(Writer's Note: This is the first of a two (2), part series showcasing certain points where personal skills and talents were being built, but mostly identified. This chapter being my grade school years in New York City.)
"If you take it seriously, then they'll take you seriously." - Tom LaPadula
That direct quote was from one of my professors in art school at the Pratt Institute, to our class trying to make a point - or warning - how people outside of the art would classify those in the arts. I attended grade school at the St. David's School in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was the most heavily academic experience by reading countless classic novels, writing papers, along with science, math and religion. It was rigid, very formal and strict. While the arts, both visual and performing, were offered and praised, the overall category, felt like it was not considered high on the 'food chain'. With finance, law, medicine, along with other distinguished professions being the norm of the graduates, the thought of art as a career just plainly lacked.
But, the school is situated across from the National Academy of Design, on the same block where the Solomon Guggenheim Museum is located, five blocks from the world renowned, Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka, 'The Met') and two blocks from the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian. All of these museums and art institutions take up space on a stretch of Manhattan's 5th Avenue that's called 'Museum Mile'. Outside of school, each of them became regular releases from academic stress.
Inside the school, academic routines and assignments were done because, to me, they were requirements, whether the subject did, or did not appeal to me. A lot of times, I would be discreetly drawing in my notebooks, or loose leaf papers to make the time pass, while occasionally and respectfully looking up at the teacher as if I was fully engaged. Art class was simply my best subject. I took it seriously with my head down, quietly executing and finishing on time, while the rest, I felt took it as a hobby, or 'free period'. I don't like using the phrase "an easy A", but I knew that with my serious execution and discipline, art was going to be an 'A' grade.
After art class, it was back to normal classes where drawings were always done, but this time teachers saw what I was doing. Eventually, I was reprimanded and grade reports with their comments had my parents question my priorities.
As my years in grade school progressed teachers knew which subjects were and were not my strengths, but art class remained top of the list. It became my identity. I still did my class work with full responsibility and still drew in class whenever I could. In 1992, which was the year I was to graduate from the 8th grade, the Head of School asked me to illustrate the cover of the first ever yearbook. I remember accepting the job with excitement and I think the cover concept was sketched, yet again, during a class. And when the yearbooks were printed and distributed, seeing that cover was not only a feeling of pure joy, it was validation.
On graduation day, along with our diplomas I received an award for the subject in art, which I sill have with me to this day. And to this day, almost 32 years since graduating as a student from the St. David's School I'm still asked - hired to be exact - by the school to illustrate covers for their magazine publications. This time as a professional in the arts.
You don't have to love, or be an expert at everything, but you shouldn't be one dimensional, either. Even though art was my prime strength in school, my classes in English, History, Science, Math and Social Sciences still come back to me when executing the responsibilities of a business founder and owner. Also, it's lonely - some times painful - being a 'black sheep', but it's also an advantage by standing out in a highly saturated environment. Just make sure the 'regular sheep' see your value, or expertise, and use it correctly. Last but not least, just like the beginning quote, take each job seriously. You never know who's watching.