Graduates Define Success

by Diana Drake

Happy graduation to high school seniors around the world! We asked a few of you – a sampling of tomorrow’s leaders — to share your definitions of success. We hope more of you will add your perspectives in the comments section of this article (Our Comment and Win contest starts Monday, June 25!). Until then, enjoy reading the thoughts and ideas of other 17 and 18-year-olds.

Sahil L., 17
Graduated From: The Emerald Heights International School, Indore, India
Future Plans: Colgate University, studying mathematical economics and computer science

“For me, success is using my work as a means to solve basic and yet, fundamental problems in society. As I aspire to be an economic advisor or policymaker, working closely with the government, I want to use economic policies to further macroeconomic stability, along with a vision to bring about a betterment in the credit lending policies and other basic financial problems in rural areas, thus bridging fundamental gaps at the micro level. As I leave high school, I am filled with a mixed feeling of excitement and anxiety. I am fascinated by the prospect of learning new skills everyday, networking and learning from people’s experiences, as well as developing a critical reasoning ability to have a holistic vision towards my future initiatives. At the same time, I am also filled with a feeling of nervousness at the uncertainty that the future holds, and the fact that it is a challenging journey I must lead alone. I want to be a person open to new ideas, and eager to connect with new individuals everyday. Professionally, I do not want to be limited to the traditional boundaries and restrictions of my jobs. Instead, I aim to learn and explore each passing day, and be challenged every day. I want to work in different teams among people with diverse viewpoints, and yet be a leader who can channel these viewpoints in the right direction. If I am able to do that, I shall consider myself truly successful.”

Hannah C., 18
Graduated From: York High School, Elmhurst, Illinois, U.S.
Future Plans: University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School

“Success means to be fulfilled in whatever aspect of your life you choose to put forth a large effort. Success is pretty subjective because someone may associate success with wealth and another person with helping others, so I think it is about achieving your personal goals, whatever they may be. I value academic and professional achievement, but I also value forming strong friendships and sharing exciting experiences with people. In the next few years, I aspire to really hone in on the aspect of business that I am most interested in, whether it be finance or real estate or retail, and to immerse myself in that industry. For now, as I leave for college, I am prioritizing finding a group of new friends with a variety of interests and backgrounds. I hope to be a balanced person; I want to achieve success in my chosen career in business while simultaneously loving what I do for a living and maintaining a vibrant social life.”

João Felipe P., 18
Graduated From: St. Paul’s School, São Paulo, Brazil
Future Plans: University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School

“Success is achieving happiness by doing what you love and mastering it. It is also helping others to find their success in life. Fifty years from now, I would like to be a leader in the world investments, and consequently be able to contribute to my country in many ways: from its economy to social inequality.”

Ajeya S., 17
Graduated From: The Bronx High School of Science, The Bronx, N.Y., U.S.
Future Plans: Stanford University

“Success, as is commonly understood, is about rewards and recognition. While those do tend to lift morale from time to time, I have also come to realize how transient and insignificant they really are. After all, who would remember or care about those even in a few weeks’ time? Instead, success to me is about being a person of value. Living with integrity is what I value most, because that alone can truly set us free. I have experienced it personally a number of times in my life and strive to live by it every day. I aspire to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, acquire knowledge and skills to support myself and be of use to others. My top priority is about learning to deal with change and get comfortable with it. As I embark on my voyage of self-discovery in the months and years ahead, I am bound to face a great deal of change and my fair share of challenges. For the first time, I will be living on my own, far away from my family. That will be a new experience in itself. At the same time, I will get to meet and know newer sets of people, as well as learn new things and newer ways of doing things. I believe all that will be truly exciting and enriching to me.”

Sarah O., 18
Graduated From: Hopewell Valley Central High School, Pennington, N.J., U.S.
Future Plans: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to study biology, chemistry and statistics

“For me, success means positively impacting society while pursuing something I am passionate about. So far, I have found myself drawn to our epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and other diseases, and I would love to work at the CDC in Atlanta to conduct research and spread information to the public. Another interest of mine is neurology; I have always been interested in this field, but it particularly fascinates me now, as I was diagnosed with epilepsy at the beginning of my senior year in high school. Researchers work tirelessly to produce drugs that are successful in treating elusive neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, but I would like to help discover the causes of these conditions so we can focus on preventative medicine. In general, I believe there is a huge lack of focus on preventative medicine in the U.S. and I want to change that. I also hope to be politically active, especially with regard to health care and ensuring that people from all income levels have access to preventative medicine. In my professional career, I hope to be recognized as an individual that stays true to my moral and ethical beliefs, and in my personal life, I want to be loyal and dedicated to my loved ones. Aside from my work career, I hope I’ll remember to enjoy myself in the moment and be adventurous. I am such a driven person that, in high school, I was too focused on achieving. Now, I realize how important it is to continue reevaluating what makes me happy.”

Uday B., 18
Graduated From: Delhi Public School, R.K. Puram, New Delhi, India
Future Plans: Working on a collection of Hindi and Urdu poems and deciding which U.S. school to attend to study journalism and political science

“I define success as the realization of one’s potential to the fullest. In this way it’s you who define success and not the society. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of setting one’s own goals and achieving them, rather than blindly pursuing the ‘symbols of success’ set by others. While the former approach gives you inner peace and satisfaction, the latter will only lead to frustration, fatigue and discontentment no matter how far one goes in life. Though there are many roles I may don in my life after high school, there is one rule I want to strictly abide by: to do everything with commitment, conviction and competence.”

Gustavo Pellegrini Baptista Ferraz D., 17
Graduating From: Colégio Santa Cruz, São Paulo, Brazil
Future Plans: Volunteering and college in America

“As Brazilian high school classes end in December 2018 and U.S classes only start in August 2019, I plan to take five-to-six months volunteering and focusing on my own project of building more inclusive park benches for my city. For me, success means to contribute positively to my society (be it my neighborhood or the whole world) and be recognized by it. I value creativity, good humor and solution-guided thinking. In the short term, I aspire to enter a dream university, such as UPenn. In the long run, I aspire to become an entrepreneur and help the world to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. As I head off into life after high school, I am prioritizing my health and education. Professionally, I hope to be a leader — someone people can trust and rely on. Personally, I hope to be a loving and kind person who can understand others and help them overcome their fears and problems.”

Michelle M., 18
Graduated From: Plymouth Whitmarsh High School, Plymouth Meeting, Pa., U.S.
Future Plans: University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School, to study actuarial science

“To me, success means being able to balance happiness and prosperity. If I am able to do well while also being happy with my life, then I would view myself as being very successful. I greatly value my relationships with friends, family, and acquaintances. Therefore, if my success could also help them in any way, then I would definitely want that to happen. I aspire to be content with my own life, while also positively impacting those around me. Ultimately, I aspire to be somebody that can be depended on in the future, professionally and personally. I think that dependability and loyalty are keys to success.”

Rhea G., 18
Graduated From: Amity International School, Saket, India
Future Plans: College in Europe, ideally University of Amsterdam

“For me, success is never ending. If you accomplish a goal, you want to achieve another goal, then another. The cycle never stops! I value hard work more than anything. It takes its time, but it never lets you down. I aspire to be a women who is a role model for someone, if not many. I aspire to be a person who never hesitates to help others. I want to be that kind of a person who is not afraid of her mistakes or shortcomings. I want to be a person who is not ready to give up. I’m prioritizing myself right now. Knowing that the first step towards an independent life is taking the right decisions and making the right choices, I’m focusing more on what interests I have or which topics excite me. With this, I think I know myself a little better. I want to be a humble person professionally and personally. I want to be happy with whatever I’m doing in life and no matter in what stage I am, I want to enjoy it while I can.”

Rohit R., 17
Graduated From: Ridge High School, Basking Ridge, N.J., U.S.
Future Plans: Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business

“To me, success is defined by the impact you make. Of course, being financially secure is important to living a comfortable life and supporting a family. However, I hope to change society for the better, as well. I envision doing this by one day forming a startup that will focus on serving the economically disadvantaged and bridging the wealth gap in our nation and even across the world. I also hope to use my love of investing to make impact investments. I certainly value family a lot. I am very thankful for having such a loving and supportive family and strongly wish to help them out as much as I can. I also value kindness and helping others. As I mentioned before, I am in many ways driven to make society a better place and help out others who are in need. These are the values and aspirations that I hope to follow throughout my life.”

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What are some common themes in these definitions of success?

What’s missing from this story? Your perspective! How do you define success? Share your personal insights in the comments section of this article.

Which definition of success do you connect with most and why?

9 comments on “Graduates Define Success

  1. Most, if not all statements defining success involve achieving personal objectives and doing good things for the world. Well, it’s pretty good to see that our future may be in good hands like their.
    Personally, I define success in a vision that can be compared with Aristotles’s Etics. It’s based in the Summum Bonum concept, wich states that the great good, the porpouse of every action is to bring happiness for who’s acting, in some way. Based on it, I say that to be successful is to be able of doing what makes you happy. It may seams controversial, because there are people that like (and get happy with) bad things. Well, it’s really sad, but if they’re able of doing these bad things, for them, every thing is allright, so they succeded. It’s like if the villain of a movie got what he wanted. And, in this defintion, success for me is to be able of correct some world’s problems and make people happy, and doing good for those I love.
    My definition is more similar to João’s and Michelle’s.

  2. It is very evident that all of these definitions of success portray mastery, impact, proficiency, and passion in their ideal forms, whether it be through business, science, or any other manner. While I do agree with the perspectives of all of these successful graduates, the one statement that resonated with me the MOST would by the words written by Hannah Cronin.

    She immediately states that success is a subjective word, as it can vary from individual to individual, and I cannot agree with this enough. At the end of the day, everyone values something different and while it is possible to find and network with other individuals that have the same interests as you, it would not be wise to judge others without having an open mind. An example would be the difference between one who believes that becoming a millionaire is the epitome of success and one who believes that successfully pulling his family out of poverty and providing his children with enough educational opportunities would constitute the ideal version of success.

    Cronin begins by stating that success involves being extremely fulfilled in an aspect of life that you choose to put forth your largest effort in, whether that be wealth, fine arts, relationships, etc. However, I would like to further extend this definition. While I do believe that success should embody being COMMITTED and eventually becoming one of the BEST at whatever it is one wants to be accomplished in, I also believe that the path towards success also speaks a lot to the level of accomplishment of an individual. In other words, as General George S. Patton once said, “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” There are many individuals that settle for mediocrity or sub-par results due to the difficulty associated with achieving a very high goal or due to the fact that those that surround them have not reached a similar level of success to spur friendly competition. I believe that the drive and DESIRE to push through the most difficult of times, whether it be to get a 100 on an exam that has been known to produce average scores in the 60s to placing 1st in a Speech and Debate Competition to even running your own business, is what constitutes 80% of success. The remaining 20% lies in the end result and one’s own sense of accomplishment with how far they have come and whether or not they feel fulfilled in the aspect of life they chose to put forth their largest effort.

    Furthermore, I share Cronin’s aspects on professional achievement and relationships. In the future, I see myself running a Corporate Law Firm, armed with the knowledge I have amassed over the years from a prestigious business school and an acclaimed law school, in order to ensure the legalities that must be taking place between businesses are not being infringed upon and to further be immersed into the realm of business through the perspective of both a lawyer and a business owner. At the same time, I strongly believe in having a strong support group with extremely close friends that share the same goals as me while also having varying interests in terms of what areas of life they want to be accomplished in. I would like to surround myself, and maintain some of the connections I already have, with individuals that work hard, work with others, set high goals, have a sense of humor and empathy, and are not afraid to do whatever it takes to righteously earn what their hard work warrants. You are an average of the 5 individuals that you spend the most time with, and I truly believe that spending time with people who also want to be successful will only further your own aspirations and goals in life.

    All in all, I agree with Cronin on how success is subjective and it involves a level of mastery and fulfillment in whatever it is one decides to put his/her entire effort towards to. We both have similar goals in immersing ourselves in our own respective aspects of business and climbing up the corporate ladder, and we both place a high value on building relationships as we know about the motivation, support, and benefits of having a healthy group of friends. After all, your network is your net worth. However, I would also extend her claims to encompass a greater emphasis on the ability to work hard and work through ALL difficulties and obstacles without settling for mediocrity or anything less than the goal in mind.

    And just because the contents of this post have warranted the use of many quotes, I believe it is appropriate to end this post with another quote as well:
    “Successful people are NOT gifted; they just WORK HARD, then SUCCEED ON PURPOSE.” -G.K. Nelson

  3. Most of the above definitions of success have something very common, purpose. Success is a word which has completely different definitions for different people. In my opinion, I feel it’s all about purpose and passion. If someone is passionate about something and has a purpose related to it, success would mean being driven by your passion to fulfill your purpose. Students who conveyed what success means to them have something in common, a purpose and the word itself is very subjective. I can pretty much relate to all their definitions. I want to learn, make an impact, master the things I love, find a balance between prosperity and happiness and also be recognised! It’s kind of magical how one word can mean utterly different things to different people!

  4. The perspectives of the students above definitely give everyone great insights into what is defined as success and manage to spur reflective thoughts towards this topic. I actually agree with the point of views of all the graduates. If we think about it, their different opinions actually imply a desired common goal of all beings: Happiness. Solving basic and fundamental problems in society, contributing to the society and being recognised by it, being a person of value et cetera, all of them is directed to happiness. You gain joy by helping the society to solve its problems; you enjoy being appreciated by people for your contribution to the society; your integrity and values align perfectly with how a person you wish you can be in real life.

    In my perspective, the key to pursuing happiness and achieving success in life is to know your ‘inner self’ – who you really are. This idea first gain ground 520 years ago, when the great Eastern philosopher, Wang Yangming first came up with the concept of ‘innate knowing’. It’s only when you can completely understand your innate characteristics and innate personality, then can you know what you really want in life, and step out to pursue them. I observed that many people thought that they know themselves very well but actually don’t. What they are doing doesn’t align to what they really wish to pursue in life. To be fair, this task is easier said than done when there are emotional biases and heuristics affecting us such as self-denial bias, cognitive dissonance and commitment and consistency bias.

    However, finding out your innate self isn’t a mission impossible and I’ve find two ways useful in helping me to discover my inborn personality. One is to contemplate your actions in your daily lives and introspect the root cause of those actions. For example, I took zest in investing at an early age. I am motivated to read annual reports and dig deep into a company in order to fully understand its condition and future prospects and whether to invest in it. What’s the motive of me doing all these hard work? Is it because I love investing? That’s only the proximate cause and not the root cause. My early exposure to investing and my father definitely is part of the contributing factor for my compassion towards investing, but it’s not the root cause too. After questioning myself countless times, I found out that it is my innate desire to understand and analyse how things work and my innate desire of gaining pleasure when my judgement is proven right in reality (when your investments pay off handsomely) that push me towards this path. The fact of finding out this, itself, is a pretty great little success to me. Another method I’ve found useful is to practice meditation. Meditating definitely enhances my ability to concentrate better and clarify my thoughts, to communicate more with my ‘inner self’ and know it better. It is not that surprising to me when realising that meditating can help me understand my ‘innate characteristics’ better, as meditation itself is about finding peace not from the outside but from our inside.

    In a nutshell, knowing you innate identity is definitely a key to obtaining all successes in lives. But to me, being able to completely realise my innate personality is success itself, the holy grail of my life. By truly knowing who you really are, all doors are opened, all decisions and actions match perfectly with you innate desires, and no regrets are made in your life. If we think about it in this way, a life without regrets, a perfect life, is indeed a fascinating definition of success to have.

    • Hi Chuah,
      I think your comment was insightful in its meaningful elaboration on a fairly simple-sounding subject. While I agree with your comment in a broad sense, I do substantially disagree with you on a couple of the points you discussed.

      Firstly, you indicated that all beings desire happiness above all else, but I think this is true for exceptionally few, if any, beings. While a few organisms do have the capacity to experience emotion, they do not prize happiness above all else. Virtually all organisms value only survival and successful reproduction; in fact, with the exception of humans, all organisms’ lives essentially consist of three tasks: survival, reproduction, and (in some cases) protection of offspring. I think that a much more appropriate universal statement is that all beings value satisfaction, especially in the animal kingdom. This statement is indeed appropriate for all non-intelligent (i.e., non-human) life, as it wholly encompasses the three elements of such life as outlined above: organisms survive to reproduce, reproduce for the immediate satisfaction, and (for organisms that practice the third task) protect their offspring for the satisfaction of watching their children survive and mature into a healthy adulthood.

      I believe that this statement is also far more representative of the long-term goals of most humans: most people desire not fleeting, immediate happiness but the long-term satisfaction of a well-lived life. After all, the fastest way to immense happiness is through the pipe or needle, yet in light of the tremendous quantity of happiness drugs can bring, relatively few people ultimately become addicted to such activities. I believe this points to a larger goal of satisfaction that most people share. I think most people intuitively understand that happiness is but the time-derivate of satisfaction and that its fickle nature makes it a less worthy ambition.

      Indeed, historically, satisfaction, as opposed to happiness, has been the ultimate goal, at least under most Indian religions. The ultimate goal of life according to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, moksha (also known as nirvana), is, among its many qualities, described as a state of total satisfaction and bliss. Hence, it can be deduced that for thousands of years, humanity has, on the whole, prized satisfaction above all else.

      I largely agree with your reflection on how to achieve success. While, as a religious person, I don’t completely agree with your conception of a perfect life, I do find it to be most appropriate from an atheistic perspective. I do, however, think that you missed a step in your analysis of how best to understand your inner self, which is to actually TRY many different activities. This will make it much easier to find patterns that can help you better assess what you really enjoy. For instance, I too took to investing at an early age, but because I had already participated in and thoroughly enjoyed a number of math contests, I was able to quickly determine that my interest in investing was largely a result of my love for numerical analysis. While asking yourself why you enjoy one thing “countless times” is certainly one method to determine your true desires, I think introspection is a lot easier and more accurate when you have a breadth of data available for analysis.

    • *What Success Is and How We Should Define It*

      Even before our adolescent years of fantastical aspirations, we are taught to believe in success. But despite having common themes of what success should represent, we often hold slight variations in our ideals. Most people focus on material wealth, claiming that fancy cars and large mansions are the definition of success. Some define success as the pursuit of happiness and accomplishment and simply leave it as that. Others turn inward as they attempt to find their passions, goals, and dreams through their own definition of success. In fact, Chuah writes an intriguing piece on what success means to him and how he achieved it. So…who’s right and who’s wrong?

      The problem is that these interpretations are both right and wrong at the same time. While the precious ideals of one person may translate nicely into thousands of others, there is no comprehensive definition of success. Thus, to many, success can represent money, community outreach, or even internal improvement, yet the fault lies in our current method of defining success; We frame success as an end-goal and not a process.

      This idea may seem profound and even futile to consider, so let me start from the beginning…

      What is the conceptual purpose of “success” and what distinguishes it from “accomplishment” and/or “achievement?”

      In determining success, individuals generally take one of two routes: one in which they discover their own unique ideal of what success should be, and one in which people simply regurgitate the beliefs of scholars, philosophers, and billionaires of centuries past. Yet in spite of the myriad of wondrous theories that result from self-inquiry, individuals often overlook the central question: Why does the concept of success exist? Only through an increased understanding of why we have created the concept can we accurately identify what success means and how it applies globally.

      For me, “success” is meant to motivate and inspire. The idyllic imagery of what “success” entails often serves as encouragement to aspiring children, college interns, and even world leaders, and this very emotion of incitement is what differentiates it from “accomplishment.” In this regard, the concept of success looks toward future improvement, while the concept of accomplishment only speaks to former progression and maturation. Thus, by presenting success as an end goal rather than a process, we lose the very essence of what “success” should be: an impetus for further action. When we view success as a synonym for achievement and consume ourselves in the past, we inherently place a limit on future accomplishments. Instead, we should view success as a filter of what we want to attain and who we want to become. And though the past may hold precious memories, we can only create change looking forward.

      As a result, inverting happiness and success allow us to shift the focus from the end-goal to the process. Whether the goal is to better understand one’s innate characteristics through meditation or solving world hunger, each step of the process itself is a success. In this specific example, Chuah’s success began when he first decided to reflect on his passions and meditate, not when he solidified his understanding of himself. It doesn’t take a full understanding of oneself or omniscience regarding the world around us to claim success, and to this extent, success is actually quite common. In improving ourselves and others, we can claim success through small feats and utilize failure as motivation. In the same way that the Nobel Prize winners and World Cup victors are not the only literary authors and professional athletes who experience success, we too should prioritize the smaller things in life. Even if it’s merely a child’s first step, an analyst’s first job, or a company’s slight increase in revenue year over year, we should gladly anticipate and welcome the future with open arms. And by recognizing the smaller achievements in each positive action, literary work, or soccer game, we can use short-term goals and milestones to propel ourselves forward, using success as it was meant to be.

      In the end, each individual’s definition of success depends on what they want success’s conceptual purpose to be. For some, success may be just another synonym for prior accomplishment. For others, it may serve as a way to determine status. But no matter what you believe the purpose of the word “success” is meant to be, remember that success has the potential to influence, excite, and inspire.

      “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston S. Churchill

  5. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, success is defined as the “accomplishment of an aim or purpose”. Success in life means different things to different people. Whether or not you are successful depends on how you define success.

    I believe success is up to you. The way I interpret success is being able to work hard to accomplish your dreams. In today’s society, individuals automatically think success means money. Money doesn’t bring you happiness and it does not define success. My question is, “What do you think it takes to be successful in life”?

    How successful you are is based solely on the answer to that question.

  6. Success may not have a definite meaning to it, yet sometimes you may wonder what it is , that very moment when you create an answer to something, could also be defined as success. You may not perceive success to be sudden , because we all learn things the hard way. Up till today i wonder what it is to be successful. To fully understand what success really is , we need to realize you cannot be successful without having a “task” to complete . Success was born in very early stages of human life, everyone seeked to be successful. A simple example to explain success for a student life, as soon as you enter your very first schooling grade. You may not at that moment have thought of it, but your success would be accomplished the day you graduate. That itself may be defined as mid-term goals being achieved . There are two basic fundamental choices in life : what is right and what is not. Choose the wrong and you’ll be doomed , so whats left is just being right. Doing the right thing in every case is a step closer to “success” . Yes ,you may make mistakes. But what is the purpose of mistakes? Mistakes are there to make sure you built your bridge strong enough never to collapse. What happens if that bridge wasnt taken care of if by mistake you done a half-job on a certain part. That bridge will most likely collapse oneday. You cannot flu to success. You will need that courage to rebuild your bridge. Back to the point of success, success is in everything you do, once you’re born, you need to be successful somehow. Once you’re in school, you need to be successful (graduate). Once you’re married, you want to be successful (have a good family). Success is in every part of your life. But what counts most is the day you’re born, what success do you really need to achieve before death . Some believe in life after death, some dont . Some would then believe in success to become immortal and some would believe success to go to Paradise. For those who believe in life after death, there can be only one kind of success, which is not burning in hell.

  7. I agree with all the students’ definition of success, but I feel that I can connect to Hannah Cronin’s definition of success the most. I agree with her that success is achieving your goal through hard work and effort.

    I have played soccer for 8 years, but then I experienced a devastating event in the spring season of soccer. I had an injury in both of my knees partially caused in a game when I was tripped causing my to flip in the air and land on my legs causing me to pull my hamstring and later develop knee pain making me unable to play soccer or any other sports for the time being until my knees healed. The pain was unbearable for the first few months when I played a sport. The doctors weren’t exactly sure what is causing the pain in my knee, but they told me to look towards physically therapy to help recover. I set a goal to try to heal my knees so I would be able to play sports. In physical therapy, I learned many different exercises to help me strengthen other muscles in my legs to help reduce pressure on my knee. I would have to perform the exercises consistently everyday for 30 minutes to an hour for a few months. Even though some of the exercises were tough and sometimes would hurt a little, I would still do it because I want to go back to playing sports. All this hard work I put in has helped reach my goal to reduce my knee pain making it bearable enough to play sports.

    Even though my achievement of my goal wasn’t on a national scale or global scale, I think that it was a success because I put a lot of hard work towards my goal and this changed my life still allowing me to participate in sports with little to no pain.

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