It was a cold afternoon in Atlanta Georgia but insider the speakers auditorium of the Georgia State University (GSU) the energy level was high and the room was pulsating with positive vibrations as the author of the memoir that inspired the major motion picture, The Pursuit of Happyness, took the stage to inspire the group of young people eagerly looking forward to success in life.
Chris Gardner’s story is the “quintessential rags-to-riches American Dream story” as claimed by no less an authority than the San Francisco Chronicle. Deserted by his wife and left to take care of his son through joblessness and a year on the streets homeless – including many nights spent in a public restroom — he never gave up hope that he would one day make it big or renege on his promise to always be there for his child.
As is always the case for those who hold on to faith through persistence, his dreams became a reality when he made it to the boardroom in wall street; a millionaire whose story is best told by his memoir The Pursuit of Happyness and the number one box office title bearing the same name that starred Will Smith as Chris Gardner and his son Jaden as Gardner’s Son.
To the hundreds of students that filled the speaker’s auditorium at GSU Gardner’s message was simple: I broke a cycle! In addition to the millions of dollars he made against the odds, he said that his main achievement was the fact that in a generation that has seen kids being raised by female single parents, he has been there for his child to raise him up as a good and responsible son who is expected to do the same for his own children. And further more Gardner relishes the fact that his inspirational story lives on in distant lands inspiring millions of people.
He told the story of an Iranian woman who sent him an email telling him that she was lucky to read his book by paying a driver to smuggle the book for her (from Jordan) into Iran. And then Gardner paused to let the audience appreciate some of the benefits of living in American where we all take many basic freedoms for granted like being able to have access to any book of one’s choice.
I consider myself the luckiest among the group of students who came to have a glimpse of Gardner. I had him autograph my copy of his book but I would not stop there. Having given him a copy of my memoir Homegrown: The Student Experience of a Unique Canada-Africa University Program I also gave him another copy to autograph for me, telling him “this is my own pursuit of happiness”. But that opportunity was not to be the only one to satisfy the fastidious student in me. Indeed I was in a lift going back to the lobby of the GSU Student Center where Gardner sat patiently waiting to autograph books for a long line of students. I wanted to go back and just stand at a distance looking at Chris Gardner to fill my mind with the image of a real success story.
Lo and behold my elevator was to stop on the second floor only to see Chris Gardner come in with an escort. I rushed to sake hands with him thanking him for sharing his inspirational story. And of course I reminded him again that I had given him a copy of my two books (so he would not forget them). Stepping out of the elevator Gardner turned around and looked me in the face, looking pretty much like a father addressing his son: hey, remember this, there is nothing I can do that you cannot do. If I can do it, you can do it too!
Now if you think the odds are against you. If you think you do not have a chance to achieve success in life, just read (or watch) The Pursuit of Happyness. Your day with Chris Gardner may be the one most remarkable turning point in your life. Chris Gardner’s life story is truly inspiring. Billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump calls it “a tremendous lesson in tenacity”!