In his commencement address to the University of Houston Class of 2017 graduates, legendary actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger emphatically declared, “I always tell people that you can call me anything that you want. You can call me Arnold. You can call me Schwarzenegger. You can call me the Austrian oak. You can call me Schwarzy. You can call me Arnie. But don’t ever, ever call me the self‑made man.” Here’s a man who left his own country to come to the United States with little to his name. He went on to dominate the bodybuilding sport by 20 years old, made millions in real estate investments and development, became a movie star in countless classic films, and was elected as the 38th governor of the state of California. And yet, despite those achievements, the point of his commencement speech to an audience of thousands of students is that he’s not a self-made man. If anyone has a right to be proud of their own accomplishments and graciously rest on their laurels, you would think it would be Arnold Schwarzenegger. But he defies that notion repeatedly throughout the address.
If this is true for the Terminator, it’s 1000 times more true for myself. One area where I know this to be true was with my Service to School ambassador. I remember when I first spoke to my mentor. I expected to be connected with a working professional who may or may not be a veteran, but who was willing to give a few pointers here and there. Much to my surprise, my sponsor turned out to be a sophomore at Dartmouth College who was also prior enlisted, and incredibly willing to mentor me in any way possible. With his endless patience and down-to-earth approach, my sponsor was able to give me advice on various matters that I was clueless about—from how to make myself look like an ideal candidate to how to balance my schedule. He made himself available to me on numerous occasions and was willing to find answers to all my questions. Because of his dedication, the relationship became one for which I will always be grateful.
One of the most priceless pieces of advice he gave me during my application process was to express my military experience as an opportunity to serve others for the greater good. This wasn’t advice to create a strong essay or to impress in an interview; it was counsel on a healthy mindset and attitude to adopt. As we all know, serving our nation is a calling that all veterans cherish. But my sponsor helped me to see that that attitude of service continues after the military and is paramount to your continued development as well. He helped me to see beyond myself and my own goals.
As Arnold Schwarzenegger alludes to often in his speech, he had drive, a fire in his belly, and a relentless work ethic. These things are necessary for success in life and at college. But that’s not the whole picture. As I trace my steps back to how I got to where I am, I remember the countless Khan Academy videos, Tidewater Community College tutors, Warrior Scholar Project staff members, and Coast Guard mentors along the way who guided me and had faith in me. I am where I am today because of them. Without their guidance and support, I would not be where I am today. Many of my fellow veterans in higher education also paved the way for vets like me by being inspirational examples. Because of them and their willingness to pay it forward, I can now do the same. Because I am not a self-made man.