What Motivates You?

Recently, I have been selected to attend Stanford’s Ignite program.  During the application process, applicants are expected to answer (in less than 400 words) five reflective based questions.  Today, I will share with you one of my favorite responses which provides some perspective and insight into my upbringing and my most revered traits – resilience.  The answer is tailored to the Stanford Ignite program; however, this is one of my favorite stories during my senior year of high school when I found myself applying to college.


What motivates you?

What would you do with $40?

Dinner?  A ticket for admission to your favorite event?  Perhaps a tank of gas for your new vehicle?

In early 2002, the federal government informed my family $40 was the estimated contribution required for me to attend college in the fall.  $40.  For the entire year.  $40.

“Patrick, there must be some mistake,” my teacher AP English said as she reviewed the numbers of my financial standing.  “I have not seen a number so low – are you sure you put in the correct numbers?”

There was zero doubt in my mind that I correctly entered the information.  At the age of 17, I knew I was an outlier – applying to college confirmed this notion. During the first week of class, our teacher inquired who had and who had not taken the SAT.  She initially started with asking, “Who had,” and quickly pivoted to “Who had not…” based on the overwhelming initial response.  When she asked, “Who had not,” one person in class raised their hand.  Me.

As a first-generation college graduate, the entire process is daunting.  Beginning with applications in high school to receiving a Bachelor degree on graduation is foreign.  Completely foreign.  When you are the first person in your family to embark on this journey, you are forced early on to confront an associated guilt and an explanation of why to the uninitiated (aka, the entire family) quickly and frequently.

The process to become a first-generation college graduate from high school senior to graduating from the United States Naval Academy ultimately took 8 years.  One year at Virginia Tech.  Three years as an enlisted Sailor.  Four years as a Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy.  In those eight years, and subsequently the following seven, a burning passion to blaze my own path has remained constant.

My motivation is for those to whom I lead and serve in any organization or in any capacity.  As I continually blaze this path, I create the path for others who may follow and for those of whom I lead.

Stanford IGNITE will assist me in a transitional path of junior Naval Officer to private sector in the coming years.  Once the obligation to the United States Navy for Naval Postgraduate School is complete, I will blaze a new path harnessing the skills and tools IGNITE indoctrinated me with in 2017.

So, what would I do with $40?  Keep it.  Keep it as a reminder of the price in order to create your own path.