Nobody will ever confuse me for being as smart or good looking as Albert Einstein, but one of his quotes really speaks to me. “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” Although education was placed above everything else in my family, schoolwork and good grades never came easy to me. For some kids, everything was easy including school – perhaps you were in that category. From elementary school through graduate school, I remember very little subject matter from any classroom experience other than the memories of working very hard to get by.

Last month, the McKelvey Engineering School at Washington University in St. Louis honored me with an Alumni Achievement Award. It felt very surreal. I even explained to the school’s Dean that he made a mistake as there were far better students than me as measured objectively by grades and take-away knowledge. After a brief pause, I was told it was not a mistake and it wasn’t about how I viewed myself long ago as a college student. The Alumni Achievement Award recognizes alumni with a legacy of service to society who exemplify the best qualities of the school and have made an impact in their field. Still very surreal (and I still wonder if it was a mistake).

Despite not remembering much of old classroom lessons, I did indeed get an amazing college education because it wasn’t just about the classroom but what I did outside of the classroom.  Long before team collaboration became in vogue, I was collaborating by necessity with students smarter than me – on the challenging project work, lab work and numerous problem-sets typical of engineering school at that time. And that collaboration I learned in college has formed the basis of what I’ve been doing for many years now in my career in real estate investment and development, as well as in the greater community with my extra-curricular not-for-profit work that I take particular pride in doing.

Gratitude sums up how I’m feeling about this accolade. I owe so much to those who have come before me and paved the path including my family, friends, fraternity brothers, mentors and colleagues in both the business and non-profit worlds. My simple takeaway is this – whatever we do and wherever we are, there are other people who have impacted us with their wisdom, influence, and leadership.  Then it’s up to us to decide what to do.  I think we all can make a difference and help pay it forward.

If you’re interested in watching the tribute video WashU presented, you can do so at the video below.  

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