By David Rodriguez
Executive vice president and global chief human resources officer at Marriott International
On a recent business trip to Mexico City I had the pleasure of attending a very special celebration at our fabulous W Hotel in the stylish Polanco section of the city.
The Youth Career Initiative (YCI) was created by the International Tourism Partnership. By teaming with international hotels, it provides education and training to high school graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds. Marriott International first became involved in 1997 at the JW Marriott in Bangkok and, since then, has been the champion for the implementation of YCI within the hotel industry globally.
On this day, about a hundred youth and other guests were gathered to celebrate the graduation of several YCI students. During the event, we heard the moving stories of graduates who tearfully related how their lives had been transformed and how excited they were about their future. It sparked a memory from my childhood that I had not thought about in a long time, and certainly not in the context of a program for disadvantaged youth.
When I was seven years old I left my home on a snowy day in New York to walk to the school bus stop. When I got there, I noticed that every kid was holding a package of some sort. It was for a holiday food drive for disadvantaged families. As I approached the crowd, someone asked why I did not have a package.
The fact is that money was very tight for our family and I did not want to burden my mom with something else. Embarrassed, I fibbed by saying the first thing that came to mind. I told them that my grandmother was sick and we needed the money to buy her medicine. Surely all would understand why that was important. I did not want to be known as one of the “disadvantaged.” It was to no avail. “Greedy” was about the kindest word thrown at me. The other names have long been forgotten. However, the memory of how I felt in that moment has never faded.
Feeling ridiculed and insignificant, I did not get on the bus that day. Instead, I walked back home where upon seeing the pain on my face, my mom said nothing until we were inside our tiny apartment. She did not make me go to school that morning, but no day since has been more educational. In her own way, she told me that your destination in life is more important than the starting point, and that a fall provides a great opportunity to rise.
I had never told that story to anyone before Mexico City and only recently discussed it with my mom for the first time since that snowy day in New York. After the last YCI graduate told her story, the host asked if I would like to say a few words. I told those promising young men and women that when I looked at them, I saw the boy who walked back home that day, but who also learned that every step forward brings you that much closer to your dreams.
My dream was once to simply conquer my fear of somehow becoming homeless. Today, after many wonderful destinations in my life, I dream of doing at least a little good for someone each day. I now realize that I have been talking about the lessons from that snowy day with countless people who have come to me for guidance over the years. It doesn’t have to be about where you start if you make it about your destination. May your new year be alive with personal destiny and fulfillment.