These are the words that our parents or grandparents say that make us roll our eyes. We prepare to listen to another story about walking uphill both ways in the snow or hear about our dad's football glory days. I'm ashamed to say that when I heard Bryce Lilly say these words that I sighed silently. My mind clicked off, not wanting to listen to a story from sixty years ago.
So when he said this: "Actually, one of the biggest struggles in my life was my second shot at the second grade..." I silently rolled my eyes. But his next words grabbed my attention. He wasn't talking about some time that a girl checked 'no' instead of 'yes' or the time he fell off the monkey bars in front of his whole class. He said something no one should ever have to say.
"...And the school district came to my parents and told them I was 'hopelessly retarded' and they should take me out of school. They recommended I should be feeding livestock instead. And the other thing, being told by the other kids that I was a dumbbell. I remember that term real clearly." He paused, his eyes downcast as if he were peering into his past trying to find the right words.
“But it turns out, I was one of the original dyslexia research kids.”
Bryce told me about the researchers coming to his house and one particular test where he drew the fall of Troy and detailed the differences between Greek and Roman armor. At age eight, the researchers concluded Bryce was college material, but the stigma remained.
"I wasn't smart and I was pretending I was smart. I would trick people. I just felt like my whole life was tricking people into thinking I was smart... But one thing that came from that, it gave me faith in kids who are having trouble."
The man considered too stupid to be in school, too dumb to even sit in the classroom, is known to his co-workers as the problem solver. He is the man they call when walls need a hole patched or when there's a leak that needs to be fixed.
During the morning I spent alongside Bryce, we built a bookshelf and delivered it to one of his fellow co-workers. All along his desk are different gadgets that are taken apart and amid repair. He is the kind of guy I've always envied. He can solve problems. He takes stuff apart and is able to fix it, just like that.
What would have happened if he listened to the critics when he was younger? He battled against people who told him he had a zero chance of making it, and he did it anyway. With two kids and a beautiful wife, he's not far from retirement. He's also fighting through a series of health problems, but they don't seem to slow him down at all.
Sitting across from Bryce, I feel inspired. I think of all the people who told me I couldn't take a seven-month trip across the country (there were a lot). It made me realize how important it is to believe in people. As human beings, we don't realize what others are capable of doing until they actually do it.
If you are one of the doubters, I would encourage you to reconsider before you discourage someone's dream.
If you're a dreamer, keep dreaming big. Bryce overcame being told he was hopelessly mentally challenged and leads a department at one of the most prestigious art museums in the country. Bryce is a living testament that no one except for you can choose your future. You can do anything.