“Anyone can achieve their fullest potential. Who we are might be predetermined, but the path we follow is always of our own choosing. We should never allow our fears or the expectations of others to set the frontiers of our destiny. Your destiny can’t be changed but, it can be challenged. Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.”
We all become who we were meant to become. I firmly believe that because I firmly believe in a God who intends the lives of all people to serve a purpose. And while I believe each person makes his/her own choices (and bears the weight of the consequences), it is also incumbent upon each of us to figure out where (and who) we are supposed to be in this world — and sometimes, an integral part of that is determining where we do not belong.
“What did you ever do to change the world?” asked Trevor, the young boy in the film Pay It Forward. I ask myself that question every day, and that is why I do what I do.
It would be the preference of many people that I remain silent. It would be the preference of many people that I — a convicted felon and societal castaway — remain unseen and unheard, cowering in the dark corners of anonymity — saying nothing, doing nothing, being nothing.
But I refuse. I refuse to allow my shame to cripple me and weigh me down — that’s why I carry guilt.
Instead, my shame motivates me. My shame gives me the drive to change the way the American educational system views the issue of unlawful teacher/student relationships — the very issue to which I tragically contributed. My shame gives me the drive to step forward into the face of ridicule and try to change the world.
I am guilty. I am very guilty. But that does not mean I must be condemned to a life of silent excommunication when I have the ability, the knowledge, and the voice to step forward and make a difference.
I once came across a Tweet from a random former student of mine (who makes it a peculiar habit to trash me online whenever she gets the chance, for some odd reason), and it read, “Why are we giving offenders a voice?”
And here’s my answer: To change the world!
Who better than me knows why teachers have relationships with students? Not only did I experience it, but I’ve spent several years researching and studying the epidemic as well. Essentially, I am now one of the leading experts on the issue because I present a perspective beyond what any researcher has ever provided. And with that knowledge, I can make a difference! I can keep this from happening! I can provide the tools needed to catch the teachers committing these horrible crimes!
However, society would have me simply sit down and shut up. They don’t think I should be speaking because I’ve made destructive choices in my life. But my question to society is this: Isn’t this what we want criminals to do? I committed a crime, went to prison, and was released. Please explain to me exactly what is wrong with me stepping forward and taking a stance against the crime I committed. Obviously, I shouldn’t have done it in the first place, but there’s nothing I can do to change the past. The future, however, is full of possibilities.
So I refuse to remain in the shadows of shame and anonymity. That is not where I belong. God gave me the gifts of writing and public speaking, and it is now my responsibility to use those gifts to change the world. Grandiose, I know. But not untrue.
In the face of my past failures, I firmly believe I am destined for future greatness — but not greatness for me; greatness for others.
So where do I belong? I belong at a podium, speaking the truth to those who need to hear it. I belong at a keyboard, typing the words that need to be read. Just because my past has been a failure does not mean my future is entirely hopeless.
Why can’t I still do good in the world? And why do people not want me to do good in the world?
I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll never know. Perhaps their hatred of me (because of my past) cannot be overcome, no matter how many speeches I make, books I write, or perspectives I change. But that does not mean I will stop trying.
Until I breathe my last breath, I will spend every moment striving to do the next right thing. Because, in my heart, I know I owe that to the people I’ve hurt.
That is where I belong: Somewhere, sometime, somehow, doing the next right thing.