I was “stupid” and I assumed they were right.

Later that afternoon, I bumped into Brother Armand outside the front entrance of my high school. Brother Armand had a serious expression on his face when he told me, “This is just the beginning for you.” I still thought he was nuts, but just maybe he might be onto something.

A Shocking Result that No One Could Predict

A week later I had my first exam in the most difficult subject area: French III. I hated French in my first two years of high school and it showed in my grades. I had been a “C” and “D” student in my first two years of French and now I was on the verge of taking an advanced French class in a class full of straight “A” honors students. I was horribly unprepared to begin French III and my teacher wrote me off.

Just before the first exam, my French teacher gave me an ultimatum: if I didn’t pass the exam, she would kick me out of her class. Ouch! I decided at that moment that I was going to prove her wrong and for the first time in my life, I studied for the exam with a passion. On the night before the exam, I stayed up to 1 a.m. studying until I couldn’t hold my eyes open, but even with my hard work, I had no idea if I could pass the exam. I knew the odds were still stacked against me.

On the day after taking the French exam, my French teacher stood at the front of the classroom and told the class, “The top score on the exam is John Henry Fisher with a 96.” I was dumbfounded. This can’t be right—this class was loaded with the top students in the school and I just beat all of them?

It dawned on me at that moment. My friends and classmates were wrong: I wasn’t stupid. Okay, I knew I wasn’t a Rhodes Scholar, but for the first time in my young life I realized that I wasn’t dumb either. But more importantly, I discovered that when I gave my best effort, I could beat almost anyone.

How My Life was Changed Inside-Out

From that moment, I worked with a passion. Any goofing off was now taboo and I gave the same effort in my other subjects that I had given on the French III exam. I was no longer the class-clown or life of the party, but I was determined and laser-beam focused on my studies…and my world changed almost overnight. I finished the fall semester with one of the highest GPA’s in my class and as hard as it was to believe for everyone (except Brother Armand), I was now in the high honors of my class.

I never looked back. I now had a formula for success that couldn’t be beat—I knew that if I out-worked my competition, I could not only compete with my peers, but I could beat them every time. And the results were shocking: I finished my first year of college in the top 3% of my class. And I went on to do well at one of the top colleges and law schools in the country.

A Little Note of Gratitude for Changing my Life

I now realize that I will never be the brightest person in the courtroom, and there will always be other lawyers with more intelligence and credentials than me, but no one will out-work me. And I never would have discovered this without a not-so-subtle challenge from Brother Armand in the fall of 1982. It just took one person to believe in me.

Among the special gifts in my life (which are many), I can’t think of any that are better. Thank you, Brother Armand, for changing my life.

photo credit: CFF_3042 via photopin (license)

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