No Matter What, Don't Give Up

My time in high school

Attended high school in the

Overall high school experience
7/10. I loved [high school name omitted] when I was able to attend. It is hard though to separate what was happening at school from what was happening in our family at the time.

Grades in high school
B's and C's. I had good grades in classes that I could pay attention to -- but I was often pre-occupied with family problems or the need to work to make money.


Favorite subjects
History / Social Studies, English

Struggled with...
Math -- in college I finally had a great math professor and it was then I learned that most of the math teachers I had did not know or love math. It was the blind leading the blind and when it comes to math I was left blind by high school.

Favorite extracurricular
Speech / Political Interest (e.g. Debate Club, Young Democrats/Republicans)

Life since high school

This is the most important thing: cultivate friends you can call when you are down and need help. Be there for friends who are down and need you. Practice lifting people off the floor and letting them lift you. That is the one skill I most wish my friend had. It is the skill I most wish for others.

Attended college / university at
A.A. in History from Foothill College, B.A. in Behavioral Sciences from San Jose State University. It took 10 years attending part time to earn those degrees.

Places lived in US
California, District of Columbia (Washington D.C.)

Current occupations / past occupations
Gas station bathroom cleaner
Pizza and deli cook
Drug store clerk, assistant store manager (Walgreens)
Office assistant, manuscript editor (Stanford)
FM radio talk show host
Print journalist, reporter, editor
Public radio producer
National network news correspondent
Newspaper columnist
Elected official Presidential appointee (Obama administration)

Industries I've worked in
- Retail Trade
- Information (e.g. Publishing, Film, Broadcast, Telecommunications, Libraries)
- Educational Services
- Accommodation and Food Services
- Public Administration (e.g. Government, Police, Judicial, etc.)

Did your education prepare you for your career or occupation?
My education brought me in contact with some wonderful teachers who helped me find and develop my talents. A handful of teachers made an enormous difference for me.

Has your education or career/occupation trajectory ever changed? How?
When I was working in retail as a young person I wanted a career as a journalist. And then when I was working as a journalist I often wanted a career in public service -- where I though I could make an even more substantial contribution, including to help open doors for others. I am now age 58, and I have enjoyed more career success than I imagined would be the case back when I was young and struggling. For me, each step along the way was about trying to get some control over my circumstances so I could have a foundation for what I really wanted to do next. There were lots of baby steps along the way.

A little introspection...

To me, being successful means...
Being able to look in the mirror and be happy with the person looking back. It helps to have a secure home and loving family, too. But those are rarely present or quickly flee without the mirror test, so that comes first. Can you be happy looking in the mirror?

My definition of success has changed over time. 
I learned that despite popular wisdom success is a group sport. I can't stand people who claim or imply that they "did it all on my own." The more I have scratched the surface of those stories over the years the more I find they are either delusions or outright lies. I recall one person I met years ago telling me how he had created a huge real estate empire entirely on his own, how "no one gave me a thing!" -- starting out with nothing, he insisted. I later learned he had inherited five SF properties from his dad. But he could not admit that. He just had to lie and claim to be a self-made man. What I have learned is that there is no such thing. There are just people who don't or won't recognize the people or situations that helped them.

My greatest accomplishment to date and what I’ve learned from it
My wife and I would agree the adoption of our daughter is by far our greatest accomplishment. We had to push through fear, doubt, sadness around infertility, and jump thru many, many hoops. In retrospect, it was a small price to pay for the joy of becoming a dad. It's the last thing I would ever undo. 

My biggest mistake or regret so far and what I’ve learned from it
I wish I had picked romantic partners with greater wisdom (or luck!) as a young person. In my late teens and 20's I went from one bad, unhealthy relationship to another before I finally met the good woman I married in my late 30's. What I learned was that it was a big mistake to be attracted to women who were for some reason unavailable (either emotionally, or because they drank/drugged too much, or in some cases because they were involved with others). I finally realized I was being a coward and that I pursued relationships that were doomed because I thought I didn't deserve or could not manage something better, something more adult, more real. When I finally cut those unhealthy ties -- and became more discerning about my romantic entanglements -- my more satisfying adult life began. 

An unexpected event that significantly changed my life and how it impacted me
My parents divorced when I was in middle school and when my dad lost custody he snatched us away and illegally took us to live in another country. My mom mortgaged our house to hire private detectives who found us and snatched us back. When it was over my dad was a felon who could not return to the U.S. and my mom was left unemployed, with two kids at home, on welfare and food stamps, no financial support and with regular foreclosure notices tacked to the door. My sister and I dropped out of high school to work in a pizza parlor and help pay the mortgage. I only graduated high school because they made up credits for me (walking to work each day was P.E., the let me write make-up papers for semester long classes, etc.). So I got a high school diploma -- but my sister never did (she got her GED instead).
In the end, though, because of all the family turmoil I had terrible grades, 2.0 or something, which was generous since I was mostly not there for a good part of 10th and 11th grade. As such, there were no AP credits, no scholarships, no financial help finding a college that would take me, and no head start on being a successful adult. It was all pretty depressing and I marvel now that I made it through. Friends and mentors in the community -- and the ability to take classes as my schedule and finances allowed at Foothill College -- made all the difference. 

Anything else you'd like to share?
One of my best friends in high school committed suicide. It has been nearly 40 years and I still think about him often. I don't know why he made that choice. He may have been struggling with his sexuality, or depression, or something else that left him feeling hopeless. I will never know. I wish he had called me before that horrible day we lost him. I have shed many tears about it over the years -- and still miss him to this day. Why didn't he call? I have also felt hopeless at times. On those occasions, I was lucky...I always had someone to call and they always picked up the phone or called me back. That is my message to young people -- this is the most important thing, more important than money, status, possessions, more important than anything: cultivate friends you can call when you are down and need help. Be there for friends who are down and need you. Practice lifting people off the floor and letting them lift you. That is the one skill I most wish my friend had. It is the skill I most wish for others.

This alumni is open to your questions and follow-ups.
In order to protect anonymity, we will pass along your message and they can choose whether to respond.

My favorite spot in or around Palo Alto

Any street with a block party