My story is not extraordinary. I am not extraordinary. I have learned, however, that ordinary people can do extraordinary things and exceptional leadership can come from unexpected beginnings with the right mentorship, the right attitude, and a lot of hard work.
Growing up in a two-bedroom apartment in a working-class neighborhood just north of Boston, I shared a room with my sister and my two brothers shared a converted porch. Those early close quarters contributed to the close-knit ties I still have with my family. We did not have a lot of “things,” but we had a lot of love. I fondly remember family projects like making our own living room furniture so that we could have a place to sit together. My father built the framework, and the rest of us worked with my mother to fabricate the cushions and pillows. We used the furniture for many years, not only for its intended function; we also used the cushions and pillows for imaginative games when the weather was too cold to play outside.
Like all parents, mine wanted a better life for their children, and they impressed on us the importance of school, hard work, and family time . . . sometimes in unusual ways. My mother worked at the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) office and would occasionally take us to work with her because she wanted to give us a strong visual sense of what true poverty was—and to motivate us to do whatever was necessary to create the kind of life she envisioned ...