Our CEO, RJ Martino, was invited to speak at the Arkansas Scholars Award Celebration—take a look at the inspiring words that he had to share with these graduating high school seniors.
When RJ was invited by the Little Rock School District to speak to a group of distinguished North Little Rock High School seniors, he jumped at the chance. The Terry C. Hardwick Arkansas Scholars Award Celebration takes place every year for students who have excelled in high school; among other criteria, they must attend 95% of their classes in their four years of high school and have no grades lower than a “C.”
RJ’s speech, which focuses on inspiring young people to pursue higher education, pursue careers, and ultimately pursue personal excellence, is inspired by his youth, his time in college, and his experiences as a Little Rock entrepreneur.
Fifteenth Annual Terry C. Hartwick Arkansas Scholars Award Celebration, April 24, 2017.
Hello students, family and distinguished guests. My name is RJ Martino and I like to start with a little joke.
There was an airplane that was about to crash. (I know…this joke starts out pretty heavy).
There were four passengers, but only three parachutes.
FIRST PASSENGER: “I’m a leading heart surgeon. My patients need me.”
He grabbed the first parachute and jumped.
SECOND PASSENGER, “I’m the smartest man in the world. Mankind needs me.”
He took the second parachute and jumped.
THIRD PASSENGER was our own Dr. Margaret Ellibee. Dr. Ellibee said to the fourth passenger, a Brilliant Arkansas Scholar, “Son, I’ve lived a full life, you take the last parachute.”
The Arkansas Scholar said, “That’s okay ma’am, there are still two parachutes left. The world’s smartest man just jumped out with my backpack.”
What I want to talk to you about today is simply, showing up and working hard.
Sometimes we’re all like that smartest man in the world, right?
Sometimes we’ve worked so hard at something that we think we’re entitled to more than what others get. At least, I know I’ve been there in my life. The mindset of, “I’ve worked so hard, for so long, that I deserve success.”
When I was in high school I didn’t have perfect grades, but the one thing I DID do was show up — every day; I was 100% all-in.
My entire childhood, my mom worked two full-time jobs at a time; meaning she was working 16 to 18-hour days. That meant that I had the opportunity to skip a lot of classes. But, I knew I couldn’t do that. I showed up. I worked hard.
Each and every one of you have shown that you’re willing to put in the work. You have shown up, day in and day out. You have worked hard and made the grades.
Encouragement for Pursuing Higher Education
I entered college with the same mindset knowing that I HAD to show up and work hard. Think about that. We get a lot of freedom when we go off to college. You’re expected to go to classes, but (aside from maybe the urging of your parents) nobody is forcing you to get to that 8 o’clock morning class. You have to put in the effort yourself, because what I knew was that the pursuit of higher education is one of the biggest determining factors of how much money you will earn over your lifetime.
I was lucky enough to sit down with an entrance counselor who told me some really interesting statistics that I want to share with you.
Only 40% of your peers will pursue higher education. But those who do will typically make 68% more money than those who don’t.
Also, those with some form of higher education are more likely to be employed even in a down economy. Those without a secondary education will earn half of what those with will earn, and they are 4 times more likely to be unemployed.
So, listen to this: if for nothing else, then go to college to make 68% more money! When you hear about someone getting a job right out of high school making $30,000 a year, you can rest easy knowing that immediately after your short time in college, you’ll be making $50,000 a year! If a company hires someone without a college degree, and pays them a salary of $100,000, know that that same company will pay you $168,000!
Zig Ziglar says, “Money is not the most important thing in life, but it’s reasonably close to oxygen. I mean, ya know… When you need it… you really do need it.”
Encouragement for Pursuing a Career
So, I went to college and realized something. It was a lot like high school in the sense of needing to be all-in and continuing to work hard.
I remember being so scared of college. I remember hearing the horror stories of how much harder college was than high school. But, you know what, for people like us who put in the work, it turns out there are loads of similarities to high school.
If you go to college with the same work ethic and tenacity that you’ve had in high school. If you go to college, show up every day and work hard, the results will be similar to what they are today — an education to be proud of and the potential to do and be anything you can imagine.
As I continued with my studies, I started applying what I was taught. I loved technology and studied computer science and business. I started building computers for my friends, building servers for businesses, designing websites and performing marketing functions for small business owners. I did it for free, just for the experience. Eventually, people started giving me money! And before I knew it, I had started a company!
My experience and long-time love of technology led me down my path of starting Scale, an IT and Marketing company. But some of you may have experience or a passion for something that leads to a path of a career in manufacturing or a specialty trade. There are so many opportunities in manufacturing for skill-based laborers.
I’m not here to tell you WHAT you need to study after high school – I’m here to tell you that you need to study SOMETHING after high school.
Pursue some form of secondary education based on your experience and your passion. And once you determine your path, all you need to do is show up and work hard.
The Importance of Our Community and Its Development
Everyone in this room has people outside of your immediate family that has helped you achieve success. There is someone in your community that played a role in your development. It may be a teacher, a member of your church, a coach, a business owner, or maybe the parent of one of your friends. You are a product of your community.
There is a reason you have a “show up and work hard” mentality. There is probably a person that you can think of that helped engrain that work ethic into your brain. For most of us, there are many people. That’s what a community is for. And it’s important to contribute to the community’s development.
I remember when I was in junior high: I woke up one Saturday – after sleeping in – feeling so refreshed. There was no alarm clock, nobody screaming at me. It was great! Until it hit me that it wasn’t Saturday. It was Monday… and I was late! I had already missed the bus and there was no chance of making it. I threw on my clothes and began knocking on my neighbor’s door. Gary was a painter, helped with yard work around the neighborhood and always offered to help with general handyman work, just one of those guys that always helped when asked. I knocked on his door and told him what happened. How something must’ve happened with my alarm and that I didn’t know how I was going to get to school. He didn’t blink an eye. We hopped in his truck and made our way to school. As I got out of his truck, I told him thank you and that he saved me. He responded with something I’ll never forget. He said, “Don’t worry about it, RJ. It takes a village.”
The statement “it takes a village” comes from the idea that a child has the best ability to become a healthy adult if the entire community takes an active role in contributing to the raising of the child.
Gary was a very influential person in my life, but I never took the opportunity tell him “thank you” for his influence on me. He passed away last year from cancer.
For you – it may not be too late. I know there is someone you’re thinking of. Someone that has helped you get to where you are. A church leader that kept you from straying, a teacher that talked to you during a tough time in school, or a neighbor that has helped your family in a time of need. Take some time and identify those people. Which people in the community influenced you to “show up and work hard?” Once you identify them – make a mental note and when you get home, call them.
If you get their voicemail, just leave a message: “Hi, this RJ. I just wanted to call and tell you that you really influenced me and although I’m not done writing my story, I wouldn’t be where I am today without you. You don’t need to call me back, I just wanted you to know and to tell you thank you.”
This community – North Little Rock – needs more people like Gary. It needs people that show up for others. And there is a tremendous need for leaders in the community. You don’t need a stellar resume and there are no pre-requisites. Just like getting through high school, to be a community leader, all you really have to do is show up and work hard. Look for opportunities to contribute wherever you can. Reinforce the “it takes a village” mentality for future generations.
The Importance of Taking Leadership Roles in our Community
Tonight, I’m here to give back because I know that there were many before me that did this same thing. I am the product of my community and you are the product of your community. People often feel a responsibility to give back to the community. Sometimes people interpret that as giving monetarily, but I think a more valuable contribution would be with your time, talent and skills to help other young people achieve goals and successes as you have.
The opportunity to be a leader rarely just reveals itself. Most of the time, you have to seek those opportunities out. In fact, often you actually have to step up and say, “I want the responsibility” or “I want the leadership role” or “I am going to contribute to the development of this community.”
If you are willing to make those statements, I guarantee that you’ll find yourself in a leadership role. But the steps are the same – show up and be prepared to work hard.
I can remember hearing about “leadership” in high school. And I remember not feeling like I was prepared for it. I remember turning on the TV and seeing leaders on the television like Labron James. And thinking that those people, they are natural-born leaders; they were built that way.
In college, I entered a business plan competition with a group of friends. We wanted to build custom software applications for government organizations. As a group, we had dumped hundreds of hours on research and developing a top-tier business plan. When it came to defining specific roles, I knew I was responsible for sales but there were two other partners that were more knowledgeable, better connected, more experienced, and even more confident than me. Then, the question came up, “who is going to be CEO?” We sat quietly for what seemed like forever. I was looking around wondering a little scared that they were going to choose me. Finally, I stepped up. Everyone in the room agreed. And that was it. I became CEO because I stepped up. I raised my hand and accepted the responsibility. I didn’t feel prepared. I didn’t feel like I had some special skill. I simply stepped up when I saw there was a need.
We went on to compete and after it was over, we actually started the business. I stayed on as President and CEO, and we now have over 100 clients throughout the country and 15 employees at our marketing and IT firm, Scale.
Leaders aren’t blessed with special skills, they simply step up. If you want to continue down this path of success and recognition, you’re going to have to look for leadership opportunities. You’re going to have to step up when others may not want to.
The Magnitude of Being the Next Generation’s Leaders
In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.
Life can be tough. And, I bet, for plenty of you, high school was tough. Whether it’s because you encountered bullying, you struggled with getting the grades you needed, or just didn’t feel like you fit in. High school was tough. But whether it was tough or not – the good news is that – if life is a journey… This is JUST the start of your journey.
If your life is an entire story or, if you can see your life as a book – this is just the first chapter.
This is not the end your story. However you viewed high school – whether it was a positive experience or maybe not so much, this is just the end of the first chapter. High school is one chapter of an amazing book, and you are the author. You have the means and the chance to write an awesome story. What will your story be? Are you going to be the hero that uses tonight — this recognition of being an Arkansas Scholar as a springboard to achieve greatness? Or, is this going to be the peak for you?
I don’t think so. I think as an Arkansas Scholar, you won’t run from the hard times, you’ll run through them. You won’t run away from college, thinking it’s too hard, you’ll run to it – knowing that you’re well equipped. You won’t run away from that leadership position, thinking that you’re not qualified, you’ll run up to it courageously.
If your life is a book, your high school career was chapter one. Being recognized as an Arkansas Scholar tonight solidifies that your first chapter was undeniably positive. Let’s keep that focus and make the rest of the chapters just as bright.
Remember – we’re not entitled to anything. You can continue to see success if you continue to show up and work hard.
Looking for a passionate speaker at your next event?
Look no further. RJ is passionate about sharing his insights on education, entrepreneurship, business leadership, radio production, and so much more. Contact Scale today to get in touch with RJ Martino and ensure that your next event is inspiring and impactful.