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It takes only one person to hear your message

When The Seed School of Maryland asked me to give a speech to 308 middle-school students, my reaction was one part flattered, one part nervous. I’ve spoken to high schoolers, sharing my experiences as a Baltimore kid and my path toward business ownership. But a gymnasium full of young, boisterous adolescents? I worried that I may be outmatched –- not to mention, outnumbered. Turns out, I was right. Misgivings aside, I accepted this mission because I believe in giving back and in The Seed School. This public, college-prep boarding school provides kids from Maryland with a tuition-free education. Students enter through a lottery, so it’s a big deal to win a seat here; for some kids, it’s a piece of luck that changes their lives forever. When I pulled up to the 52-acre campus in Baltimore’s Westside, the grounds were as deserted as a dust bowl. I checked my watch. Almost 7:30 p.m., when I was due to speak. I reviewed my mental notes: themes of values, perseverance, leadership -- things bound to strike a chord with a bunch of hyperactive, hormonal adolescents stuck in a gym, right? My anxiety ticked up a notch when I saw bleachers lining both sides of the enormous gym. Engaging kids who are sitting in totally opposite directions is a challenge. Beyond that, what struck me was the room’s absolute silence. It was empty. Seven-thirty came and went. At last, the kids started to trickle in, leaving me plenty of time for self-doubt. Finally, I was introduced and I spoke my first few words into the microphone. I started to relax. This wasn’t so bad. Then the microphone went out. I spoke and it was like whispering into a hurricane. Which, in a way, I was, because the kids weren’t sitting there quietly, awaiting my every word. They were talking and laughing. Three kids struggled to repair the broken microphone. No one could fix it, and I sensed an out. But I knew leaving because of this setback would send the wrong message.

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