As I sat in the auditorium during graduation, I cried.  As I walked across that stage to collect my engineering degree from Howard University, my mother cried, my father cried, and my sister cried. In what felt like the most emotional moment of my life, the entire auditorium was filled with crying students and parents. I was graduating, I had a job. Our small class of Electrical and Computer Engineering was graduating, and I was proud to be a part of it.  This was much more than a piece of paper.  I’d been physically, mentally and spiritually tested in ways that I thought would tear me apart – but instead, I learned to improve — to constantly iterate and optimize myself.

My name is Austin O’Donoghue and this is my Crystal Stair.

I’m not sure who needs to hear this, but one of the biggest lessons I learned in life was hardship is temporary and self-imposed hardship is sometimes necessary to sow the seeds of greater success.

Case in point… I’m an engineer. I graduated in 4 years. There were times where I didn’t think I would graduate at all…but I knew deep down that this struggle would be worth it.  I knew the road wouldn’t be easy and in some ways,  I may have underestimated the journey…but I made it, and the success that stemmed from this hardship has granted me more opportunity than I could have ever hoped for. More importantly, it taught me the value of being crushed. The transformation of intense pressure can be a positive one if approached with good intent and work ethic. I couldn’t see that at the moment, but now I cherish opportunities to wrestle with responsibility so that I can elevate myself to exceed expectations.

A mentor of mine once left his high paying job and high-end lifestyle as a corporate executive to move into what was essentially a shack in San Francisco for a lower-paying job.  Even though he couldn’t see the finish line, he had faith that his decision was the right decision and that he would eventually reap the benefits of that decision.  He also reasoned that a little discomfort now would make for more comfort down the road.

I continue to weave my story around Learning, Success, and Legacy – concepts that have helped me concretize my goals and figure out what it means to be successful.

Learning & Success

My story evolves with my ability to learn — from both my own experiences and others’ experiences.  I recognized early on that learning is a skill itself, and until you learn how to learn, you won’t be successful and you won’t grow.  

The concept of Success was always seen as a journey and not a destination.  I don’t think we ever truly reach an endgame in our success; our definition of success should evolve as we do.  When I think about my job in Hardware Engineering at Facebook, I’m reminded every day why I’m in this position – it’s rooted in asking questions and learning quickly.

Legacy

Legacy to me means looking back and knowing that every day I worked to become a better engineer, (future) father, brother, son, and person.  If you can’t remember a time before and a time after my being there, or if you can’t remember a change, then I’m not satisfied with my impact.  

It breaks my heart to see that we, as black men, are viewed as such a danger and with such animosity.  It’s an image that is continually inflicted upon us and it forces us to be in a state of reactivity every day.  There is no reason a 12-year old boy should be seen as a threat or that a well-groomed black man still causes women to clutch their purse.  It has to change.

So get ready for a change.