Archive for June, 2013

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“The Point of Life”

June 26, 2013


Today, I gave the Keynote Speech at George Westinghouse High School’s graduation. Above is the video. Below is the full text as prepared. I graduated from the school in 2005. This is my most important, greatest and shortest speech I’ve given so far. I’m so thankful and honored for the opportunity. Eight years ago, I never thought I would be where I am today. I’m so glad that I got to see my former guidance counselor and favorite teacher. This speech was two months in the making. With the mindset of what would I like to know in high school that I know now, I wrote the first draft the night that I heard I was selected. I revised and practiced it since then. Now, the full text:

Beating the odds may seem like a strange concept at first. But, it is indeed a phrase with a powerful meaning. It means to overcome a challenge or struggle. Believe it or not, all of us have odds we must overcome.

I grew up in a home where my parents fought each other very often. I grew up in a home where my parents were more focused on their packs of beer than my education and doings. I grew up in a home where I didn’t let myself be full, so my siblings can be full. Since my parents weren’t invested in my siblings, I had to be there for them too. While going to Westinghouse, I realized that the life of being on Public Assistance and living in the projects in East New York isn’t a good life at all. Being in Pace University’s Upward Bound Program in the tenth grade made me realize that education was my only way out.

Upon graduating Westinghouse, where I saw half of my class disappear since the ninth grade, I got into Skidmore College’s Higher Education Opportunity Program. At Skidmore, I’ve seen how things were better on the other side. I developed leadership skills in creating a Hip Hop Culture club called Hip Hop Alliance, where we talked about racism, sexism, and homophobia and successfully pushed for a Hip Hop Culture class. I learned more about myself, new heroes and poverty in my major American Studies. I met two mentors in college who pushed me to give back even more.

Listening to them, I became a mentor to two middle school students who were Hispanic. After I graduated from college, without loans, I became a mentor to a Black high school student. In being a mentor to these boys, I shared my life story and knowledge of the world with them. From there, I started teaching activism classes in the same Upward Bound Program I was in. I also became the co-chair of the Youth Ministry at my church in East New York.

In doing all of this, I started speaking to young people like you about progressing in the world and the evils of poverty at various events. At the same time, I came out with a book with my recent mentee promoting mentoring and giving advice to young people called Different Families, Still Brothers. Now, I help students like you get into colleges like Skidmore for Pace University’s Liberty Partnerships Program at the High School of Economics and Finance.

Want to know the crazy part of my story? When I went to Westinghouse, I couldn’t speak at all. I stuttered a lot. Barely anyone understood me. I was shy. This struggle made me cry at night. I started to come out of my shyness when I volunteered in various things like Open School Night and founded a Video Game Club where I put on tournaments. I fully came out of my shell in college with the encouragement of my best friend Mike Thomas. I was never able to express my story verbally into I took acting classes and hosted a radio show in college. Now, the boy who was scared to talk to people is helping people get to the next level. Now, the boy who thought he didn’t have a voice is showing you how golden his voice is.

All of you graduates have beaten a set of odds, but I’m here to tell you all that this is just the beginning. You are going to be beating the odds all your life, from college to graduate school to career to raising a family. The toughest obstacle to overcome is your own self. There will be times where you will ask yourself: “why me?” There will be times where you ask yourself: “what’s the point?” There will be times where you feel like giving up. But, you must remember these words President Obama once said, “Being defeated is a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.”

We are our worst enemy. We must fight ourselves. It can be done. If you have a dream, believe in yourself, work hard towards making that dream a reality, you will achieve it. Muhammad Ali once said, “Even the greatest have to suffer sometime.” All of you are great, indeed. Don’t let your suffering ever stop you. Let it push you to new heights!

And when you reach those heights, don’t forget when you came from. Don’t forget that there are brothers and sisters who suffer the same things you have suffered. The point of life is not to become rich. Becoming rich creates a sense of selfishness for most people. You can’t take it all with you when you pass away. It won’t bring you happiness.

The point of life is to overcome the odds and build others up to do the same. This is what will bring you happiness. This will bring a sense of fulfillment in your life.

You never know, one day you can be up here speaking to your alma mater too. If there is anything I can help you with, feel free to reach out to me via email, Facebook or Twitter. I wish you all the best in whatever you do. Stay strong. Keep it pushing. Peace be on to you all, brothers and sisters. God bless!

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Letter to My Father

June 16, 2013

What It Means.

This letter was produced around when my mom left my dad. I had gathered their documents related to my sister’s ACS situation to organize. My father pressured me to give back his documents. He thought I was trying to mess things up for him. I wanted to help. His tone got me upset. That feeling got me to write this letter. I gave this letter along with his documents, that I organized by dare and summarized on sticky notes, in a folder. I don’t know if he even read it.

July 27, 2011

Dear Father, Daniel Tejada Sr.,

I’m writing you this letter because you never let me talk, never listen to me, never hear me out. I don’t know where that comes from, but I hope it stops for the betterment of yourself and the people who love you. If there is one thing I learned in my lifetime, it is that with written words, no one can shut me up. If you don’t read this letter, it’s your lost, not mine.

First, let me say that I’m not siding with anyone when it comes to my mother leaving you. But I will say she has chosen the wrong time to do something like this. I’m highly disappointed! Why? Because I’m feeling as your daughter isn’t being placed first. I could care less about what you and my mother are dealing with personally right now because my sister’s #1 to me in all of this, just as she should be #1 for you.

She’s been feeling hurt by all of this. She feels like you guys don’t care, like you guys don’t love her. I know this is true because she tells me this. I’m the only one she truly expresses herself to. She might seem fine on the surface, but she’s not okay deep down. I can relate to that because I used to do the same thing when I was her age.

Let me say that, I’m proud of how far you have come. It brings tears of joy to my eyes. It warms my heart to hear you talk about your program, how you enjoy it and how it impacts you. I feel this way because I don’t even ask you about it first. I smile when I see how much you’ve gain weight and how much life you have in you.

You fighting your demons is so inspiring and empowering to me. One thing I’ve always feared was you passing away before you get to see and hold my first child, and even before I get married. I feel like God is granting me a great wish. I feel like God is working for you. He’s with you! If there’s one thing I learned in church and know is true, it is what one of my inspirations Martin Luther King said in a sermon entitled “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” “[God] does not leave us alone in our agonies and struggles. He seeks us in dark places and suffers with us and for us in our tragic prodigality.”

Don’t close the door on Him. Reach out to Him. Don’t close the door on me. I’m with you. I’m here to help you anyway I can. All I ask is that you treat me with the same respect you want from me. I’m not a child anymore. I’m an adult who has a job, his own place, paying his own bills and can feed himself. I don’t deserve to be talked down to or have someone talk and talk without trying to hear me out. Don’t call me if you’re not trying to talk to me like I’m a human being.

I know you’re hurting. I know what you’re feeling. I’ve been there before. Things do get better. I have faith! Stay strong. Keep it pushing. Peace be on to you. God bless!

Your namesake,
Daniel Tejada Jr.