boston.com Your Life your connection to The Boston Globe
Now and Then

Failure often teaches the most

Many lifetimes ago I can remember getting off the train from Boston to Tilton, N.H., and lugging a huge leather three-suiter up to West Hall. I would attend both Tilton School and the junior college that existed then.

I remember no fear or apprehension although I did not know how to tie the preppies' Windsor knot. I would be out of place but that is exactly where I wanted to be -- out of place.

I had been given an unexpected second chance and I was naively confident that once I got away from home I could leave the self I had been in a trash can and create a new self.

I had flunked out of high school in June. Now I would change. I would get A's, supervise a dormitory floor, play football, and edit the Tiltonia n.

Sixty-four years later I am amazed at my confidence and my innocence. But it worked. I erased the brand of failure I had worn from first grade through 12th grade.

In those days they kept score and I lead the class in October. I was starting right tackle, I solved problems I never anticipated on the dormitory floor, and I was editor of the Tiltonian.

While I congratulate all the honor students and valedictorians who ride off to college in a parade of accomplishment, I identify with the students of the first, second, or even third chance.

Too often in school we give the impression that life should be a series of successes, as if we were all monkeys always swinging easily from tree to tree, when in life we often fall and have to find a way to get up a tree again.

The lessons that we learn in overcoming failure will serve us well all our lives. Tilton was just the beginning of a life of failure and success.

I would have to forget the past, and start anew as I did at Tilton, not worrying about how others saw me, but simply doing the job at hand, building on the strengths I found within myself rather than the weaknesses others saw in me.

Congratulations on having the courage to begin school again. If you work, it will work, and you will remember what you learned in the classroom. But more often you will remember the day when you walked into a classroom where you were unknown and could begin to create the person you have become.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES