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"Fail. And move on"

- Schalk Mouton

Professor Claudine Storbeck, founder of Deaf Education and the Director of the Centre for Deaf Studies, addresses graduates.

"You’re going to fail in life. So fail fast. Fail big, and get it over with. But then, stand up. Bounce back and be the success that you’re destined to be."

Professor Claudine Storbeck, founder of Deaf Education and the Director of the Centre for Deaf Studies at Wits University, shocked the graduates of the Faculty of Humanities with her address on Wednesday, 1 April 2015, telling them they were all destined to fail at some stage in their lives.

“Even the most successful people in history experienced failure,” Storbeck told them.

She listed some famous failures:  “Lady Gaga, after signing up with her first record label was fired after three months (they must be sorry now). Stephen Spielberg tried to get into a prestigious film school, not once, but twice – he was turned down. Michael Jordan’s high school basketball team rejected him. Oprah Winfrey was fired from Baltimore TV for getting too emotionally involved in her interviews. They probably hate themselves now.”

“Steve Jobs – fired from his own company! Elvis Presley, after an audition, was told to “stick to truck driving”. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard (of course if he was at Wits, he would never have dropped out), then he started his first business with a friend, which failed. Luckily he tried again, and Microsoft was born. Albert Einstein was referred to as “slow” and “mentally handicapped” by his teachers. It turned out he was just a different thinker. He went on to earn the Nobel Prize in physics.”

“Marilyn Monroe – just picture this – tried to get into modelling, but was told to rather become a secretary. Rudyard Kipling lost his job at a newspaper because he was told by the editor: “I am sorry, Mr Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Thomas Edison was told he was too stupid to learn, so his mother took him out of school. He later invented a thousand different light bulbs, and of course, the 1001th light bulb worked. Luckily he didn’t give up. Walt Disney was told by a newspaper editor that he worked for at the time that he lacked creativity and had “no good ideas”. He was fired. And then, the founder of WhatsApp, in 2007 applied to join Facebook. He was rejected after an interview. Seven years later, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $90 billion,” Storbeck said.

“You are going to make mistakes. You are going to fail, but what is important is that you must reject rejection, and never let anybody label you as a failure,” she said. “Imagine if Steve Jobs or Walt Disney didn’t bounce back?”

Storbeck, whose idea to open a centre for Deaf studies was rejected by two universities, encouraged the graduates to persevere and have courage in life. Graduates should “dream big”, and use their education at Wits as a launch pad to achieve great things in their lives.

“Be willing to change yourself and your perspective. But think creatively, and think differently,” she said. “Learn from your strengths and your weaknesses, because often it is your strengths that are the worst barriers that hold you back.”