"Welcome adversity with open arms" - TTC Alumni Speaker, Nuno Rodrigues

Nuno Rodrigues, a TTC graduate and college student at CCRI, gave a heartfelt speech at the TTC graduation this past June. The theme was how adversity changed his life. Thank you, Nuno, for sharing your story.

Imagine life without hardship. A life in which money was not an issue and we didn’t have to work so hard to put food on the table; a life with excellent health: a life in which grief was non-existent. Wouldn’t such a life be ideal? Not quite. When successful people tell their stories about how they became successful, more likely than not, they’ll tell you they learned more about themselves and life during times of personal hardships than in prosperous times. Adversity is an essential part of life; it is as important to your survival as oxygen or water. It toughens you up; it makes you more resilient. So how do you view adversity? What happens when you lose a loved one; when a physical or mental disability overwhelms you, or extreme financial difficulties make your life challenging? I propose we use these difficult times as a way to improve ourselves. For me, it was adversity in the form of a car accident that brought out the best in me.

On a rainy December morning in 1999, while driving on 95 North, a truck cut me off, causing me to crash onto the Jersey barrier. I lost consciousness when the airbag exploded on my face, and only regained it when a good Samaritan smashed the window, telling me to get out. But I couldn’t. My feet were pinned under the wreckage, but somehow this brave man was able to get me out, put me on his shoulders, and take me away from the scene of the accident.

At the hospital, I was told of my injuries, the most damaging of which was a shattered left ankle. After about a month in the hospital, my surgeon gave me my marching orders. I remember Dr. Trafton telling me that it was going to be a very long time before I could walk on my own, and that my life would be very different from now on. As a naïve nineteen year old, I thought the worst was over, and in a few months my life would go back to normal. I was wrong.

After about a year of many grueling physical therapy sessions, I was able to walk on my own. But this momentous occasion did not bring me any joy; at the time I did not realize how badly damaged my mental health state was. I had become angry at the world for what had happened to  me. My self-esteem was non-existent; I thought I was not capable of much, and that my disability would prevent me from having a normal life. I then became increasingly reclusive. The thought of going outside or being in a car gave me lots of anxiety, and it got to the point where the simple act of opening the door and getting the mail proved to be incredibly nerve-wracking. The times I’d leave the house would be for doctor’s appointments, so I missed many special occasions, including my own sister’s wedding. Needless to say, this was a rough period of my life, and it continued for over twelve years; that is, until I was motivated to get my act together. I had found the source of this motivation in books.

A few years ago, I began reading fitness magazines, and then I progressed to books. I’d read various genres for hours and hours on end. I enjoyed reading about WW II, more specifically, about Holocaust survivors. One thing that instantly grabbed my attention was how resilient many of the survivors were, especially those in concentration camps, where they endured horrific circumstances. Reading story after story of these remarkable persons stirred something inside me. For the first time, I felt I had the strength to get out of my current situation. I felt a veil of darkness being lifted and a sense of hopefulness being created.  

I began feeling motivated to get out of the house more often, to get my driver’s license again, and to get my GED, all of which I was able to do. Then I became extremely ambitious: I wanted to go to college. I believed a college education would not only satisfy my desire to improve myself but also the lives of others. So I enrolled in the RIRAL Transition to College program, which was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Three semesters later, here we are with me presenting my story to another graduating class.

When I share my story, people immediately express their sadness. I’ll promptly tell them I am glad it happened. I am glad because this experience changed me in many profound ways. For example, I built up resiliency. I used to take the easy way out. I dropped out of school in the tenth grade when the language barrier proved to be difficult. Nowadays, whenever I encounter a difficult situation, I adapt to it more efficiently; therefore, I am more able to take the challenges that life throws at me and bounce back more quickly.  In addition, it changed my perspective on life. Even before the accident and its aftermath, I was what you would consider a glass half-empty kind of guy. My motto was, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Consequently, my first thought to something challenging would be, “Oh no, I can’t do this.” But I realized this negative view of life was clouding my judgment and preventing me from taking even the smallest risk, and therefore, from living a fruitful live.

I learned the hard way that negative self-talk can literally paralyze you. So I replaced, “I can’t” with “I can.” Very simple, and yet incredibly powerful. From there on, I ignored my inner critic. and I regarded each endeavor with a positive outlook. It paid off tremendously. It worked because what you say to yourself matters. Words are powerful: they can bring you down, and lift you up. You act the way you think, so my advice to you is to choose the words you say to yourself carefully. Most importantly, I reinvented myself.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.”  Before the accident, the only things in my mind were work and my car. I was not interested in what was happening in the world. such as climate change or the state of the economy, nor did I care about furthering my limited education. If it wasn’t for the accident, I would not have become passionate about learning, and I would have not considered going to college, never mind to pursue a career in healthcare. Also, I would not have become interested in helping others overcome their obstacles. For example, during TTC, I began volunteering at a soup kitchen with my sister. All of these new, positive ideas and perspectives have transformed me into a whole new person, and it is all thanks to the opportunities created by a difficult situation.

So tonight I ask you to think differently about adversity. I ask you not to avoid it: instead, embrace it. Embrace it because it is a necessary aspect of life; embrace it because it builds up resilience; embrace it because it removes self-imposed limitations and unleashes your full potential. As you head off to CCRI, be willing to take on challenges, and realize you have the strength within you to overcome anything that comes your way. It is not a matter of some people being naturally stronger than others. No. We all have this quality. We just don’t know it: that is, until adversity brings it forth. So remove “I can’t” from your vocabulary, believe in yourself, and welcome adversity with open arms.