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Success: 3 Insights from a First-Generation College Grad

Gadwin Stewart, a Johnson Scholarship recipient from Palm Beach County, graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania. He was the first in his family to do so. Gadwin StewartBeing a first-generation college student comes with its many challenges, as indicated by Leslie Pendleton in a recent blog on the University of Florida Opportunity Scholars Program. Overcoming various obstacles, Gadwin thrived in college and graduated with several opportunities ahead of him. He currently teaches at Kipp Delta Collegiate High School and is in pursuit of a graduate degree that will equip him to help kids reach their potential.

Gadwin’s story is one of success. He recently returned to his high school to speak with current Johnson Scholars and shared 3 important keys to success that are valuable and applicable to us all.

  1. Success is earned

“Do what you have to do now, so you get to do what you want to do later.” Few model this idea better than Gadwin. As a high school junior, Gadwin spent hours writing essays and gathering references for college scholarships. While the Johnson Scholarship was a start, Gadwin Stewart speaking to group of studentshe would need more to cover the cost of his post-secondary education. The effort he put in literally payed off. Gadwin received over 20 scholarships, including the Gates Scholarship that gave him a full-ride to his institution. Because the cost of college was covered, Gadwin could join several on-campus clubs and organizations to maximize his learning experience.

What do you have to do now to get where you want to be tomorrow and beyond? Think about the future and let it affect how you’re living right now.

  1. Don’t let anyone downplay your success

It’s tempting to let others downplay your success. But success is earned and your hard work deserves the appropriate amount of recognition. Knowing your value and the value of Mentors, Wanda & Bothe opportunities you’ve created for yourself is an important piece in continuing to strive for accomplishment. When success happens, trace it back to the root of your dedicated
effort and the encouragement of others. When you celebrate, don’t just celebrate what you attained, but reward yourself for the focus and effort it required of you. Then you can refocus and keep moving forward onto your next goal. Doing so will also help guide others in better understanding how to earn their own success.

  1. Your success can lead to others’ success

As a first-generation college student, Gadwin is acutely aware of the impact his success has on his family. When he got accepted to college, he knew that he was paving the way for his younger siblings to believe they, too, could attain a post-secondary education. He used his success to encourage a new precedent for his family members. Success has the students speaking to johnson scholars representatives potential to generate a snowball effect of change, starting with the life of the individual and – if properly handled – growing to include the life of the community. Recognize that your success has potential to make an impact and use it to catalyze and inspire others to succeed, as well.

Take a look around and think about how your very next actions can have consequences on your surroundings and those within it.

Democracy in Action: 3 Indicators that Philanthropy will Generate Social Change

I recently had the privilege of hearing Karl Zinsmeister speak at the CEO dinner at the annual Florida Philanthropic Network summit. Karl Zinsmeister oversees all magazine, graphic with the words "what comes next"book and website publishing at The Philanthropy Roundtable. He has authored 12 books, including What Comes Next? How private givers can rescue America in an era of political frustration, which was the theme of his talk.

Zinsmeister’s thesis is that today’s social and political divisions are nothing new and that solutions to the country’s problems will not come from government or the political process but from private citizens, led by philanthropy. He cites numerous examples from American history where private action – not government – addressed and solved pressing social problems.

  1. Political Dysfunction is Nothing New

Zinsmeister’s examples are instructive. As for political dysfunction, he notes that the american flagInauguration of Andrew Jackson (1829) was a drunken, destructive riot and that, at various times in the 18th and 19th centuries, Congressional debate descended into fistfights or worse. Governments have, at times, been misguided or dysfunctional or both. The secret to America’s advancement is that it has always been a country with many independent centers of power. Who can doubt that in a free society most decisions are made by “the market” and not government?

  1. Philanthropy has Historically Catalyzed and Led Social Progress

Philanthropy is one of American’s “independent sources of power” and has the ability to catalyze and lead social progress. Zinmeister notes that both the Abolition and Temperance movements came from philanthropy and volunteerism.

In 1833 two brothers, Arthur and Lewis Tappan, founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. The Tappan’s were successful New York businessmen, who abhorred slavery and set out to change American attitudes towards it through worship, education and organizing. They were ostracized, defamed and bullied. The political establishment of the black and white photo of women and childrenday and the press were not sympathetic and turned a blind eye to mob violence against anti-slavery advocates and the destruction of their houses. But the brothers kept going and built a movement that culminated in the abolition of slavery less than 30 years later.

Similarly, it was philanthropic and charitable action, the Temperance Movement, which addressed another American disgrace. The Temperance Movement is often portrayed as quaint and even silly. History tells a different story. In the early 1800s alcohol consumption was rampant and destructive. Americans drank “from the crack of dawn to the crack of dawn”, observed one historian. The cost to American society and its economy was enormous and the effect on individuals and families was tragic. The alcohol industry had powerful proponents and lobbyists but was nonetheless defeated by a coalition of philanthropists and volunteers.

  1. Philanthropy Catalyzes and Leads Social Progress Today

We do not have to go back to previous centuries. Look at what the LGBT movement has accomplished in a relatively short time. As for direct action – as opposed to policy – consider this. Philanthropist George Soros and his gift of $50 million are estimated to have saved more lives in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war than the combined interventions of all national young people waving pride flagsgovernments plus the United Nations. Current examples of philanthropic leadership can be found in the fields of education, research, job training programs, public works, micro-lending, foster care and adoption.

History tells us that we should not sit back and wait for government to solve all of our problems. It can’t. Nor should we wring our hands and complain. Yale professor Stephen Carter has referred to philanthropy as “democracy in action”. Our action is needed and we must keep going.

3 Ways to Turn Failure into Success

For the third year in a row, the Florida Philanthropic Network hosted its annual “Fail Fest,” a time when funders are given the platform to share and celebrate specific illustration of man with bow and arrow missing targetinstances of failure. Some shared small failures and others leaned into the opportunity for vulnerability and shared oversights that cost them over $2 million.

As funders, grantees and human beings, failure is never a fun topic. Nor is it something that we typically enjoy reflecting upon. But if there’s anything to be learned from FPN’s #FailFest, it’s that failure is an opportunity for success. Here’s why:


When things don’t quite go as planned, we can either hide and hope no one notices, or beside view of an iceberg in the ocean vulnerable and share our shortcomings. The beauty of sharing our shortcomings is that it makes us more trustworthy. Admitting failure tells others that we value honesty and open communication. It takes off a mask of perfectionism and – as a funder – it makes us a little bit more approachable. When we are transparent, we invite others to be, as well.


There’s no better moment to invite others to the table than when our own solutions and strategies have failed us. Failure can reap its rewards when it leads us to valuing someone illustration of a man standing on another man's shoulders holding a light bulbelse’s input.

When things haven’t gone according to plan, do you wrack your brain to find another way? Or do you accept the failure and turn to outsiders for their support and advice? Diversity of thought often leads to better solutions and can empower others in the process. Whose voice can be of help and value to you? Sometimes it’s only out of the desperation following failure that we become aware of the value of an outside perspective.


Something didn’t work or go according to plan? While starting from nothing isn’t always the best solution, it is a solution. And sometimes it is the best solution. When you startplant in hands from scratch, you’re offered the opportunity to rebuild correctly, applying the lessons you learned from your most recent failure. So instead of thinking of failure as a dead-end, think of it as a new beginning. This will help you get up and continue to move forward – this time with a renewed sense of how you plan to do so.

What’s a time when you’ve failed? How has it paved the way for success? Let us know! We want to hear your stories!