I was trying to run an errand and grab something to eat on my way too short of a lunch break when I got the call inviting me to speak to you all today. “WOW,” was the first thought that popped in my head. That was immediately followed up with, “They want me?” I was scared and apprehensive to accept the invitation because after all, you all are pretty amazing. You WOW me.
A couple of weeks ago a runner from Arkansas who moved to Colorado had a run in with a mountain lion. Did any of you hear about this? This guy is running and hears the rustling of pine needles. When he turns to see what it was, the mountain lion lunges at his face. He (Travis Kauffman) throws his arms up to try to protect his face and the mountain lion latches on to his wrist and starts clawing and biting on him. By this time the adrenaline is rushing. Travis doesn’t know how he’s going to survive, but he knows he doesn’t want to die — that he’s not going to go out without a fight. He and the mountain lion are now in a wrestling match. He reaches for sticks and branches and rocks to no avail; they keep breaking or aren’t aren’t getting the job done. As Travis and the mountain lion are tumbling down the side of the trail, Travis somehow ends up on top of the mountain lion. And he eventually kills the mountain lion with his bare hands.
Now if you were to see Travis, you’d know that nothing about him looks extraordinary. However, he is living proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover. As am I. And so are you.
I grew up in a single parent household. My father was murdered when I was 5 or 6 years old. After he died, my momma often reminded us that we – me, her and my brother – were all we had. Hugs and “I love yous” were constant. “Love each other today like there is no tomorrow because none of us are guaranteed one,” and “Never leave or go to bed angry,” are the two warnings that are still on repeat in my head till this day. So when Craig (my only sibling and baby brother) died in a car accident, my whole world was turned upside down, and it seemed like my mountain lion was going to win. But I’m still here. So apparently it didn’t. One of the things that kept me going was writing — was poetry. I know it sounds cliché, but poetry really and truly saved my life. Writing (and poetry specifically) opened doors for me that I didn’t even know existed. Because of this first-hand knowledge of its power, my platform as your 2019 Arkansas Teacher is using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap.
Everyone in this room has fought with a mountain lion or two in his/her lifetime. While our mountain lions may not have been a real life wild animal, we’ve all had our share of obstacles that we have wrestled with. And we’re all here today because just like Travis we refuse to let the mountain lions…our environment…our circumstances…our hardships…our tragedies…get the best of us.
So today I applaud you because you have learned something that will lead to success and greatness. You have learned how to be “WOW.”
W – O – W.
Do me a favor. Turn to your neighbor and then say “WOW.”
Hold up. Wait a minute. Let’s do that again. This time, say it as if you mean it. What you just did was good, but I know that you are great! So this time, say it like you believe it. Say it like you are great. Say it as if your life depends on it – like that mountain lion is in front of you but you’ve seen the future, and you know you win!
That was better than good. That was YOU! That was “WOW!”
I don’t know your individual obstacles, but I do know that it takes commitment for other people to recognize the good things you are doing. Some of you made it here in spite of your obstacles. Some of you made it here because of your obstacles. But ALL of you have proven that you have the “WOW” factor — that you embody what it means to a member of the Boys & Girls Club. You are a shining light and great mentor not just to the other children at the Club, but also to the community at large. You have that “WOW” factor.
So what is the “WOW” factor? It’s the ability to Wreck Obstacles Well – meaning you crush everything that was intended to destroy you. WOW. Wreck Obstacles Well. Repeat that for me, please…Wreck Obstacles Well. One more time. Wreck Obstacles Well. WOW is also a mindset. It’s the ability to turn obstacles into opportunities for growth…to Welcome Opportunities Willingly. So WOW is the ability to both Wreck Obstacles Well and the ability to Welcome Opportunities Willingly. Let’s say that last meaning together, please: Welcome Opportunities Willingly. Again. Welcome Opportunities Willingly. I think you got it!
Continue to let your light shine. And never stop WOWing.
Thank you. Thank you for inviting me here to celebrate with you this evening. Thank you and good night.