On a beautiful early spring evening we marked the beginning of a whole new future for 33 high school seniors. These are students who have been overlooked, who if you just examined grades or test scores these students would not seem remarkable. And who up until now did not view college as an option.

On this evening we formally welcomed the first group of 33 Diamante Scholars to the program developed in close partnership with Diablo Valley College and the Mount Diablo Unified School District.

Some of these students have heard how deficient they are. How they lack “what it takes” to get to college or a career. They may lack family members who have had college or career experience. They may lack the resources to attend college.

But they have what’s really important – a belief in themselves. And they may be the only person who deep down, really believes in this future they can quietly see.

College expectations differ from career experiences

The cruel trick that growing up plays on high school students is that there is so much pressure and expectation placed on which college you go to and the expectation that your major should produce a job and a career. And that the grades you achieve along the way somehow are a reflection of your potential.

But generally speaking, a career path and success in that career have nothing to do with where someone went to college. And nothing to do with any one class they took while there. And it most emphatically has little to do with their grades or test scores.

A career path and success in that career have everything to do with how well they learned to solve problems, how well they learned to communicate, how well they learned to work collaboratively. How curious they are. Their ability to constantly learn new things.

Heck, my wife and I literally know no one who has a job in their major. Three quarters of American college graduates go on to a career unrelated to their college major.

It’s not about what subject you are learning, but developing the ability to learn. To be curious. Open minded. Willing to adapt and change, as you collect experience and data.

Not college material

That was my experience. I was a horrible student in high school. But because of my grades and test scores, I was told “I wasn’t college material.” I was the only student in my (small) senior class not to go to a four year college. I went to a local community college – Diablo Valley College – and started following my nose.

I took lots of different kinds of classes, but my world changed when I took calculus. For the first time in my life math was interesting. It was fun. It combined powerful concepts with logical procedures. When I took differential equations, that’s when I felt like I was struck by a thunderbolt. I loved it.

Quickly I decided that electrical engineering and computer science where where I wanted to go. I transferred to UC Berkeley. When I graduated from Cal, I went straight into silicon valley, and the world of startups. Which lead me to MIT for a masters in business, and onto more tech startups, becoming a venture capitalist, and to more tech companies.

But DVC is where I found what I loved and wanted to do. I found a path, and once I did I was on a mission to pursue it. I remember my classmates had similar experiences. There was no one at DVC for the parties (there were none) or the “college experience.” Most of my friends were first generation college students. They were there to improve themselves, and their lives.

Why am I telling you all this? Because back when I graduated from high school, I had no idea this is what my career would look like. All I knew was that I believed I had potential. And up until that point no one else shared that same belief. Back then I was labeled “poor student” “not college material.”

But I owe my entire career to DVC. It’s where I found the vocabulary within myself to name my ambitions. Where I found the professors and classmates to support my fledgling capabilities. And where I felt my first confidence in realizing my potential.

The Diamante Scholars program is devoted to helping other students, who have that potential, who have that belief in themselves, to find their paths.