Welcome, 2021! No New Year’s resolutions that I know I will not keep, rather I am looking for inspiration as I enter the new year. For instance, I watched the fifth episode of Amazon Prime’s award-winning docuseries “In Case You Didn’t Know,” hosted by 22-time regional Emmy winner Nick Nanton. The series features interviews with six remarkable people, including the legendary Larry King and High Point’s equally legendary Nido R. Qubein, president of High Point University, who is in an episode titled “Extraordinary is a Choice.”
The first time I heard Qubein speak was at a small gathering at Noble’s Restaurant (long gone). He said he learned to speak English with flash cards. He would learn 10 words a day. He then joked that his vocabulary was limited to words with 10 or fewer letters because that was the number of letters that fit on the flash cards. I was mesmerized by his story. I just had to meet this man!
As one looks around High Point, the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” comes to mind. Remember when the angel showed George Bailey what Bedford Falls would be like without him? What would High Point be without Nido Qubein? I remember when I first came to High Point, I would travel Montlieu Avenue and wonder just where High Point University was. When Qubein — who at the time was a successful motivational speaker, author and entrepreneur — accepted Richard Budd’s and the board of trustees’ request to become the HPU president, I was chatting with Marsha Slane. She recalled her dear friend Qubein asking her to be the chair of the board should he become president. She said, “Well, HPU is just a sleepy little university, so sure, I agreed to do that. Well, I should have known if Nido got to be president, the sleepy little university would quickly wake up!”
Qubein, of Lebanese-Jordanian descent, was just 6 years old when his father died, leaving his mother five children — three boys and two girls. Qubein said, “My mother had a fourth-grade education, but she taught me some of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned. My life is based on so much of this faithful woman’s teachings. She worked day and night to feed us, to clothe us to give us the basics of life. My father had left her with debt, no money and problems. She was determined she would make something of her children, so I am a product of her of this woman’s tenacity, hard work and determination, a woman who believed that good things come to those who work hard enough and are smart enough. I grew up with a mom who went to work every day. We lived with meager belongings and conditions, but we never went hungry a single day, and my heart and soul were fed every day with concepts like: God created you and expects you to be extraordinary because he created us in his own image, or who you hang out with is who you will become.”
Qubein even made “Good Housekeeping” with his mother’s advice as the No. 5 New Year’s quote “that will inspire a fresh start for 2021.” I have heard him say this often: “Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go. They merely determine where you start.” (I bet Qubein never thought he would make it in “Good Housekeeping.”)
Nanton asked Qubein, “Besides your father’s passing, do you remember much about your (early) life?”
Qubein said, “I grew up as a Christian, went to an Anglican Episcopal church. I remember the love of family and friends, but I also remember at Christmas we didn’t have a lot. The Mennonite Church in America would send packages filled with a towel, pencil, chocolate, writing pad that our Sunday School class would receive as gifts. I marveled as a child when I received those little things, and it left this indelible impression on me that in life sometimes when you do good, you may think it is small, but it can make a big impact.”
At age 17 Qubein came to America with only $50 in his pocket to get an education. Mount Olive Junior College (now the University of Mount Olive) accepted the young man who believed in the American dream.
Nanton asked, “When you started at Mount Olive you didn’t speak English?” Qubein told the flash card story and added, “I grew up with enormous adversity. On the other hand, I had the greatest wealth, a heart filled with hope, a soul that was overflowing with faithful courage.”
And America believed in Qubein. Many, including his housemother, an anonymous doctor and others, saw a young man who was eager to learn, to work hard and who possessed “faithful courage.” They encouraged and monetarily helped him. In return, Qubein established the Qubein Scholarship Foundation when he was just 25 years old, and to date he has awarded over $7 million.
During the summer months Qubein worked at Camp Cheerio, run by High Point’s YMCA. That is how he ultimately came to High Point to attend what was then High Point College, and then his earned his master’s at UNC Greensboro.
Qubein began his career as a youth director in a church but became frustrated when he couldn’t find retreat or game ideas. He decided to start a company to do that, so with $500 he started a company to distribute leadership materials. He paid $10 an idea and created a magazine called “Adventures in Youth.” In two years, he had 68,000 customers in 32 countries. He worked 17 hours a day, seven days a week. He ate a lot of Swanson TV dinners at three for $1. He believed in the American dream and worked hard to achieve it.
That is how it all began. As Paul Harvey would say, “to hear (or see) the rest of the story” go to https://vimeo.com/watchdnafilms/review/
As Qubein as said many times, “If you have faithful courage you can attack anything in the world with the strength and the belief you can make something happen.”