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Key to success: Vision Key to success: Passion Key to success: Perseverance Key to success: Preparation Key to success: Courage Key to success: Integrity Key to success: The American Dream Keys to success homepage More quotes on Passion More quotes on Vision More quotes on Courage More quotes on Integrity More quotes on Preparation More quotes on Perseverance More quotes on The American Dream


Stephen Jay Gould

Evolutionary Biologist and Paleontologist

Probably the most important thing I did, if I were to cite one incident -- and this has nothing to do with paleontology in a direct sense, but in another way it has everything to do with career -- was singing in the All-City High School Chorus. I was always interested in choral singing, in fact I still sing. It was a total fluke. In fact, the chorus teacher made a mistake. There was this chorus which was composed of the best singers from all the high schools, and each public high school was allocated a few audition try-out passes, so to speak. My chorus director had two. I was in the junior chorus, the senior chorus had more. And he called my name by mistake -- there was one obvious person who got one of the tickets -- and I was very pleased. I went up to get the ticket and he suddenly realized he'd made a mistake, but being a sensitive man -- I've always been grateful for this -- he didn't embarrass me by saying, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean you." He just let it happen, he gave me the ticket. I went down, I tried out, I actually got in. I was by no means in the top half of this chorus, but the chorus was then led by a man named Peter Wilhousky, who was director of music for the City of New York, one of the great choral conductors of America. He was an old Polish or Russian aristocrat, and he just had a fierce belief in excellence. He was also tough as could be, and he'd throw people out at a moment's notice. He's not a nice man, I don't mean that. Niceness is not always what you want. I mean, you need a lot of it, but before I met Wilhousky I had just never even encountered the notion that genuine professional excellence was attainable by high school students. And yet he would settle for nothing else. We were the best singers in the high school system in the city, and we were damned well going to turn out a professional quality concert, which we gave each year in Carnegie Hall. He wasn't even going to consider anything else, he just didn't even talk about it. You were going to do that, and I'm going to do it all, that's all there was to it. And that was a very inspirational message. I don't know that my life would have been different. I think I had enough internal drive to do what I wanted to do, but to see that institutionalization of genuine excellence at age 15, 16, was very important to me. Now I got into that chorus by sheer good fortune, as I've told you the story. That's how lives work anyway.
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John Grisham

Best-Selling Author

I give commencement speeches occasionally to colleges and high schools, and I usually dwell on that, tell the students, "Get your education and work hard, but don't race toward the age of 22 or 23 when you're out of college, and you've got the credit card, and you've got the BMW, and you want everything right then at the age of 23, because you're not going to enjoy your education." I tell kids to stay in school until they're 30 years old. Their parents hate me for it, but nobody really takes you very seriously until you're 30 anyway. You need to spend a lot of time in school.
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John Grisham

Best-Selling Author

The basics of grammar and vocabulary are very important. And you tend to take it for granted, until you start trying to write. It is terribly important to read extensively. Virtually all writers I know are voracious readers still, and that is preparation. The more you read, the more you know. The more your imagination works, the more you read. And that's -- those are the tools of a good writer. You have to live. Nobody wants to hear -- the world does not want to hear -- a great novel from a 21 year-old. You've got to get a real job and get a real career, and you've got to go to work. And you've got to live and you've got to succeed and fail, and suffer, a little bit, or see suffering, heartache and heartbreak and all that before you really have anything to write.
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David Halberstam

Pulitzer Prize for Journalism

Instead of going to New York or Washington or something like that, the gilded path -- and I was credentialed -- I went and worked on the smallest daily in Mississippi. It's a year after Brown v. Board of Education. I thought if you are going to do an apprenticeship, do it in the South, that's where the story is. And I worked with great reporters on a very important story, and I learned how to cover it, how to put yourself at risk, what the ethics were. I sat there, and I absorbed. If I had been a young reporter going to New York, I would have been one of 30 guys out of an Ivy League school going to a paper where all the senior reporters didn't have time to talk to you. By being the one guy like me going to Mississippi and then to Nashville, that was a great graduate school! I was working on a paper in Nashville that had more good reporters, more tough-minded people, and I was the only guy who, every night at dinner, when we would go out to dinner, just inhaled everything, made them go through what they'd done each day. It was a great, great graduate school for me.
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