Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.—Helen Keller
On Monday of this week, news broke of a 14-year-old student at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas who was arrested for making a clock for his engineering class. Ahmed Mohamed is a young man of Sudanese descent. In fact, his father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, ran for President of Sudan earlier this year. The whole purpose of putting Ahmed in the Texas school was to encourage his ambition in science and technology. Unfortunately, when Ahmed’s English teacher saw the briefcase containing the clock, he didn’t bother to ask the student what it was. Instead, the teacher made the false assumption that it must be a bomb and reported Ahmed to the principal, who in turn called the police.
I find it interesting that this happened at a school named after the late five-star general, Douglas MacArthur. The tough-as-nails general with a reputation for pushing his troops to their very limit, for accepting nothing short of victory, would almost certainly be embarrassed by the school. General MacArthur once said,
It is part of the general pattern of misguided policy that our country is now geared to an arms economy which was bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda of fear.
The general understood that fear is always the enemy, and that ambition and learning are the solution.
School principal Daniel Cummings (972.600.7370, firstname.lastname@example.org) made a grave error in choosing to punish Ahmed for his ambition, and deserves to be held accountable for such an egregious mistake. Fortunately, more intelligent forces across the country have attempted to make up for the school’s inadequacy. Tech giant Google invited Ahmed to it’s tech fair this weekend. Facebook founder, and soon-to-be-dad, Mark Zuckerberg invited Ahmed to visit him at Facebook’s headquarters. Officials at NASA have reportedly even offered Ahmed a job (Ahmed was wearing a NASA t-shirt when he was arrested). The growth of the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed has been dramatic.
Then, almost immediately after Duncan’s tweet, the President weighed in with: “Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained further:
“The president, like many of us, was struck by the news reports of this particular incident. The fact is, America’s best teachers and our schools and our best schools, at least, nurture the intellectual curiously of all of our students. And this instance, it’s clear that at least some of Ahmed’s teachers failed him.
Ambition is one of the traits of humanity that differentiates us from animals. More than relying on instinct, we have the ability to push ourselves to do things we don’t necessarily have to do. Ambition, fueled by curiosity and the desire to move forward, is what leads to innovation, progress, and invention. Without ambition, we are no better than sloths sleeping on a tree limb.
The model shown in today’s picture was also a person of considerable ambition. Short of stature, she pushed herself, and her body, to achieve a level of strength and muscle tone that enabled her to perform feats of physical strength not generally attributed to people of her gender or profession. Her ambition led her to excel.
Earlier in his administration, President Obama was quoted as saying:
We need to steer clear of this poverty of ambition, where people want to drive fancy cars and wear nice clothes and live in nice apartments but don’t want to work hard to accomplish these things. Everyone should try to realize their full potential.
Regardless of what we want to do with our lives, ambition is required to succeed. When ambition is suppressed, discouraged, and even punitively punished, we destroy that which drives us to become better, that which improves our society, that which moves us forward. We need ambition, not only for ourselves but for others. We should never accept anything less.