Mr. Young’s Keynote for the 2019 Arlington County Detention Facility’s General Educational Development (GED) Celebration

Good Afternoon and congratulations to everyone who earned their General Educational Development (GED) certificate! This is a significant achievement, which each of you should be very proud of this accomplishment.

In sharing this great news, unfortunately someone you know (even yourself) or might meet may use a word to frame your recent success. You’re probably wondering about which word that I’m referring… and it’s “just.” Please do not let anyone belittle this or any success that you aspire to or actually achieve — as every positive progress forward should be encouraged.

Today, celebrate this success, but continue to keep your eyes directed toward the future because this is the place that you’ll spend the rest of your life. However, for now, let’s reflect on your path to this moment.

It started with a choice to learn about the programs offered at this facility. Then, a decision was made to take action to achieve a dream. Although, the most important thing you did was to commit to the process of learning by maximizing your time to achieve a purposeful and worthwhile objective to earn your GED.

If you bear with me for a moment, I want to share a little bit about my educational background. In high school, I had significant challenges connecting with traditional teaching styles and making poor decisions.
During the worst period — in the tenth grade, I failed 6 of 7 classes, missed over 1/3 of the school year, and was directed to leave high school because I wasn’t expected to do anything with my life. Amazingly, at around 15 years old, I was demeaned to be a failure who wouldn’t ever achieve anything.

I refused to listen to the negative conversations directed around and toward me; instead, I followed my beliefs and dreams to transform setbacks into setups for future successes.

Unfortunately, too many individuals have defeatist attitudes that prevent them from realizing their potential.

Over many years, I slowly became a better student by applying myself, learning about my process to learn, and pursuing studies that were of interest to me. My path toward success wasn’t direct, but I used every challenge, setback, and frustrating moment as an opportunity to be better in the future. I learned about the value of failing forward. Moreover, the mentality that I often leverage throughout my life is, “There’s always value in the journey even if the outcome isn’t as wanted or expected.”

Also, in March 2014, I almost ended my life because I lost everything (not by my on doings) and no longer believed I had any value or worth. The thing it took me many years to realize was that I didn’t lose anything because I didn’t lose myself — and I always have the power of choice to control my thoughts.
One of my quotes that drove my actions during my most challenging times is…

“Your darkest days don’t define you, but instead provide an opportunity for you to display your strength and character, which will ultimately drive the individual you become.”

Today, I’m a writer, author, radio host, inspirational speaker, professor, multi-award winner for community outreach, non-profit educational founder, and someone who has taught here (at the Arlington County Detention Facility) for over five years.

It’s important to note that these accomplishments were received after I:

  • Left two colleges due to academic challenges (including one institution with two semesters of a 0.0 Grade Point Average (GPA) — I’ve taught at this college for 10+ years);
  • Was kicked-out of my Master of Business Administration (MBA) Program (I had to reapply for readmission to complete it).

Remember that life doesn’t end due to a setback… because if you’re alive, there’s an opportunity to begin again. Furthermore, don’t let any negative attitudes from others — or even worse yourself — prevent you from becoming who you still can be. After I decided to pursue my educational goals diligently, I did things that I never could have imagined by being determined, resilient, and persevering to achieve my goals.

During your journey, you will be told, “no you can’t,” “you’re not ready,” or “you’re not good enough.” Please do not let these messages discourage your positive pursuits for educational, professional, or financial successes. Transform the word “no” to “new orientation.” If someone doesn’t want to or can’t help you to achieve your goals, then redirect your efforts toward someone who can assist — as “real dreams” won’t be unnecessarily stopped by being told “no.”

In my article “Getting Past I or You Can’t” which appeared on The Huffington Post, I wrote the following:

There are times that you might think Something isn’t possible because you don’t believe it or others have told you that it’s not possible or right for you. These are the moments that individuals must ask themselves: Is this really the right thing for me? Others can provide guidance; however, you’re the only one who can answer this question for you.

A few points to consider:

  • An individual won’t move forward toward a goal until there is a readiness to TEE OFF; that is, an individual is ready to use their (T)ime, (E)nergy, and (E)ffort (O)n (F)ulfilling (F)antasies (or dreams), as success isn’t based on others’ considerations, but instead on your considerations and actions.
  • An ability to reach a goal, to persevere, or to achieve success begins with having and pursuing a dream.
  • Develop a vision that will help to guide you toward the realization of your dream.
  • Associate with individuals who have higher aspirations and are ‘actively’ working toward or have achieved success. This can help you to maintain a positive focus toward a goal.
  • Maximize your belief by taking action to achieve your goals, which is an important factor to achieve success — as it’s almost impossible to accomplish anything by only talking about it.
  • Understand that you’re capable of doing much more than you might think, which will sometimes require a change of environment to fully connect with an experience.
  • You’re responsible and accountable for the outcome and consequences of your actions; be proactive and take ownership of your journey.

Take a chance to do Something you want because that choice can lead to unexpected journeys and outcomes — for yourself and others.

Guidance to achieve success:

  • You have to believe in yourself — even if nobody else does. It doesn’t matter if things are bad at a moment; you must continue to believe that it’s possible. Don’t allow yourself an easy way out!
  • You have the power of choice. If you get distracted, frustrated, or start to have doubts, use a pep talk to convince yourself that whatever you’re working toward is still possible to achieve. This motivational dialogue will help to drive your ability to continue to make progress toward a goal.
  • You have to be resilient because challenges are a part of life. An ability to move forward in spite of past challenges is the difference between those who are successful and those who could be.
  • You have to be persistent, as this will demonstrate commitment to achieve your goal(s).

Life might not happen as you want, but there’s always value in the pursuit of a positive journey. This is a major reason that an ability to achieve success is directly related to your attitude, beliefs, desires, choices, resilience, and perseverance. Therefore, will you use all of these tools to help create the best possible you?

Now, I’ll leave you with a few parting thoughts:

  • Many challenges can be overcome by continuing to move forward without focusing on the past.
  • A perceived failure at a moment isn’t a failure of a life. Don’t believe that a disappointment or setback is an endpoint, but instead use it as an opportunity to regain focus to start again.
  • Own your story; the good and challenging parts of it. By understanding your journey, the life lessons received from it, and the opportunities to leverage this information, these experiences can be used to develop a strong foundation to drive the future you want to build.
  • Don’t be afraid or ashamed to be vulnerable. Many individuals are unnecessarily held back by trying to hide who the person was or is now. One of the things that almost prevented my growth (and ability to help many others) was my irrational concerns about others’ judgments. By sharing my vulnerabilities, it allowed me to be me — and didn’t allow others to define me or who I should be. Always remember that by being your authentic self and sharing the wisdom gained from your experiences, you can provide positive value by inspiring others to do the same — and not needlessly following your path.
  • Reflect on the past, focus on the moment, and work to purposely build a positive future. You can’t change the person that you were, but you can develop into the person you want to be. Don’t let your fears, worries, and doubts prevent you from being who you could be; boldly move forward to achieve your aspirational dreams. Every day, relentlessly pursue to be the best and most positive version of you!
  • Give-back to help others who can benefit from your experiences, which will help them to not unnecessarily follow a similar path.

For today, be proud of yourself for this great accomplishment. This is the first step of many to live a fulfilled and purposeful life. Don’t stop the process of learning, because it should be a life-long process that will help you and those around you to be better.

Once again congratulations — and remember… no matter the length of your journey… always be your best!

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