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I Wish You Bad Luck

When John Roberts, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, was asked to speak at his son’s ninth grade commencement, his theme was “I wish you bad luck.” During his talk, he explained how, if we use bad luck as a learning experience, it can make us stronger and better people.

When I was a ninth-grade graduate, I felt I’d had more than my fair share of bad luck and was feeling a little victimized.  However, I persevered, learned my lessons and became a stronger, better and more successful person.  Chief Justice Roberts was right.

I grew up as a poor kid on a subsistence farm in Georgia.  Our hard labor never seemed to produce enough income to live as well as others.  By ninth grade, I knew I wanted to get a college degree, leave the farm and have a better life.  I, also, knew my parents could never afford to send me to college.  So, I got a full-time job after school and saved my money for college.  I felt it was unfair, but put that aside and persevered on my goals.   We don’t get to choose our parents.  That’s decided for us.  Mine couldn’t afford my college, but they taught me valuable life lessons that served me well throughout life.  As a young teenager they assigned me responsibility and accountability for tasks that were essential for our family welfare.  I was always super motivated to accomplish any goals in my life.  As a young person, I always felt secure about my home, food, clothing and safety.  Many young people in our country today don’t have that security.  I’ll always be grateful to my parents for that.

Fortunately, my parents, with help from the church pastor were able to get me a full scholarship to Junior College including room, board, all tuition and fees.  That was before community colleges.  I didn’t recognize how fortunate I was.  Now days, that scholarship would be worth about $40,000 in a state school.

On campus, I felt I was recognized and accepted by the students and staff for who I was and not who my parents were economically.  I thrived socially, made decent grades and had a great college experience.  By graduation, the Korean War was under way and with help from the college President, I applied to West Point and got a first alternate appointment.  Unfortunately, the primary appointee accepted and filled the slot.  Bad luck for me.  I persevered and when drafted later I scored well enough on the Army aptitude test to apply to Officer Candidate School (OCS) and was accepted.  I found another way to attain my goal.  OCS was one of the best learning experiences in my life and one of my best decisions.  OCS was carefully designed to fill every waking minute for 16 hours per day with academic and military duties and stress you to the limit.  You had to have super self-discipline, focus and time management and perseverance to survive.  We lost about a third of our class, none failed, they all resigned to escape the stress.

After military duty, I enrolled at Georgia Tech in Engineering to get my degree using the GI Bill.  That was the scariest decision of my life because all my life I had heard how academically difficult Georgia Tech was.  I knew my liberal arts college math and science wouldn’t be good enough.  I wouldn’t have had the courage to enroll without the confidence I gained by completing Army OCS.  I finally decided the worst thing that could happen to me is I fail and go do something else…why not try?  The self-discipline, focus, time management and perseverance skills I learned in OCS got me through engineering school.  I persevered and got my degree in Industrial Engineering and to my surprise, graduated with honors.  My Georgia Tech decision was the best decision of my life.  It opened all the later doors in my successful business career.  Once the doors opened, the self-discipline, focus, time management and perseverance skills I learned at OCS and Georgia Tech were keys to my success.

Chief Justice Roberts was absolutely right. We all encounter bad luck in life and the results are often unfair, but if we use them as learning experiences, we become stronger, better and more successful people.

Author:  Ralph Coker

Bio:  Ralph Coker is a retired petroleum refinery plant manager.  He writes on business, economic, military and political topics