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Alumni
Class Notes and Alumni News

The Voice of Experience: Reflections on Grit

My first entry into the Gates Invention and Innovation Competition at Graland wasn’t much more than two photovoltaic cells sandwiched together with a few bent paper clips and a substantial quantity of hot glue. The device was meant to recycle a room’s ambient light for use during the nighttime, but the machine didn’t work, this much I knew. What I didn’t know was that this malfunctioning little science project would catalyze my fascination with technology, boost my self-confidence, and most importantly, show me that I could solve real problems.
My first entry into the Gates Invention and Innovation Competition at Graland wasn’t much more than two photovoltaic cells sandwiched together with a few bent paper clips and a substantial quantity of hot glue. The device was meant to recycle a room’s ambient light for use during the nighttime, but the machine didn’t work, this much I knew. What I didn’t know was that this malfunctioning little science project would catalyze my fascination with technology, boost my self-confidence, and most importantly, show me that I could solve real problems.

That year, I didn’t qualify as a finalist. Despite this setback, my mentors at Gates encouraged me to try again and the following year I went back to the drawing board and attempted to turn my idea into a reality. During the process of developing my invention, I encountered problems every day. Parts that I had ordered didn’t fit and electronics often failed to work. On one occasion, I ordered a light fixture from Home Depot which I intended to retrofit with photocells and other electronics. It was clear that the fixture was the wrong shape, wrong size, and wouldn’t work at all for my invention. I felt defeated. 

The deadline was fast approaching, and I couldn’t afford to waste more time. I remember talking with Mr. Masters, telling him about my predicament. I listed each of my issues to him in a barrage of complaints, but Mr. Masters wasn’t concerned about the problems. He stopped me and asked, “What are you going to do about it?” It wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted Mr. Masters to give me the answer. I wanted to give up, but Mr. Masters made it clear that finding the solution was in my hands, and my hands alone.

I won the Gates competition that second year and was awarded support to pursue a patent. While the award was for my idea, I’ve come to realize that this is perhaps the least important element of the competition. The competition is about removing the barrier between yourself and solvable problems. When I stood at the finalist’s podium and gave my presentation, I told the judges that my invention would reduce the carbon footprint of lighting systems. Today, I would have trouble knowing where to begin with such a large problem. As a sixth grader, however, Gates gave me courage. I chose a big problem and I tried my best to solve a little piece of it.

Gates taught me about technology, communicating my ideas with others, and working hard at something and then coping with its failure. But the lesson that I most value from the Gates Competition is that anyone can solve hard problems. The Gates program forced me to ask, “What am I going to do about this?” It’s a powerful and provocative question, and one that I hope to ask for the rest of my life. 
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Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.