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St. Thomas Student Reflects on Success after Choir Trip to Washington

The trip included personal guided tour of the White House from U.S. Rep. John Kline.

Editor's note: The Saint Thomas Academy Men’s Choir and the Convent of the Visitation Upper School Choir recently took a three-day trip to Washington, D.C. Below is an essay St. Thomas sophomore Nicholas Polaczyk wrote about the nature of success after returning from the trip.

Over the years, many a person has searched for the meaning of success and its true definition.  I include myself in this mystery.  I have often run into the same answer from different places, like, “Work hard,” “Push yourself,” and, “You’re gonna have some late nights, kid.”  But none of these answers seemed to fit.  Even my own ideas didn’t make any sense, like being happy with a family, a dog, and a fat paycheck coming in twice a month.  But this doesn’t necessarily show success.  Our society is clouded with this idea of “making quick money NOW” as the only solution.  Recently, I have traveled to Washington D.C. with the Visitation School and Saint Thomas Academy choir group, VISTA.  Over Presidents’ Day weekend, we performed in front of many different audiences.  This seemingly small trip taught me many things about success.  But with all of the lessons I learned over this experience, I found that success, no matter how small, is defined solely by the happiness it carries.

The first part of this is rather obvious; hard work.  In a one-on-one vocal lesson with a professor, I learned that my aspirations to become a professional musician are not as easy as they originally seem.  There are lessons I have to learn, like posture, technique, and composure in a performance before I can even think of getting on stage.  To follow your dream, you have to push at it on a level that puts all other work to shame.  Giving 100% isn’t enough.  Do what you love, and love what you do.  Don’t let anyone discourage you.

The second part of finding success is patience.  It took Thomas Edison about 800 attempts to create the perfect filament for the light bulb.  What would have happened if he gave up on the 799th try?  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  Patience pushes us and prevents us from giving up.  Never give up on your dream, it will lead you to where you want to be.  But before you become the CEO, you might have to work in the mail room, or be a bean counter for a few years.  Sit tight, and success will find you.

The final element that I learned on my adventure is that success comes in different ways to different people.  On the first day of the trip, our group ate dinner at the famous Hard Rock Café.  As we stepped off the bus, a man in his late forties came walking towards us with a black case.  As he approached, he opened it to reveal and old saxophone.  He told us that he loves playing, and started when he was eight years old.  He began to play an incredible jazzy tune as we all began to take out our wallets and placed bills in his case, lying on the ground.  This man taught me more than I could have ever imagined.  He had found success in himself, even though he didn’t wear dressy clothes.  He didn’t have a new saxophone, he didn’t drive a Mercedes, and he didn’t brag about his talent.  He had the qualities of a true, grateful gentleman, and he acted with a smile.

But all of these qualities, one must keep in mind the most important piece of the puzzle, who you do it for.  Don’t follow your dreams for yourself.  Follow them to make someone else’s world a better place.  At the Vietnam Memorial, a statute of three GIs stood discreetly off a paved road.  The men pictured came from three different races, ethnicities, and backgrounds, but they shared one thing in common.  They didn’t fight the war for themselves.  They fought to keep the man next to them alive, to bring him home, to keep him safe.  We follow our passions in a similar fashion.  To make other people happy.  To keep their spirits alive.  And that is why we’re all here for each other.  To share in what we love.  Isn’t it amazing what one can learn from a simple experience?  Take every chance you can to help your fellow friend.  What knows?  It might just change your life.

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