Later this month, our Founder, Danny Tejada, will speak at Skidmore College's Office of Student Diversity Programs' Stoles & Cords Ceremony. He graduated from Skidmore in 2009. This upcoming speech reminded him of the Keynote Speech he gave at George Westinghouse High School’s graduation in 2013. We wanted to share with you the video and text as prepared. During this time, Mr. Tejada had just started his college counseling career. He graduated from the high school in 2005.
At the time of the speech, Mr. Tejada said, "This is the most important, greatest, and shortest speech I’ve given so far. I’m so thankful and honored for the opportunity. Eight years ago, I never thought I would be where I am today. I’m so glad that I got to see my former guidance counselor and favorite teacher. This speech was two months in the making. With the mindset of what I would like to know in high school that I know now, I wrote the first draft the night that I heard I was selected. I revised and practiced it since then." The full text:
Beating the odds may seem like a strange concept at first. But, it is indeed a phrase with a powerful meaning. It means to overcome a challenge or struggle. Believe it or not, all of us have odds we must overcome.
I grew up in a home where my parents fought each other very often. I grew up in a home where my parents were more focused on their packs of beer than my education and doings. I grew up in a home where I didn’t let myself be full, so my siblings can be full. Since my parents weren’t invested in my siblings, I had to be there for them too. While going to Westinghouse, I realized that the life of being on Public Assistance and living in the projects in East New York isn’t a good life at all. Being in Pace University’s Upward Bound Program in the tenth grade made me realize that education was my only way out.
Upon graduating Westinghouse, where I saw half of my class disappear since the ninth grade, I got into Skidmore College’s Higher Education Opportunity Program. At Skidmore, I’ve seen how things were better on the other side. I developed leadership skills in creating a Hip Hop Culture club called Hip Hop Alliance, where we talked about racism, sexism, and homophobia and successfully pushed for a Hip Hop Culture class. I learned more about myself, new heroes and poverty in my major American Studies. I met two mentors in college who pushed me to give back even more.
Listening to them, I became a mentor to two middle school students who were Hispanic. After I graduated from college, without loans, I became a mentor to a Black high school student. In being a mentor to these boys, I shared my life story and knowledge of the world with them. From there, I started teaching activism classes in the same Upward Bound Program I was in. I also became the co-chair of the Youth Ministry at my church in East New York.
In doing all of this, I started speaking to young people like you about progressing in the world and the evils of poverty at various events. At the same time, I came out with a book with my recent mentee promoting mentoring and giving advice to young people called Different Families, Still Brothers. Now, I help students like you get into colleges like Skidmore for Pace University’s Liberty Partnerships Program at the High School of Economics and Finance.
Want to know the crazy part of my story? When I went to Westinghouse, I couldn’t speak at all. I stuttered a lot. Barely anyone understood me. I was shy. This struggle made me cry at night. I started to come out of my shyness when I volunteered in various things like Open School Night and founded a Video Game Club where I put on tournaments. I fully came out of my shell in college with the encouragement of my best friend Mike Thomas. I was never able to express my story verbally into I took acting classes and hosted a radio show in college. Now, the boy who was scared to talk to people is helping people get to the next level. Now, the boy who thought he didn’t have a voice is showing you how golden his voice is.
All of you graduates have beaten a set of odds, but I’m here to tell you all that this is just the beginning. You are going to be beating the odds all your life, from college to graduate school to career to raising a family. The toughest obstacle to overcome is your own self. There will be times where you will ask yourself: “why me?” There will be times where you ask yourself: “what’s the point?” There will be times where you feel like giving up. But, you must remember these words President Obama once said, “Being defeated is a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.”
We are our worst enemy. We must fight ourselves. It can be done. If you have a dream, believe in yourself, work hard towards making that dream a reality, you will achieve it. Muhammad Ali once said, “Even the greatest have to suffer sometime.” All of you are great, indeed. Don’t let your suffering ever stop you. Let it push you to new heights!
And when you reach those heights, don’t forget when you came from. Don’t forget that there are brothers and sisters who suffer the same things you have suffered. The point of life is not to become rich. Becoming rich creates a sense of selfishness for most people. You can’t take it all with you when you pass away. It won’t bring you happiness.
The point of life is to overcome the odds and build others up to do the same. This is what will bring you happiness. This will bring a sense of fulfillment in your life.
You never know, one day you can be up here speaking to your alma mater too. If there is anything I can help you with, feel free to reach out to me. I wish you all the best in whatever you do. Stay strong. Keep it pushing. Peace be on to you all, brothers and sisters. God bless!