Being Victor Hollenberg

Two days ago, a remarkable crop of young men and women left Staples for the last time.

That’s what they do at graduation, and it’s exactly what should happen.

Talented, hard-working, high-achieving seniors leave.  Another class slides in behind them, ready to take their rightful place at the top of the heap.

But before we consign the Class of 2010 to thanks-for-the-memories status, let’s hear first hand from one of them.

Victor Hollenberg

Victor Hollenberg is among the Best and the Brightest’s best and brightest.  His exploits as editor-in-chief of Inklings, star of the MSG Varsity “Challenge” squad and sailing team stalwart only scratch the surface.

Before graduating Victor wrote an op-ed piece for Inklings, the school newspaper.  As Westport students enjoy summer vacation — and Westport parents worry they’ll waste summer vacation — it’s good to get Victor’s perspective.

He’s got the wisdom of a high school graduate, the enthusiasm of someone about to embark on life’s next great adventure — and the benefit of 13 years in Westport schools.

Victor wrote:

Accepting failure is never easy.

From a young age, we are taught— both by our society and by our peers— to strive for success to the detriment of everything else that matters.  Messing up simply isn’t an option.

That’s the culture I bought into from my very first day in the Westport Public Schools nearly 13 years ago.  Getting a C on my first high school English paper— or in my AP Calculus class this past December, for that matter— didn’t help me feel any more certain about my future.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned at Staples, it’s that life tends to throw obstacles in the way of our search for fulfillment.  It’s taken me four years to realize how fortunate I am to have had those trials, because I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without them.

Interning at Bedford Middle School reminds me of how determined I was to follow the life path I had laid out for myself when I was 13.

Speaking with one girl who already knew she wanted to go to Yale and major in graphic design (which isn’t an undergraduate program there, in case you were wondering), I saw some of my own desires at that age reflected in her.  I told her that life wasn’t so simple— but in retrospect, she probably didn’t believe me.  Disappointment is something that one has to experience to understand.

I thought I could become a Republican senator from Connecticut.  Nothing else would do.

I thought I would go to Yale.  Nowhere else would suffice.

I had my entire life planned out ahead of time by the day I enrolled at Staples.

Little did I know that I was in for a rude surprise.

I didn’t get straight A’s— and gone, I thought, was my chance at getting into any college, let alone one I would have wanted to attend.  I started questioning my political beliefs— and gone, I thought, was my shot at politics.

Freshman year left me shaken, but not devastated.

The more I reflected upon what had happened to me, the more I realized it simply had to.

Of course I was a Democrat.  Of course I couldn’t get an A in math.  My self-perceived failures— which today seem laughable— began to help me redefine who I am.

I will forever be grateful to Staples for teaching me that failure is a good thing.  It’s the teachers who push students, the coaches who demand the best from their players, the advisers who ask for the best-quality work, that truly make this school the best place I can ever have come of age.

As I spent more time at Staples, the challenges— and the failures—grew more numerous.  Maybe it was learning that my writing wasn’t quite Ph.D-caliber in US History or coming to grips with my inability to fit 48 hours of activities into the 24 hours in a day.

Specifics aside — and I could go on and on with examples — high school gradually became more of a reality check than anything.  I’m not totally sure what direction I’m headed in anymore.  My life isn’t what I thought it would be today, but in all honesty, I can’t see it having turned out any other way.  I might not have fulfilled all my dreams, but I’ve created new ones as I’ve gone.

To those kids (and adults) who may be feeling that they’re headed in the wrong direction:  The road you take may end up being the one you really wanted after all.  We end up completing our paths regardless of the obstacles placed in our way.

That’s the beauty of life.

Thanks, Victor.

We’re confident that long after you graduate from Dartmouth — and probably several other places — you’ll continue to enjoy the beauty of life.

9 responses to “Being Victor Hollenberg

  1. Maggie Mudd

    A must-read for all striving parents in Westport (aren’t we all?)! What a grounded person this Victor is. The wisdom he has accumulated at such a young age will take him far.

  2. outside observer

    Very refreshing. Victor should teach a continuing ed. class on parenthood.
    Westport is a wonderful town and we are all lucky to live here. Victor seems to be far more
    balanced than others at his age. His openness to
    failing in some of his goals will make him stronger and wiser. When I was his age I am sure I thought I was smarter than my parents and others. It took me over 60 years to figure out it is not that important to have all the answers. As long as you have the desire to want to search out the knowledge by living life to the fullest. Accepting failures to reach certain goals is so important to the learning process. The process is the fun part of living.
    Enjoy the journey. The goals will keep changing.
    Thanks Victor. Enjoy college. Life is Good.

  3. Bobbie Herman

    We learn more from our failures than our successes.

    It took me a long time to realize this. Victor, a very perceptive young man, apparently has learned it at a very young age.

    Good luck in college, and in the years ahead.

  4. The Dude Abides

    Wow, knocked my socks off. I have been critical of the “look how special” attitude at Staples but if this young man is any example of what the school is producing, I retract any and all statements.
    I think that Mr. Hollenberg may find a business professor at Dartmouth who, on the first day of class, wants to know your biggest failure in life. He continues to ask this through the semester knowing that your limitations is the key to success.
    Smart story. Smart kid.

  5. I bet Victor’s parents are so proud of him, but he has a lot of fans out here in Cyberspace who learned a lot from this perceptive young man this morning. Thanks, Dan, for sharing his piece.

  6. Straight F student.

    Hats off to Victor on realizing that there is far more to life – and happiness – than a report card from an educational institution. You don’t need Yale, mate, or any other structured form of validity. You’ve got a global free market and you’ll no doubt do extremely well for yourself.

  7. Luisa Francoeur

    Victor is a very perceptive person. I would refer readers to the Q & A in the Sunday Business section of the NY Times: “The X Factor When Hiring? Call It Presence” – Mr Selander asks his interviewees about their “flat sides, and how you think we should work on those, how you think we should ensure that those don’t become barriers to success”… In other words, everyone has flaws/failures and Victor has already learned how valuable they are.

  8. terry Brannigan

    At some point I stopped listening to the Beatles and may have even inserted a Disco 8-track, however fortunately that phaze passed and I can steal a quote for the young: “life is what happens while you are making plans for something else”. Victor, your piece presents a tough challenge for parents. I have 3 boys Dan knows by sight. As they hopefully pass through the same process of discovery, we can’t show them the future. Of course young kids have t be good citizens but beyond that in my opinion their only obligation is to be happy. There will be plenty of time for life’s lessons. How do let them know everything will be aright. If someone has a recipe please shared it because it’s impotent. Victor’s story is a great one. Things didn’t go as planned but when you reflect back on your journey as a happy adult, I wager you will thank God for your unanswered prayers. PS: Remember; A students work for B students!

  9. Innocent Bystander

    After not being blessed with as knowledgeable young son as Victor, I can only offer the following advice: MAKE SURE THEY KNOW THEY ARE LOVED (and show it!) AND FORGET THE EXPECTATIONS.