Man in the Arena

Some things never leave us.

In May of 2001, I graduated from the St. Cloud Technical and Community College. Leading up to my graduation was the most successful I had ever felt in my life. To this day I consider it to be one of my greatest accomplishments. You see, when I started school in the fall of 1999, in a two-year program, I had tried to go to college two other times before 1999. And each of those two times the process of college, classes, managing my own schedule, and paying tuition on my own had become overwhelming and I had to stop school and just work for a while. I didn’t know much about my dyslexia and really neither did any of the school systems. In high school, I failed more things than I passed, and if it wasn’t for drama, choir, and my cute wrestling boyfriend I would have had nothing to look forward to about school. In 1998 as I was working in a warehouse loading semi-trailers and shipping small parcel packages, I thought to myself, this can’t be it. This can’t be the whole purpose of my life. That’s when I went searching for answers, signed up for classes, and waited a year for college to start.

Once classes started my fear of failure became extreme. I literally would tell the teachers I was going to quit almost every other day for the first two months all while doing all my homework, working a full-time job, showing up for classes every day, and getting “A’s” on my tests. I believed I was too stupid to pass, I believed a was a mistake and a failure. My internal dialog was the meanest bully to me every day, all day. What kept me going each day? My mom, my husband, my teachers, my boss, a few of my fellow students, and a little voice inside of me that said I was not stupid, dumb, and a mistake. Oh yeah, I haven’t even mentioned that I was the only female in my class of twenty and I had classmates that didn’t want me there and made really negative comments about the scholarships I would win or the grades I got. And my story is not unique in many ways. If you ever have the chance to hear some of the stories of people attending technical and community colleges, it will inspire you in so many ways. Fellow students in other studies inspired me and helped to keep me going.

I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and showing up for class. By the third month I was getting all “A’s”, I loved what I was learning, and I was starting to believe in myself. That belief in myself only grew and grew over time.

By May of 2001 as I was preparing to graduate with a 4.0 GPA, take one of the best jobs in the field, and start a new chapter of my life I asked if I could apply to give the speech at graduation. I was awarded that honor. As I was writing the speech, highlighting the journey we had all made, different and yet with some similarities to each other, I wanted a quote to start things off. That was when I came across the “Man in the Arena” speech by Theodore Roosevelt.

In that moment, that was how I felt. I felt like the Man in the Arena. To all of those teachers who said I would never read, write, or spell, to all of the people I had worked with over the years who said I would never amount to anything, to all the classmates who made fun of me because I spelled words wrong or read out loud with errors. I felt like I had just proved them wrong.

This was my declaration that I was moving on and that I would live my life like the Man in The Arena. I would be in the arena and not in the stands and those in the stands, well, they really don’t matter, because they are not in the game.

Please take a moment to read this speech over.


It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly;
who errs,
who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;

but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,

so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know
victory nor defeat.

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