By Greta LaFrentz '21
When I say Thomas Edison, what is the first thing that comes to mind? If you’re thinking of the light bulb, I would have to agree with you. We have all heard the story, the romanticized glamour and the spectacular drama of Edison’s enlightening accomplishment. What is perhaps less known is how hard and how long Edison must have toiled before it was his moment to shine. Stepping back from this pivotal achievement in American invention, I wonder, what would have happened if Edison had simply given up? I could be realistic and suggest the logical answer, which is other scientists were working on the light bulb and would have eventually succeeded. But that isn’t the point of my story. My point is that Edison didn’t give up.
I’m certainly no Edison, but I did have my own childhood Edison moment when I was six years old. It wasn’t flashy, but it did sparkle a bit. I can still picture my six-year-old vision like it was yesterday: a sparkling glass elevator gliding down the shaft. I had it all figured out. We needed a glass elevator that traveled straight through the center of our house. Truth be told, my idea was mainly inspired by the elevators at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. It was a magical place to me, with beautiful buildings, bountiful bridges, and botanical gardens, all under a domed glass roof. A sort of outdoor paradise without the mosquitos, and I’ll never say no to that.
"My change of plans, or “rapid design change” as my Lower School Art Teacher Mrs. Jones would say, illustrates the larger idea that we can do anything as long as we keep thinking and keep trying."
Back to my elevator epiphany. I was so excited about my idea that I bounded to my parents’ room to reveal my ingenious plan. Gesturing excitedly, I thoroughly explained the advantages of building a glass elevator and justified the project by exclaiming, “We can just buy some sheets of glass at Home Depot!” My Dad leapt at the learning opportunity, grabbing a pen from his pocket and a sheet of paper from his study to explain the structural challenges, while my Mom gently offered alternative, doable craft projects. The idea’s unfeasibility disappointed me, but did not deter me.
Roaming around our basement while looking for supplies, I wondered how I could make my elevator without glass. All of the sudden, I had this idea that I could use our laundry chute as the makeshift elevator shaft. The chute travels through all three floors, and its final destination is the basement laundry room. This project would be quite doable. There were no architectural problems with this new plan because the chute already existed in our house. My elevator car was a small wicker basket that would operate as a pulley system, carrying our laundry up and down, with stops at each floor. My Dad and I assembled the contraption by knotting thick twine around the basket handles. For a professional flourish, I created elevator control panels out of small styrofoam pads that I attached inside each chute door. The controls, a colorful array of buttons from our craft bin, were labeled basement, first floor, and penthouse. To this day, when I run my finger over the pink penthouse button, I think about how turning an impossible dream into a tangible reality is less about supplies and more about perseverance.
I like to think of myself as the never-give-up type, always trying my best. I believe my elevator story exemplifies this philosophy, although I’ll be the first to admit that my earnest request for a glass elevator has the quirky charm of a six-year-old and has become an inside joke in my family. Whenever an idea seems overreaching or next to impossible, we call it a glass-elevator idea. I’ll never live it down. However, upon reflection, my change of plans, or “rapid design change” as my Lower School Art Teacher Mrs. Jones would say, illustrates the larger idea that we can do anything as long as we keep thinking and keep trying. After successfully making my elevator basket, I realized that I could set a goal for myself, work hard, and achieve results. The end result might not have been what I originally thought it would be, but I was really proud of that basket, and the experience ended up being an amazing and educational moment. My light bulb moment, if you will. I’m not saying I unlocked the secrets of life, but it was one of the first times I can remember where I understood the meaning and the value of setting goals and reaching for them. And I’m not just talking about elevators anymore.
"There are times when I want to give up. There are times when I do give up. More often, I keep going. And when I push myself to go the extra mile, it’s always worth it in the end."
I know that plenty of people have a better grasp and more experience with this idea of persistence than me. I am inspired by the women and men in history books and the remarkable people in my own everyday life. I am constantly learning from my parents, my grandparents, my sister, and my teachers. These are the people who have always encouraged and supported me, who taught me by their words and actions that never giving up and honoring your ideas does not have to mean building a glass elevator. It means consistently trying and having the patience to be better. In all honesty, it is sometimes hard for me to embody this idea of resilience, which can apply to anything and everything from a tough concept in class to a pie-in-the-sky dream. There are times when I want to give up. There are times when I do give up. More often, I keep going. And when I push myself to go the extra mile, it’s always worth it in the end.
My six-year-old self could have never imagined the structural and architectural challenges of high school, building a four-year course schedule, and navigating the complex and confounding college landscape. It turned out to be much harder than constructing a play elevator. There were no solutions in the basement craft bin, no pink penthouse button or wicker basket that could help me ease the ups and downs of the ride. But what still applied, what had always applied, was the perseverance piece. When I was a freshman, I had no idea what success in high school would look like or how exactly to go about achieving it. I just trusted that with a supportive community and a healthy dose of hard work, I would be able to persevere and achieve my goals. I would find my own success story.
Now, as I stand here before you as a Senior, I still don’t know all the answers. But I have figured out what success looks like to me. It is when hard work pays off. It is continually trying your best and devoting the necessary time and effort, whether for your class, performance, or game. Success is oftentimes confused with perfection, like the 100% on the assignment or flawless performance, but I think we all know that success has more than one meaning. For me, I believe success is better defined by perseverance than by perfection or product. I consider my wicker basket a success, not because it was the perfect glass elevator, but because I followed through with my idea even when it seemed impossible. Today, as I look around, I am reminded of how hard we have all worked to arrive at this moment, accomplishing things we never thought possible.
And that brings me back full circle. Now is the perfect time for my friend Mr. Edison to join me on the podium. Edison once said that, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” I interpret that as encouragement to always have a glass-elevator goal in the wings. Because you never know, your Edison moment may be only a moment away.