Ever wonder what became of your high school valedictorian? According to one study out of Boston College, those perfectly poised students don’t actually go on to become the game-changers that their less-academically inclined peers do. In fact, researchers showed that out of 81 valedictorians tracked from high school through their professional career, exactly none of them went on to become so-called “world changers.” Scientist Karen Arnold, leader of that study, had a theory about why that is. In an interview with CNBC she said that, “Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries ... they typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.” She goes on to say that valedictorians tend not to be “mold breakers.”
So basically, if you live your academic life on the edge, you just might have a bright future ahead, especially if your passion is to become an artist or entrepreneur, both risk-heavy careers.
In several cases of successful San Antonians, these risk-takers bombed class and ditched school entirely, but then kicked some major butt in their respective endeavors. Jose Campos, co-owner at the CommonWealth Coffeehouse & Bakery, and Angela and Mark Walley of Walley Films prove that it’s not always the grade that makes you successful, but the creativity and guts behind the dream.
Jose Campos’ road to owning a French-inspired coffee shop began with his stubborn desire to learn, what was for him, a very challenging language. While attending Southern Methodist University, Campos excelled in his majors (finance, economics and political science), but flailed in French. After hacking through several years of university French and being advised to drop the class for the sake of his GPA, Campos qualified to study abroad. Although, he admits, he could barely muster a greeting to his host family.
He persisted through his semester abroad, and eventually, landed a job in the country. His French finally flourished, and so did his love for the croissant — and all things provincial — including the idea of opening a cafe back in San Antonio. A couple of years later, the dream took shape in the form of CommonWealth Coffeehouse and Bakery, with business partner, Jorge Herrero. Today their reverie cafe, embroidered in blue and white, marble countertops, and replete with chill San-Antonio vibes, is earning national attention (see the Tennis Channel’s list of Top 20 French Bakeries — yes, it’s a real thing). And, beginning this year, the duo will expand their operation to seven new locations throughout the city.
What started out as a GPA-killing challenge turned into a vision of buttery, flaky delight. Campos admits, it wasn’t all so clear at the time, but he just knew he had to keep parler-ing. “Very few people don’t have to go to school nowadays,” said Campos. “There are people like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg (famous college dropouts), but, for the most part, everyone needs some kind of education. Whatever you choose — college, some college, trade-school — you just can’t give up on following your passion.”
Documentary filmmakers and husband-wife team Mark and Angela Walley sat down and created a pros-and-cons list before deciding to drop out of UTSA’s New Media Arts program. Their decision to leave school and pursue filmmaking “in the real world” was (they can say now with confidence) one of the best they’ve made. “As an artist, your portfolio and the connections you make in the community are far more important than whether or not you finished your degree,” said Angela.
Since founding their company in 2010, the Walleys have produced more than 40 short documentaries following the work of San Antonio artists, nonprofit arts organizations, galleries and museums. Besides career success, they’ve also managed to keep the lights on and stay married. “School didn’t teach us how to learn from our mistakes or how to make a living doing what we love — we had to figure that out for ourselves,” they said. “We’re still figuring that out, but we have each other to depend on and encourage each day.”
As far as giving advice to aspiring creatives, the Walleys say that if you are considering ditching school, make sure to first take advantage of the resources you have. Though just in school for two years, the duo made the most of their time and produced many short films under the guidance of professors. Then, when they were ready, they took the plunge.
School might not be for you, or maybe it is, or maybe a little bit of school is a good idea. It just depends on how much of a risk you’re willing to take.