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How Does Daring to Get Noticed Help Us Succeed?

Before Alexander Hamilton became a U.S. Founding Father, he was a teenager living on St. Croix. His mother was dead; his father was living on St. Kitts (another Caribbean island).

Without parents to support him, Alexander experienced a catastrophic hurricane that massively damaged many Caribbean islands on August 31, 1772. He described the awful events in a September 6, 1772 letter to his father. This is an excerpt of that letter:

Honored Sir,

I take up my pen, just to give you an imperfect account of one of the most dreadful hurricanes that memory or any records whatever can trace, which happened here on the 31st ultimo at night.

It began about dusk, at north, and raged very violently till ten o'clock. Then ensued a sudden and unexpected interval which lasted about an hour. Meanwhile the wind was shifting round to the south west point, from whence it returned with redoubled fury and continued till nearly three in the morning.

Good God! what horror and destruction - it's impossible for me to describe - or you to form any idea of it. It seemed as if a total dissolution of nature was taking place. The roaring of the sea and wind - fiery meteors flying about in the air - the prodigious glare of almost perpetual lightning - the crash of falling houses - and the ear-piercing shrieks of the distressed were sufficient to strike astonishment into Angels.

A great part of the buildings throughout the island are leveled to the ground - almost all the rest very much shattered - several persons killed and numbers utterly ruined - whole families wandering about the streets, unknowing where to find a place of shelter - the sick exposed to the keenness of water and air - without a bed to lie upon - or a dry covering to their bodies - and our harbors entirely bare. In a word, misery, in its most hideous shapes, spread over the whole face of the country ... (Quoted in: “The Virgin Islands Our New Possessions and the British Virgin Islands,” by Theodoor De Booy and John T. Faris, Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1918, at pages 205-206.)

A copy of Hamilton's letter to his father somehow found its way into the hands of Hugh Knox who thought the public-at-large would enjoy reading it. At first, Alexander didn't want the letter published but, after some persuasion, he changed his mind.

The whole letter was published on October 3, 1772, in a newspaper called the Royal Danish American Gazette. It was an essay which “got noticed,” thereby changing Alexander's life.

Had Hamilton not written his essay about hurricane-caused destruction on St. Croix, he likely would never have become the man he became. Does daring to get noticed by, among other things, publicly (and intelligently) expressing our opinions in writing, help us to succeed?

Hamilton was a teenager when he wrote, and published, his attention-getting story. Do you think teenagers today are willing to express their written opinions in a public, adult-respected forum? Explain your answer.

After Hamilton published his letter, local leaders living in St. Croix were impressed by the teenager’s intelligence and used their financial resources to send him to a great school in pre-revolutionary America. Do you think such a thing is still possible in the 21st-century? Explain your answer.

To make it more likely that teenagers could reap such benefits, in the 21st century, what would young people have to do to get noticed?


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