Last night, Jennifer and I attended a presentation at my alma mater, Aquinas College, by Dan Gediman the author of “This I Believe”. If you aren’t familiar with the This I Believe program, it was started in the 1950’s by Edward R Murrow. It started as a way for famous people to write short essays about their personal motivation and read them on air. In 1951, Murrow introduced the program. You can listen to or read the full introduction here. While listening to the introduction it is easy to forget that he is talking about the 1950’s as so many of the topics; bitterness, cynicism, fear, doubt, and distrust, are still ever prevalent today.
In 2005, Dan Gediman and Jay Allison revived the series on NPR. The biggest change to the program was that rather than have essays by only famous people, anyone could write and submit an essay to read on air. While This I Believe is no longer part of NPR’s daily program, the This I Believe program lives on through a podcast, website, and multiple books. To date the organization has received over 100,000 essays. The essays range from topics ranging from the light-hearted to the more serious. I could spend
hours days reading the various essays on thisibelieve.org. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.
Along with the book, the This I Believe organization has released a curriculum for schools to use free of charge. Thousands of schools have embraced and utilized the curriculum including Aquinas College. Aquinas College started a common reading program for their incoming freshman this year. Students were encouraged to read the This I Believe book before freshman orientation. The idea behind the book was then extended throughout aspects of the students’ orientation and upcoming school year. Theology classes used the topic for discussion and language classes used it to practice writing in a foreign language for example.
While he headliner of the night was Dan Gediman, he was proceeded by five students reading their essays. With no disrespect to Mr. Gediman, the students really stole the show. The first speaker talked about the difficulty of changing career paths from what she grew up believing to what her heart desired. The second shared a story about his belief in silence. While witnessing the death of his grandmother, he came to learn that no word can fully express one’s life and to embrace the silence in life. He was followed by a girl who shared the emotional story of her father being diagnosed with cancer. While she didn’t like the cancer, she believed in the what cancer did; the way it has strengthened her faith, brought her family closer together, and helped her realize the community of friends and support around her. She was followed up by a light hearted essay by a student who shared his love of the food at Wege Café (the main cafeteria on campus that is loathed by all students – except for this one particular guy). He described food tasting, “as if made by angels” and expounded on the wonders of the cafeteria that go unappreciated by his fellow students. He had the audience laughing throughout his essay.
But, I tell you all that only to get to the story of the final student, James Clyde. He shared his emotional story with the audience and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I talked to James after the presentation and asked him if he would be willing to share his story here and he agreed. Here is James’ This I Believe.
I believe in the underdog. I believe in the unexpected triumph of someone seen as inadequate, unworthy, or unfitting. I believe in the sense of awe and inspiration these victories give us. I believe in defying limits and exceeding expectations. I don’t really have any other choice.
I have cerebral palsy which affects the left side of my body. It limits the use of my left hand and I have walked with a limp my entire life. I was born twelve weeks premature on October 12th 1990, weighing just two pounds and seven ounces. At the time of my birth, my mother and I were very ill and were not expected to live. We have overcome those odds.
During the course of my life I have had many surgeries and years of speech, physical and occupational therapy. When I was a boy, I tripped over my own feet frequently and found many tasks that most people take for granted, daunting. As a result, many of my classmates in grade school made fun of me because of my disability. Very often, I lacked a sense of self confidence. However, when I entered high school, things changed.
I have always loved sports. In my first year of high school I was invited to join the cross country team. While I always looked for a sport that I could do with some success, running cross country was not on my list. Me, run cross country?
Although it was difficult, I enjoyed the long runs where I didn’t have to think about anything except finishing. Later that fall, I had health issues and required surgery. I had surgery on October 12, my birthday, and I became very ill. Due to the surgery, I did not run again for almost seven months.
When I returned the next year I was not in good condition. While in practice, I endured many trips, falls, and bruises. My family should have invested in the Band-Aid Company. Eventually, I participated in my first race of the year. It was a beautiful September day and we all began the race. Although I felt strong at the beginning of the race, I began to fall behind. Everyone had passed me. While I didn’t realize how fast or slow I was going, I did notice that no-one else was in sight. I had to finish the race. What I did not know was that all of the other runners had completed the race and both teams were waiting for me to cross the finish line. About a half mile from the finish line, while still in the woods, my teammates backtracked, to found me and ran the last half mile with me. When I crossed the finish line, there wasn’t a dry eye. The way my teammates ran with and cheered for me is an incredible testament to sportsmanship.
My career as a runner lasted three years. I never won a single race. In fact, my times were about ten minutes slower than a typical winning time and I often came in last. Despite not winning a race, I accomplished things that I never thought I would do. My team truly admired my perseverance. As a result, in 2008, my senior year, I received one of the greatest surprises of my life.
On a very cold day in October, the day of my last race, I just missed beating my record time by a couple of seconds. After the race, as was custom, Coach called the seniors over to the pavilion to assist with the distribution of the medals. What followed, I still cannot fully articulate. My coach and teammates had renamed the race in my honor. They all took off their sweatshirts and jackets and were all wearing t-shirts bearing the new name of the race, the “James Clyde Invitational”. I was speechless. While I truly believed I hadn’t done anything worthy of this tremendous honor, they believed in me. What they saw was a person who would never come in first place but persevered nonetheless; someone not competing with others, but rather with himself.
To say that life has its hurdles is an understatement. How we choose to act during these challenges defines us. We have two options: 1) Lie down and give in to the current circumstances, believing that this is what we are supposed to become and live with it. Or, 2) We can lower our heads, grit our teeth and power though the weight that our adversities place on us.
Quite simply, I believe that if one wants something bad enough and is willing to sacrifice in order to obtain it, in due time, that person will reap what they sow. I believe that our challenges are only what we make of them, and our dreams are the fuel that power us to realize the fact that nothing is impossible.
So, what do you believe?
For more information on the This I Believe program, check out their website at http://thisibelieve.org/