Graduations are a time of great happiness. Sometimes the people who we love travel far and wide to see us, and usually it is these people who make such a marked difference in our lives; we attribute our success to these people, whether family or close friends. But what if I were to tell you that the person who has influenced me more than anyone was not a family member, not a friend per se, not a neighbor, or even someone that I dislike, who may have negatively impacted my life. The person who has had the greatest influence on me and my graduation is a lady named Nancy.
I have long struggled with mathematics. Since Kindergarten my math acumen has been sub par, basically non-existent, so much so that I barely passed high school. I will never forget the day that changed everything; the day Nancy came into my life. Nancy was originally a member of the math faculty in a neighboring town. She was born with an autoimmune deficiency, much like AIDS; however, instead of an outside virus causing her body to slowly fall susceptible to even the most remote, unlikely illnesses, such as the common cold, her body attacked itself through this genetic condition that she was unfortunate enough to have been born with. She had escaped death narrowly multiple times in her life and had the unfortunate, but real experience of losing her job due to the discrimination that AIDS patients were confronted with in the early 1980s. And she didn’t even have the disease she was being labeled as having had!
One day when she came to my house to tutor me, she described how antibiotics were distributed on a mass scale one month after her birth. She became so sick from her autoimmune condition that without the advent and distribution of early versions of penicillin she would have never made it past the her first year of life. But she did. In fact she is now in her 80’s. She explained to me how she confronted many of these hurdles in life and overcame all of them, not through worrying about possible impending death, but through tenacity, vigor, and a thirst for life and success. The more stories that Nancy told me, the more I became enamored at her ingenuity and brilliant mind. She told me of how during a recent doctors visit she was given 3 months to live. A rare fungus, which often infects AIDS patients and people with her unfortunate condition, was taking over her body and slowly shutting down her system while making its way into her brain, lungs, and other vital organs. The Doctor said there was no cure and that people in good health are easily able to fight it off with no medication; furthermore, he explained how the fungus is everywhere and people with autoimmune deficiencies can easily be infected. She was one of the unfortunate ones. What would she do?
Nancy described to me how on her ride home she refused to let the idea of death overcome her. In her mind, death was defeat. She did not like being defeated. She brainstormed, cried often, but never gave up. One day while cleaning her bathroom she grabbed a can of Lysol disinfectant spray and read the back. To her dismay, one of the fungi that the can of spray killed was the same fungus she had been infected with. As a last ditch effort she began breathing in the spray twice a day and applying it with a Q-Tip in her nose as well. After 2 weeks of doing so, she began to feel better, her increasing tiredness was slowly subsiding and she felt much better than before the diagnosis. She went to the doctor and he was dismayed. When he asked what she had been doing, she told him and described the unconventional but effective technique. She thought he would scoff at her, but he instead said something which changed my life and will continue to effect me throughout my many years that I have left on this earth. The simple line he told her goes as follows: “its hard to beat someone who never gives up.” This quote is not wordy, it is not impressively illustrious, nor is it hard to remember. It is simple and straight to the point. But why is this quote so important and what should we all take from it?
As I was slowly cowering over the piece of paper containing algebraic formulas, Nancy told me, “Joe, its all in your head. You are your biggest enemy. You are giving up and you are afraid. Tell yourself that you can do it and you will. “It’s hard to beat someone who never gives up.” She was right. Just like Nancy, I never gave up and I pushed ahead. Instead of telling myself that I would not graduate due to my score in mathematics on the standardized exam, I went to study groups in addition to the hard work that I put in with Nancy every Thursday and Sunday. I did it. I won. I am going to graduate. Thank you Nancy! I am a winner just like you!