Hello everyone! My name is Kyle Pezzi. I’m eighteen years old and I am a freshman finance student at American University in Washington DC. I spoke at DanceBlue last year and I wanted to come back again since I had such a great time. DanceBlue is one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced and I hope to come back every year.
Now that I have reintroduced myself, I want to share a little bit about my story. I have thought a lot about what I wanted to say this year and wanted to change my message from last year. Last year I talked about my journey with cancer and how DanceBlue helps children with pediatric cancer. However, this year I wanted to give some words of wisdom, and share what I have learned from my experience with cancer and what I have learned these last few years after my diagnosis. During these last few years I have learned a lot about life and I hope that I can share some things that will be of value to each of you.
For those of you who do not know, I had Osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer. I was diagnosed during my sophomore year in high school. The diagnosis was very sudden. One day I was playing tennis, and the next I began hospitalizations and treatments. I had to withdraw from school and everything else went into the backseat. My chemo treatments lasted for ten months and I had eight surgeries. I spent almost 150 days in the hospital and at the Hematology and oncology clinic at UK. Because of my treatment plan, I was unable to go out in public often. I spent more time at the clinic and the hospital than I did at home. Every holiday and birthday was spent in the hospital. It was a very difficult year.
Now comes my advice to you. Although I hope all of you will never experience hardships like this in your life, you will all experience inconveniences, setbacks, deaths, and other very difficult things. At times these events may be very difficult. Even to this day things happen to me that get me down. However, since my treatments I have realized that failure and bad things happen to everyone, even the richest and the most powerful. It is how you deal with your difficulties and the lesson that you learn is what makes you stronger, more resilient, more grateful. Being negative never helped me and it won’t help you. Push through the difficult times, stay positive.
I want to tell you a story to illustrate what I mean. It’s about a guy named Peter Thiel. I don’t know if you know him but he went to law school in California and he really wanted to clerk at the Supreme Court. For a law school graduate the best credential you can get is to land a Supreme Court clerkship. After graduating from law school and clerking for a year for a district court judge, Thiel was one of the small handful of clerks who made it to the interview stage with two of the Supreme Court justices. It was all he wanted, it consumed his life. Guess what? He didn’t get it. He became depressed and felt like he would never succeed. This is a feeling that many of us have when we don’t succeed at something. Or when we encounter something difficult. We have the same reaction. Feeling of failure, sadness. After grieving for a short period, Peter began to work very hard. He reevaluated his career and began working in business. Peter soon started to experience success and was able to recover from his setback. After a few years he built a business and sold it for a great deal of money. This business was called PayPal. He is also an investor in Facebook, an investment that has made him a billionaire. One of his old friends from law school who had won the clerkship over him and now worked in law said to him “So, aren’t you glad you didn’t get that Supreme Court clerkship?”
My point in telling you this is that sometimes things happen in life that you have no control over. I had cancer, something I had no control over. Peter, didn’t get his clerkship. It will happen to all of us at some point. I want to encourage you all not to worry about stuff when things don’t go your way. Take something away from the experience, move on, stay positive and keep working hard. Most importantly, realize that you are blessed to be healthy, be grateful that you go to a great school and are receiving a top-notch education. And remember that when things don’t work out the way you expect, its sometimes a gift.
Now I want to tell you how my bad experiences have changed me. One thing I never really mentioned in my last speech was that in high school, I didn’t work that hard. I never was that interested in class and my mind often wandered to other things rather than schoolwork. For the first two years of high school, before I got cancer, I spent more time playing Halo, and not doing my schoolwork. I did okay but never reached my potential. I convinced myself that I would never excel like my cousin who went to Harvard Law School or my other cousin who was in Medical School. I kind of just accepted my fate to just be average. I just wasn’t’ as smart as them. Then sophomore year when I got cancer, my life took even a worse turn. I thought “How could it get any worse?” At that point I decided to take a different approach. The way I saw it, it could only get better from here because I had really hit the bottom. Sitting in the hospital for so long gave me a lot of time to think. I wanted to change my life. As soon as I got through treatment I started working much harder, and things did change. I quickly learned that I wasn’t any different from my cousins who were so successful, except they just worked harder and were more positive and better at dealing with setbacks. I went from being an academic underachiever to getting terrific grades and finally working to my potential. Now that I am in college I am continuing to work hard and it is paying off. As difficult as cancer was, I can honestly say that it got me to where I am today. I’m lucky and I’m grateful. I now know I will succeed in life.
We will all fail sometimes, we will all go through hardships. Try to learn something from everything, be the best you can be. Today you are being the best you can be. Thank you for sacrificing your time, energy and effort. By participating in DanceBlue you are helping create more survivors like me. Thank you.
Before I go, I’d like to thank a few people: my family for all the help throughout all of this, and my girlfriend Nisha Patel, who is here today with Kappa Kappa Gamma. I’d also like to give a shout out to my friend, Emily Dawson, who you all met last night from the hospital. She is going through the same treatment that I did. We are all thinking of you Emily. Stay strong. Thanks everyone.