Remarks at The Door's GED Class of 2012-2013 Graduation, June 11, 2013
by Sam Katz, Door GED Alum, Stony Brook University Class of '13, Fulbright Scholar

Congratulations Graduates!

It feels good, doesn't it, to have gotten this far, to have made it to this day. I remember when I had that same feeling that you all have today, when I got my GED here at The Door in 2008. It was a wonderful feeling, and I am so glad that The Door has now started to do its own graduation ceremony because for me, when I got my GED, The Door was my community. I loved the space, the people, the classroom. As Ms. Geo, my GED teacher can attest, I still came to class even after I took my GED test; I truly loved it. I stuck around for the summer when I participated in a leadership program here at The Door, I worked in the art study and started taking the college readiness classes that were offered on the second floor. In the winter I started working, but I still came back here to work with the people in Talent Search on college advisory. And even after I left for school I still came back here during school breaks, to say hi to my teacher and to volunteer as a GED and SAT tutor.

That feeling that I had when I got my GED certificate, that feeling that you all have today, that feeling stayed with me for a long time and sometimes came back to me as I went on with my journey. But there is also another feeling I had that day that I'm sure some of you here also have, and it's that feeling that I want to talk about today. That feeling is a much less pretty feeling than the one I just mentioned. It is the feeling that I had after receiving my GED: that I will always be behind; that with only a GED I won't be able to go as far as others who went to High School will.

That feeling of self-doubt is real; it isn't true, but it's real. And I know that in my weakest moments that feeling, that voice in my head, would become the loudest. I had many of those moments and I want to share with you one such moment in my journey through college and some of the lessons I took away from it.

It was in my first semester at Stony Brook University. (As a side-note, Stony Brook didn't accept me when I first applied, but I called and begged them and sent them an extra essay and they took me in. Always call!) My first semester there I took a physics course. I wasn't going to mention it originally, but I'm remembering now that on my first day my professor mentioned Newton's three laws so I started writing them down in my notebook. Seeing me do that he said to the class "you should all remember Newton's three laws from high school, you shouldn't need to write them down." I guess I thought taking notes always makes you look good. Anyway, I took the class and about a month in I got back my first midterm.

I got a 25.

Out of 100.

I walked out of my class. If you've been to the Stony Brook campus you know that they have this big lawn called Staller lawn and I sat down there and all these voices, these voices of self doubt started to get louder and louder in my head. I thought, "you see? You're way behind everyone. You'll never catch up." I began to feel bad for myself, to pity myself, and self-pity, self-pity is debilitating; it's paralyzing.

I had to meet one of my writing professors that day. I walked into his office and I told him that I thought I might drop out. "You?" he said "you work the hardest."

When he said that I remembered where I heard that before; it was here at The Door when I was told that as GED students we sometimes have to work the hardest to get where we want to get.

So I started thinking to myself, what is it that I know, that as a GED graduate I already know and already have that can help me with this journey? What can help me overcome this paralyzing feeling? I came up that with four things and I want to share them with you today.

The first thing I realized was that I and you, having successfully gotten our GED diplomas, already know that asking for help isn't a sign of weakness. It's the first step towards becoming stronger and getting better.

I went to my physics professor in his office, I told him my struggle and he told me to come to his office every week. Every Friday we sat together going over the homework and the lectures. I ended up finishing that class with a B+. He has also gave me a wonderful recommendation letter. (For all of you of grads here who are going off to college, my advice is start collecting these letters early, you'll need lots of them.)

The second thing I realized that day and that I would like to impart to you today is that there will be many people in your life who will underestimate you, don't let yourself be one of them. Self-pity paralyzes you, it changes you. Don't let these voices of self-doubt take you over. Don't let your own self be one of those who doubt or underestimate you.

The third thing I realized that day, that you and I as GED graduates already know, is that when you hear a statistic about how likely - or unlikely - you are to succeed at something, that statistic is not a prediction, it's a challenge to prove it wrong. All of you have heard statistics about how likely you are to succeed or fail. These statistics may be due to your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, or your status of citizenship. They are not predictions; they are just challenges for you to take on and prove wrong.

And the final thing I learned that day was that you and I can be our own inspiration. I thought back that day to my time here at The Door and I remembered that I was the person who, without any formal education, got my GED and started college. I let that person, that man, inspire me to get up and continue trying. All of you graduates can do the same for yourselves. We hear often in the news about inspirational stories of people who have lost their legs and still run marathons or people who have gone blind and still make art; these stories are moving and inspiring but all of you, you don't need to go that far for inspiration. Let you, the person you are today, the hard work it took, the sacrifices you made to get here, that person should inspire you when you have those weaker moments of self-doubt. Let the person you are today remind you that you can do it, that you can go far, that you can outdo everyone's expectations. Be your own inspiration.

These two feelings, the good one and the other one, the one of self-doubt and insecurity, both won't go away fast, but as you begin your journeys beyond here, remember the feeling you have today, the feeling of "I can do it" and let that feeling win.

When people hear about my Fulbright award and that I started college with just a GED they often say to me that I'm exceptional, but I truly believe that I'm not an exception, I'm just an example—an example of the many wonderful journeys that have been taken on by so many young people who have passed through The Door, and an example of all the journeys that all of you graduates here are beginning today.

Good luck with that journey.