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Jacob Goodfleisch went from a life of addiction to being valedictorian of Columbus State’s Summer Quarter 2011 class. He delivered the following valedictory address at graduation September 9.
First I would like to thank President Harrison, the Board of Trustees, Dianne Fidelibus, Dan McDonald, Jackie Teny-Miller, Marilyn Pramschufer, Stephen H. Wilson, my parents and family, my fiancée Heidi, Doug and Jennie Heacock, and Norm Kijewski.
When I was in high school, if someone would’ve told me that one day I’d go to college and graduate as valedictorian, I would’ve said, “No, you must have the wrong guy.”
Growing up, school was always kind of a “Hurry up and get it done so I can go out and play” kind of thing.
After high school it turned into, “How can I have everything I want right now and with the least amount of work possible?”
Naturally, I discovered drugs and alcohol. And that’s what I did for the next 12 years.
I graduated in 1995. By 2000, I was pretty sure the drugs would kill me sooner than later. But that didn’t happen. Instead, over the next 7 years, I lost friends, almost lost family, lived in cars, lived outside of cars, hurt the people I loved, went to jail, and went to rehab . . . four times.
I can remember taking a greyhound bus from LA to Columbus—this would’ve been 2006—and I went into alcohol detox as we passed through New Mexico. I remember going into an autopilot, almost dissociative frame of mind. And as I held on with white knuckles, just trying to make it one state at a time, I started to tell myself the truth; I started to tell myself that the ride I was on was almost up—one way or another, my days of drinking and drugging were coming to an abrupt end.
I got sober in January of 2007 with the help of some very special people. By 2008, I had decided I wanted to work in the addiction and mental health field. I enrolled in the Mental Health, Addiction Studies, and Developmental Disabilities program at Columbus State that fall, and somehow I was actually good at school. I was never good at high school, but that’s because I told myself a lot of negative things; I told myself it didn’t matter, that I’d never use most of that stuff anyway. During my hiatus from formal education I remember talking to one of the people who helped me get sober. I was complaining about how I hated math and was never very good at it. This person said to me, “You don’t find it fascinating?”
So when I came to CSCC, I told myself that everything was fascinating. And it’s worked so far. Math . . . fascinating. Chemistry . . . fascinating. After doing that for a while, I started to see how all of the subjects applied to my life. I’m not saying it’s always easy; one of the History courses I took, believe me, I had to tell myself it was fascinating several times a day.
I’m now preparing to start my second quarter at OSU. I’m studying behavioral neuroscience and clinical psychology. I plan to stick with it until I’ve earned my doctorate.
I’d like to congratulate the graduating class. We never know exactly what’s out there for us, but unbelievable things do happen. Five years ago I made a list of things I hoped to have by now. If I would’ve attained everything on that list as I had written it, I would’ve sold myself short. My hope is that each of us finds the joy in his or her following chapters, whether it be transferring to another school or starting a career. Let us live with purpose, give our best, and change the world. And when life comes hard, may we find the strength to do the next right thing, keeping our heads above the water until the rapids give.