I once said, “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all of my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
I haven’t been to college before or… ever, but I did have a passion for drawing and animation. It has been boiling in my blood since I was born. I come from a poor family that wasn’t able to support me, so I got money myself to live my life and help my family. I sold my first cartoon when I was seven. I got free haircuts from the barber when I drew new hairstyles for him. I rode the trains and sold drinks and snacks. I had a job at the postal office until they realized my real age. When my family and I left Kansas City to move to Chicago, I was hurt. I didn’t want to leave. I had jobs, but I didn’t have a choice. I was fifteen when we moved and was enrolled in McKinley High. I took Fine Arts classes at night. When I was sixteen, I dropped out and tried to join the army, but wasn’t old enough. Instead of going back to school, I became a Red Cross Ambulance Driver. I wanted to at least see some action. After all, it’s not fun unless you get a scar out of it. Instead of seeing anything, the soldiers made me go into town and run errands for them! The nerve of those people. In my spare time, which was about… always, I would draw on my ambulance. I heard that I was known for my doodles on my ambulance. I still needed money for food, so a couple of soldiers and I earned money by selling German helmets. I came back to my family when I was eighteen. They barely recognized me. I was grown up and ready to get into the animation industry, not the Jell-O Company that my dad wanted me to get into. I packed my bags and headed for Kansas City. That was where I wanted to start my career.
You guys should be proud of yourselves. You have come to college and this is the moment you should be most proud of. Nothing can overcome your joy. You have passed through all of your classes. I wasn’t very smart. . . I was told by one of my teachers that I was her “second-dumbest students.” I wasn’t very offended. I didn’t really try in school. I didn’t need to if I wanted a career in drawing. When I arrived in Kansas City, I found Ub Iwerks. I know, weird name. Don’t tease him. He is a very skilled cartoonist. When we joined together and made a company, it didn’t go well. We were able to make the company, but it only lasted one month. We didn’t give up on our dreams. We got a job at the Kansas Slide Show Company and that was when I originally got into animation. I would be drawing picture after picture, millions if necessary, just to have somebody take a step. When Iwerks and I made Laugh-O-Grams, we thought we had it good. We had a camera and workers, but customers were a little short. When Laugh-O-Grams went bankrupt, I moved to live with my brother in Hollywood. That was where Walt Disney Pictures and Mickey Mouse were born and you know the rest.
Think about what I said before. “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all of my troubles and obstacles have strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” If I were to have succeeded in the first thing I’ve ever done, then I may not have tried harder. I may not have made Mickey or have Walt Disney Pictures. The “kick in the teeth” has helped throughout my life and I am thankful for it. Never give up. Perseverance and hard work is the key to success. After all, all of your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them.