Duane Smith | Choosing to Be Successful

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

I know an amazing young woman. At the age of 15 she switched from attending a local public high school to do independent study. After having her intellectual foundation established though homeschooling by her mother of seven, she had been taking honors courses at a local high school, but more often than not instructors would extend due dates with assignments to accommodate the majority of students “in the honors courses” who had failed to complete their work on time. This would leave the young woman frustrated, and with nothing to do in the meantime since she had always completed her work. 

Hungry to move forward, the young woman spoke with a counselor, who suggested independent study.

Soon after beginning independent study the young woman realized that by working at her own pace, she could not only complete course work early, but also with the extra free time she could get a job. So, the young woman started working at Six Flags Magic Mountain. However, even with the new job, and doubling up on her schoolwork, she still had a lot of free time. Not wanting to waste a minute in any day, she took a second job as a hostess at a local steakhouse. She soon realized that, with tips, she made considerably more than at the amusement park. It only made sense for her to quit the fun-park, and get a second restaurant job.

At 16, the young woman graduated high school two years early with honors and a 4.3 GPA. Around this time, because of COVID-19, Starbucks had recently lowered its minimal hiring age to 16. She had done her research and knew that Starbucks had many employee benefits, not least of which is a partnership with Arizona State University, which includes paying the tuition of any employees who desire to, who choose to, attend college while also choosing to work for Starbucks. 

Well, these two choices made obvious sense to the stellar, always forward-thinking young woman. The opportunity was immediately seized!

Again, the young excellent woman, not wanting a moment in any day to go unused, immediately formatted a plan to complete 24 units a semester, including during the summer — so she could earn her bachelor’s degree by the age of 18! 

With the help of counselors signing off, and taking extra classes at College of The Canyons, that’s exactly what she did. She graduated with honors from ASU on May 8. To make this happen, she would often get up at 3:30 a.m. to complete her studies, before working at Starbucks at 8 a.m. And because her desire is to be a teacher someday, she also took a second job. 

On Tuesdays and Fridays, in between Starbucks and studying, she also worked as a preschool teacher. She made a plan, and chose to do what needed to be done to make it all happen. And now, the next thing she has chosen to do, starting in September, is move to Wales and attend Aberystwyth University, where at only 18 she will begin working on a master’s degree in English literature. 

Her name is Skylar Michaela Smith. She is one of my six daughters, and I am very, very proud of her! With six siblings, Sky knew her mother and I could not afford to pay for all she has paid for, and worked for herself. She is my greatest example of success truly being a choice.

Our family recently traveled to Tempe, Arizona, to celebrate her graduation. A very special, private, intimate party was hosted by Starbucks. Both the CEO of Starbucks, Laxman Narasimhan, and the president of ASU, Michael M. Crow, attended and spoke. Mr. Narasimhan humbly said some kind and encouraging words, before opening up the room because he wanted to “hear stories about Starbucks ASU graduates,” as well as from their family and friends. 

I’m so grateful for the opportunity he gave me to stand up, and let my little girl know how proud I am of her. 

Later, Mr. Narasimhan, even pulled Sky out of the commencement line and personally congratulated her. 

President Crow spoke of ASU’s commitment to inclusivity and helping any and all people achieve their fullest potential with what he called “the most complicated organism in the entire universe … the human brain.” 

Both of these men made it passionately clear that they desire to help “anyone” succeed in this life. 

But as I looked around the room, and listened to the stories of success, they all had one thing in common that sadly is not very common: They were individuals who were choosing success. They had chosen to take advantage of the opportunities Mr. Narasimhan and President Crow so desperately wanted to give them. The room was full of people who chose to be successful, regardless of life’s challenges.

Between COVID and all the civil and political chaos of the past few years in our nation it’s easy to buy into the doom and gloom narrative that seems to dominate, direct, define and even be romanticized by our culture and used to justify failure, to choose failure. Thankfully, people like Mr. Narasimhan, President Crow and my daughter remind me that success is a choice, and there are people who are committed to helping others succeed, and offering fantastic opportunities to be had — by anyone who chooses to be successful. 

Duane Smith 

Agua Dulce

Related To This Story

Latest NEWS