Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Turning Point

To this day, it is still amazing to me how a single experience or event can dramatically influence the path of an entire life. While living in northern California for most of my life, it was always a challenge to do well in school. High School in particular was a very difficult time—so much so that my grade point average was well below a 2.0. My parents seemed resigned to my failures but held out hope that I might (by some miracle) still graduate by the skin of my teeth. However, by my junior year, I had failed so many courses that their hope for my graduation seemed futile. One more lost unit/credit and I would not graduate with my class.

A turning point came in my life when, in the second semester of my High School junior year, I wrote an essay for an English class. The assignment asked students to explain where they envisioned themselves ten years later. In this paper I expressed my personal insecurities, explaining that I would have to settle for being a magician since I had done so poorly in school and would therefore not be able to attend college. A couple days later the essays were graded and returned, and I was surprised to see my teacher’s response was nearly as long as the essay I had written. She wrote the following in her response,

Dear Michael, It is past midnight now and I should be going to bed, but after reading your essay I feel that I should stay up a little longer and tell you something I think is very important. I understand that you don’t believe you will be able to attend college, but whoever told you that was wrong. You may feel insecure and ‘stupid,’ but I see you as a distracted young man who just does not realize his great potential. Believe in yourself, Michael, and work hard in school from this time forward, and I promise you that you will be able to attend college. Be a magician if that is what you want to do, but don’t for a second believe that you have no other options.
This response moved me to tears and made such an impact on me that I still have that graded essay with my teacher’s motivational response. Her words inspired and encouraged me to buckle down and graduate high school, and eventually enroll in community college. Since then, after each major stage of my academic career—from associate’s, to bachelor’s, to master’s degree—I have been reassured that my teacher was correct. I have gained confidence, raised the bar for my performance and achieved successes beyond what I had imagined. Looking back at how far I have come, it is difficult to imagine the struggles I endured in high school. I would have never dreamed 20 years ago that I would be in the position I am today, having earned my master’s degree, and found a publisher for my master’s thesis. Moreover, just last week I accepted GTU/UC Berkeley’s offer of enrollment into their History of Christianity PhD program.

The most exciting thing for me is that the journey is not over. Learning and researching is no longer an obstacle but a discovered passion that will lead me ever further down the path of my dream career—to teach religious studies at the university level. It will then be my hope to someday write a response on a student’s essay that might change their life forever.


  1. Hooray for life-changing teachers!

  2. I am glad you listened to this teacher :-)

  3. Great story bro! You are a great person!

  4. Yup -- a great story indeed. Just read it to my kids.

  5. Mike,
    I loved this story!


  6. Very cool Mike. I hope you let her know how influential she was in your life. But I have to say that I it's crazy that you would have to "settle" for being a magician. I would love to be a magician!
    Steve T.

  7. Mike, I have remembered your post all this time and I have thought about it a great deal. You see, I have a 26 years old son who has struggled with ADD (attention deficit disorder without the hyperactivity) all his life. I think about how your teacher's note meant so much to you, and I think about how much you have accomplished. I see my son in you and I know he can succeed. I am so proud of you both.