Fortune Favors the Bold

“Audaces fortuna iuvat.”
(Fortune favors the bold.)
~ Virgil

Thanks to Jose L. Torres-Padilla (author of The Accidental Native) and Cerise Oberman (Distinguished Librarian) for inviting me to read poems from 40×41 to students and faculty at SUNY Plattsburgh last week as part of the Word Thursdays series held in Feinberg Library. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and especially appreciated the opportunity to meet with students after the reading.

Fortune Favors the Bold

Fortune favors the bold… (Virgil & virtualDavis)

In an effort to contextualize poems focused on midlife – probably not the most accessible theme for college students – I recounted a story from my undergraduate years at Georgetown University. I had become involved with The Georgetown Journal, an undergraduate literary and art magazine, and in my infinite wisdom/ignorance/hubris I organized a grand gala with a classmate to celebrate our spring issue. We planned a formal reading and art exhibition in the Intercultural Center followed by a banquet hosted by about a dozen Washington, DC restaurants. We invited writers and artists to participate. We convinced restaurants to donate their delicacies. We sent out press releases and printed elegant invitations with lofty fundraising aspirations. And then we went to the Georgetown University “media board” to ensure seamless cash flow until donations arrived.

No chance. The administrators and faculty on the committee were not happy that we have moved forward without first seeking permission. It hadn’t crossed our minds. Financial assistance was withheld and we were chastised for using the Georgetown University seal on our invitation without permission, but ultimately they let us go ahead.

Underpinning their total lack of support were two problems:

  1. We had proceeded without getting permission.
  2. Sports, not arts, drew crowds at Georgetown.

We were genuinely sorry to have made the first mistake. An act of omission, not commission. Or something. We were young. Eager. Hasty.

But the second problem, effectively the committee’s prophecy that we would fail because our classmates would not be interested in attending an arts and literature gala, rubbed us wrong. We were certain that they underestimated our peers, so we set out to prove them wrong. And we did. The gala was a huge success. For three years we surprised the committee, each year outperforming the previous year. After the first year, they backed us, and by my graduation many members of the committee personally applauded our efforts and offered to write recommendations for us.

That was a long time ago. But the lesson stuck with me. Fortune favors the bold. And this is what I hope the undergraduates too home with them.

Here’s a tidier anecdote that orders the same lesson in a 21st century context that the SUNY Plattsburgh students might relate to better.

Daniel Arnold had $90.03 in his bank account on Thursday when he had a clever idea: Why not sell some photos on Instagram? […] On the eve of his 34th birthday, Arnold didn’t have a clue how he was going to make rent for the following month, so, at midnight, he posted this message on Instagram:

“Hello, I just turned 34 this second. For one day only I am selling 4×6 prints of whatever you want from my Instagram archive for $150 each. I swear I will never sell anything this cheap again. If you’re interested, send a screenshot of the photo(s) of your choice to (one d) and I will send a paypal invoice, followed by a signed print. Easy peasy. Happy my birthday. I love you”

The response overwhelmed him. Orders poured in. A day later, he’d received nearly $15,000 worth of requests, and collected some $5,000… (Forbes)

Bravo, Daniel Arnold. Fortune favors the bold. Be bold!

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