One of the images I took away from Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed, was that of a crying teen girl being consoled by her girlfriends in a school cafeteria - because her daddy bought her the wrong kind of brand new car for her 16th birthday.
His point: children like this rich kid will typically end up in college, but so do many disadvantaged kids who worked hard to get there. The children of wealth typically have better ACT and SAT scores, but they’re often caught and surpassed by less fortunate kids who have learned to work hard.
One of these disadvantaged kids was Latipha Cross, a teenager from Detroit who has suffered amazing adversity. Her mother abandoned her. Her father raped her. Her sister was murdered. Her foster parents beat her. She escaped that situation, preferring to live homeless.
In school, she vented her emotions by running track. Her coach said, “She runs angry.” And she never lost a race. Then she got cancer. Immediately after a course of chemotherapy, she broke a Michigan state record for 400 meters. She received dozens of scholarship offers, and she committed to Eastern Michigan University. Then, before the end of her senior year in high school, she was diagnosed with lymphoma.
But the track coach who signed her continued to believe in her. About her troubled past, he said, “If a girl can get through that, then what else can she achieve?” Watch this video segment produced by ESPN:
“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” - Confucius, Chinese philosopher (B.C.551-479)
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger, American actor (1947- )
Not every young person is able to use this kind of pain and hardship to make herself stronger. The stress it produces can overwhelm a young mind. The pain can get expressed as rage. On the other hand, getting stronger as a person requires adversity. Latipha wouldn’t be where she is now without it.
So was she one of the lucky ones? I don’t think of her that way. I prefer to think she made conscious choices to defeat her past, to put it behind her by running towards a better future. I prefer to think of her as heroic.