Mr. Patterson gave the commencement address at the University of Florida last weekend.
In 2013 he established the James Patterson Teacher Education Scholarships to support 16 University of Florida College of Education students pursuing careers as elementary or secondary school teachers.
Mr. Patterson donated $3 million to the University of Florida’s College of Education this year, money he hopes will give millions of children across Florida the same opportunity he had to fall in love with reading. The money will support an ambitious initiative to double the number of children in the state who can read proficiently.
Currently only 42% of students are reading at grade level in Florida. The pilot program Mr. Patterson and the University of Florida have been implementing has 85% of children reading at grade level. He recently met with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to encourage funding to implement the program statewide.
Rejection was a topic early on in his graduation speech.
“When I was 25, I wrote my first novel, a mystery called ‘The Thomas Berryman Number,’” Mr. Patterson said. “It was turned down by 31 publishers.”
Just as rejection is a step along the path of life, so, too, will be a failure. Mr. Patterson quoted Winston Churchill, saying ”‘Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.’ Churchill kept improving his story with each failure – do that. You’re going to fail sometimes – keep going.”
He also talked about what is important in life.
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You could name them – work, family, health, friends, spirit – and somehow you’re keeping all of these balls in the air.”
“Hopefully, you come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, believe it or not, it will bounce back.”
“But the other four balls – family, health, friends, spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, maybe even shattered. They will never be the same.”
That said, Mr. Patterson has an admirable work ethic, telling the graduating class he wrote every day, 365 days a year. He wrote before he came to give the speech, he said, and he’d write on his way back on the plane. When you find your passion – something he told the students he hoped they’d also find – it’s hard to take a day off.
James Patterson is a Palm Beach Civic Association Director and lives in the Town of Palm Beach with his wife Susan and son Jack.
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