Chapel Talk: Courage from a different perspective

Math teacher and football coach Frank DeLaurentis discusses and often unrecognized characteristic of success that requires a particular kind of courage.

What is courage? Courage is defined as the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, or pain without - or by overcoming - fear. I think we can agree that the men and women of our armed forces, fire departments and police departments exhibit courage whenever they head into harm's way. I think we can also agree that people we know or have heard stories about people who have faced life-threatening disease, illness, or other extreme situations and the courage they exhibited.

However, I'd like to discuss courage from a different perspective. First, let's talk about "successful" people. How would you define success? I believe that successful people are basically happy people. Not because of their success - although that helps - but I believe that to be successful one must be happy. I think we can agree that genetics plays a certain role in the success a person experiences. We can all name exceptional musicians, actors, writers, mathematicians and athletes. Let's face it - no one wakes up one morning and just becomes a professional athlete, Olympian or concert musician. There is also an element of luck often involved with successful people - simply being in the right place at the right time.  In my opinion, all of these characteristics just mentioned each play a small role in a person's success. There are more important characteristics. Hard work, for example - we all know that the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.

Usually, when we think of successful people, we tend to think of the famous, the wealthy, the accomplished, or the notable. I, on the other hand, firmly believe that each and every one of you is successful. Think about it. You have been accepted into this prestigious institution, maybe even into others. Many of you are gifted athletes, musicians, singers, actors and - let's not forget - students! You are all far more technologically advanced than I could ever hope to be. (That may not be saying much, but it's true.) As far as luck is concerned, you are lucky and most fortunate to have parents and guardians to support your being here. 

But how does any of this relate to courage? Well, did I mention the most important characteristic of all successful people - a characteristic which we all exhibit from time to time? If you can make only this one characteristic a part of your very being, you will become successful beyond your wildest dreams. This characteristic, however, takes every ounce of courage you can muster.


Perseverance is the quality that allows someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult; or, it is the continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure or opposition.

My point is this: You must struggle against adversity, push through tragedies, overcome and correct failures. You must believe in yourself! That is perseverance and that takes courage. Einstein failed algebra. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Mozart was deaf. How many times did Edison's light bulb or Bell's telephone fail? Read about Nicola Tesla if you want to learn about perseverance and courage.

You tend to sell yourselves short. Why? Because you just don't get it...yet. Let me tell you, I see displays of courage and perseverance every single day here at Peddie. I see students struggle yet work to improve. I see students ask questions and put work on the board when they know they may be incorrect. I see students strive in athletics, drama, music and art. You persevere despite difficulties, failure and opposition. I know a student who never hesitates to call out classmates regarding dress code or work, yet is always the first to help them with their work. I know a student who continually seeks extra help, and despite continued difficulties always comes to class with a smile and a positive, indomitable attitude. All of you exhibit courage through perseverance daily.

You must recognize this trait in yourselves, you must cherish each other for this, and this behavior should become an integral part of you. Here's why:

As much as I admire your perseverance, my admiration comes with a strong warning. We are not perfect. We all have our off days, times when we slack off or occasionally take the easy way. That is human nature.

The danger is this: if you allow the easy way to become the normal way, if you become a habitual slacker, if you continually make excuses for lackluster performances, if you blame others for your shortcomings, if you cannot admit when you have made a mistake or take responsibility for your actions - then you are well on your way to becoming someone who is too afraid to do what is right or expected. In other words, you become a coward, and if you become a coward, you will be unable to persevere.

Perseverance and courage go hand-in-hand, and believe me, you will need to persevere in life. You will all experience setbacks, challenges, and tragedies during your lifetime, not to mention old age! That's right, it's not easy getting old - it has its perks, but it's not easy!

There are students in this chapel today who have given chapel talks, class presentations, performed on stage or in an athletic venue - that takes perseverance and courage.

Each of the teachers here spends an extraordinary amount of time preparing their classes and practices in an effort to reach every single student in their class or on their team. They worry about their presentations. "Am I getting this material across? Have I explained things in a way they understood?" Your teachers and coaches perform each and every day and they strive to make each of those performances perfect. It is a job, but it takes perseverance and courage to give every ounce of energy every day to doing it well.

Thus far, I've mentioned you, your classmates and your teachers. Let me share one final story about a couple of everyday people. You don't know them. They weren't famous - just ordinary.

He was born in 1915. By the time he was 13, he had lost both parents and was being raised by two tyrannical, unforgiving uncles. He was bright, and attended the Bronx High School of Science. At the first opportunity, he tried to enlist in the air force but he was too short. He slept on a wooden floor for weeks, and when World War II broke out the height requirement was lowered. He enlisted and became a bomber pilot. He married and had three sons. His wife lost three others during pregnancy and birth. How's that for perseverance and courage? She went on to become an accountant. She never learned to drive, so she schlepped every day back and forth to work by train and or bus.

He made the air force a career, but eventually retired and opened a business in New York City - a diner on Fifth Avenue. He took the subway to work every morning at 5:00 a.m. and returned home at 8:00 p.m. Many times he worked on the weekend as well, but when he wasn't working he spent time with the Little Sisters of the Poor in the South Bronx. There he met and had an audience with Mother Teresa. He and his wife put their sons through college without any loans. He outlived a son, a grandson and his beloved wife of 64 years. He went blind, hard of hearing, and had two heart surgeries. He walked at least two miles and did 100 pushups (albeit with his knees on the floor) each day. He proudly invented the milkaphone (a plastic milk jug with the bottom cut off that he used as a megaphone) - he couldn't see or hear much of went on during Peddie football games, but he wanted to be sure the players and coaches could hear him! He finally passed away on Christmas day, three days before his ninety-seventh birthday. He and his wife were buried with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

I tell you this story because if I changed just a few things, I could be describing the lives of your parents or guardians; everyday people who exhibit perseverance and courage each and every day. It takes courage and perseverance to get up day in and day out to go to work - often not to the "perfect" job. You do it for those you love and care about. You need to remember that and not take it for granted. Thank your parents or guardians every single day for the life you are privileged to have. Honor your parents,  your guardians, your family, and most importantly yourselves by persevering and being courageous every minute of every day. It will not always be easy. We are all human, and we will falter. But I know this. Although I have a good way to go, if I can succeed at being half the man, half the husband, and half the father that my father was, then when my time comes, I will rest easy knowing I was a successful and courageous person.

So, love and thank your parents and guardians. Respect and appreciate your teachers and coaches. Encourage and support your classmates. And once in a while - just once in a while - give yourself a little credit. Be strong - be courageous - persevere!


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