Today’s post is more personal than most. It is a story about my son, Brandon, and holds an important lesson for each of us.
As you may recall from an audio post I made to my blog last year, Resilience Is Critical When Facing Challenge, Brandon is adopted. I first met Brandon when he was 15 years old. He reached out to request an interview for a photography project he was doing in school. He had to write the biography of his favorite photographer and, he told me, “I Googled gay photographers, and you’re my favorite.”
During the course of the interview Brandon learned a bit about me, and I learned a bit about him. Most importantly, I learned that he was living in an abusive home environment, and attending a school where he was getting assaulted on a regular basis. Moreover, he didn’t have an adult figure in his life that he could turn to for guidance, and whom he could trust. I offered him the opportunity to stay in touch, and he accepted.
As time went on, I learned that at home Brandon was told that because he is gay, he would never amount to anything, that he would end up living on the streets. School was not much better. Students would stand outside in the morning, praying for him. A teacher once asked whether he was ever going to “get better.” And he was told he would end up as a hairdresser or florist.
When I first began talking with Brandon about his future, he was already committed to moving beyond the “guidance” he was receiving from others; he had identified a one-year photography trade school that he hoped to attend. As a sometime photographer who knows how difficult it is to make a living that way, I encouraged him to think in terms of “both/and.” What would he like to study in addition to photography?
By the time Brandon graduated high school, he had been thrown out of his home, and I had taken him in. He had been accepted into a five year BA/BFA program at The New School in New York City, with plans to major in psychology (BA) and photography (BFA). Midway through his sophomore year, he made the decision to discontinue the photography major, and focus fully on psychology.
The next year he applied for, and was admitted to, a BA/MA program. This program allowed him to take graduate-level courses his junior and senior years, and granted him provisional admission to continue on for his masters degree without going through the traditional GRE and admissions process. His senior year courses would also be credited toward his MA. This fall, Brandon was notified that he was admitted to graduate school at The New School. Last month he completed his BA; while he doesn’t yet have all of his grades for the semester, his final undergraduate GPA will be in the vicinity of 3.9. At the end of this month he begins his final year of the MA program, majoring in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling. And, over the winter break, he has begun training as a professional mediator.
The journey has not been easy for Brandon. If he had believed in the future that others predicted for him, he may never have even reached out to me. But he shut out those voices in favor of his own. And, despite the negativity of so many people in the first eighteen years of his life, Brandon is creating a positive future for himself…one in which he will be helping others to believe in themselves as well.
Brandon hadn’t heard this quote of Henry Ford’s until well along in his journey. Nonetheless, he has shown us all how true it is. “If you think you can do a thing, or you think you can’t, you are right.”
As you move through the challenges of the new year, think you can!