Grads, prepare to overcome your Goliaths

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 13, 2014

We’ve all heard the story of David and Goliath: the story of a young man overcoming incredible odds and defeating a seemingly invincible foe. It is a story of courage, conviction and triumph; a story of victory in the face of difficult circumstances.
Other versions of the story exist. Sometimes David is replaced by the little train that could, or by the ant that moved a rubber tree plant. Regardless, stories of “Davids” defeating “Goliaths” have been passed down from generation to generation, and although the names may change, the story remains the same.
With graduation season upon you and the inevitable challenges of an uncertain future ahead, I felt compelled to share my own David and Goliath story, so that it may serve as inspiration as you reach for what may seem an unreachable star. My story, like David’s, is of a small town boy facing his fears, defying his naysayers and accomplishing great feats. The kid — notorious for being the runt of the pack in small town USA — who rose to lead an organization comprised of 9,200 soldiers.
The North Rowan High School graduating class of 1984 was 30 days away from its commencement ceremony, and I recall sitting in my homeroom class ambivalent about my plans after graduation. College was the furthest thing from my mind. I was on the verge of failing chemistry, which would have resulted in my removal from the list of those scheduled to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas on graduation night.
High school days were challenging for me, to say the least. Like many of you, graduation literally boiled down to that final chemistry exam — pass with an 82 percent or higher and graduate on time, or fail. I was your typical, average guy taking average classes and achieving marginal-to-average grades. My name never graced the Saturday morning edition of the Salisbury Post following a Friday night football game. I was not a gregarious person. I didn’t participate in the debate club, student council or any popularity contest. In fact, for me it was quite the opposite. I shied far away from the limelight or any situation that could put me in a leadership role.
But the time had come for me to decide what I was going to do with my life. Exams were complete, graduation near, and like many of you, I had a dream without a plan. I remember my mom telling me that I should attend Rowan Community College, but college wasn’t for me.
I wanted to travel and see the world, experience exotic lands and meet exciting people. I wanted adventure. East Spencer was my home, but I wanted the world to be my playground. I could envision the ends but didn’t know the ways or have the means.
Like David, I knew that the odds were against me, that there were those who didn’t believe in me, and that if I wanted to achieve any measure of success, I would have to go against conventional wisdom and the status quo and do something different. Continuing my education at that stage of my life wasn’t what I desired, but leaving East Spencer, N.C., and exploring this vast world was.
On May 29, 1984, approximately two weeks prior to graduation, I enlisted into the United States Army on the delayed entry program and was scheduled to leave for basic training in mid-August. I didn’t join for the glory or because of a slogan. I didn’t join for the money or the benefits. I joined because of a guaranteed duty assignment to Hawaii after training. I wasn’t concerned about what I had to do or what people thought. It wasn’t a popular decision, and I had my share of critics.
As August drew closer, I, too, began to question my rationale for joining and even considered backing out on numerous occasions prior to leaving for basic training. Luckily, I stayed resolute with my decision and didn’t succumb to my fear of basic training, the talk of going to war or my uncertainty about wanting to be a soldier. Nothing would stand in my way or deter me from my ultimate goal of travelling the world.
As a 19-year-old kid, leaving the only place I’d ever known and setting out on a journey that would take me thousands of miles away from my friends and family was intimidating. Just like the little shepherd boy who ran down the hill to face his greatest challenge, I was determined to face my fears and conquer any obstacle before me.
A decision made nearly 30 years ago afforded this small town kid the opportunity to travel tens of thousands of miles, serve this great nation in combat, earn a bachelor of science degree in management studies and ascend to the position as the senior enlisted military adviser of the U.S. Army’s largest ballistic missile defense organization; the highest enlisted position in Army Air and Missile Defense. Once again, David overcame Goliath.
So as you embark on your post-high school journey, understand that challenges await and adversity is a fact of life. Know that the choice resides solely with you in regard to how you confront any situation. Let adversity be your motivation, not your Achilles heel.
David resides in all of us. Life will surely knock you down. However, once you take ownership of your thinking and attitude, you’ll realize that you determine your fate and neither criticism nor setbacks can discourage you from overcoming your Goliath. Regardless of the road or the obstacle, stay committed to the decision, learn from your mistakes and dive into opportunities head-first without trepidation or consternation. Be confident in your strengths and abilities, and don’t fear that initial step. Once you truly commit to something, no road will be too rocky and no hill too steep.
Like Goliath, the world is gigantic, somewhat intimidating and full of possibilities. Time and again, David has proven that ordinary people achieve extraordinary things. All you have to do is believe.
Congratulations class of 2014, your new journey begins; conquer your Goliath.
Command Sgt. Maj. Darrin Jefferies, an East Spencer native and North Rowan High School graduate, is senior enlisted adviser in the U.S. Army’s 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command.