“I resolved at once to go to that school, although I had no idea where it was, or how many miles away, or how I was going to reach it; I remembered only that I was on fire constantly with one ambition, and that was to go to Hampton. This thought was with me day and night.” – Booker T. Washington. Up from Slavery (1901)
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
“Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal,” is a maxim that has survived several revisions, and though it has been attributed to several historic personages, Booker T. Washington’s autobiography is a fine representation of this idea. One need not be reminded that the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University was a man who was formerly enslaved. While his autobiography chronicles his family’s poverty and difficult circumstances, it also chronicles his undaunted courage, persistence and determination “to go to school” in spite of these challenges. Consider the following: Booker T. Washington possessed a “vision”-the greatest 6-letter word-to get an education that would be bound by neither obstacles nor the opinions of others. More than this, “this thought was with [him] day and night.” (At night, while others were perhaps sleeping, this man was likely reading, writing and thinking, particularly as he gradually developed this life-long habit.) One can easily imagine the very apparent “obstacles” that might have caused him-as they did so many others-to retreat to a position of resignation that acquiring an education would not be within the grasp of a formerly enslaved young man. Or that somehow his “one ambition” was fool-hearted because others had not done so. Rather, he held fast to his idea to acquire an education when perhaps there was no reason to do so-except for “vision”. (And he did infinitely more than receive the education he long “thought” of and “that [he] was on fire constantly for”.) He was first educated. He next became a teacher and finally, at age 25, he became founding principal and president of one of the preeminent institutions in the world where he served for 34 years.