Glory days: How high school shaped nine IT leaders

Jock? Geek? Artist? Underachiever? Do our high school selves predict our career paths?

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Douglas Menefee

  • CIO, The Schumacher Group
  • Class of 1987, Lafayette High School, Lafayette, La.

My high school self: I was a 90-pound, nerdy metalhead. I struggled greatly in high school and had a small group of great friends who helped me get through the days of structured education. To paraphrase Pink Floyd, I was "a lost soul swimming in a fish bowl."

As a dyslexic, I struggled through high school and was greatly embarrassed by scoring a 17 on the ACT. My teachers passed me because of my "potential." I was a C student on a good day when it came to taking written tests.

Douglas Menefee
Douglas Menefee today

Others would have voted me most likely to...: Have the cops show up at my parties. (Don't tell my mom.)

How my high school persona helped form the person I am today: One of the things I reflect the most on about high school is that I had long hair at a time when "preppy" was in, and I was raised in a small, conservative town that just didn't get long hair. This rebellious part of my life helped me recognize that I needed to pursue what was right for me, not others.

After high school, I flunked out of a semester of college, worked on an oil rig for three months, then joined the military. Needless to say, I lost the long hair. I became a flight medic and was activated for Desert Storm. While in Saudi Arabia, I had a series of SCUD missiles shot down over my head. It was then and there that I had a life-changing moment and made a commitment to myself to pursue the things that inspired me and to focus on personal leadership development.

Because of my dyslexia, computers became my salvation. I type faster than I write, and spell check helps with my disability, and the virtual world empowered me to connect with thousands of people.

Advice for young people who view themselves as I did: You get to reinvent yourself hundreds of times throughout your life. Focus on your inner self, never let anyone tell you that you can't accomplish something, and cast your net wide when it comes to pursuing a career. Get involved with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to be exposed to diversity, leadership and healthy choices.

Karen Graham

  • Vice president and CIO, Cooper University Hospital
  • Class of 1982, Cherry Hill West High School, Cherry Hill, N.J.
Karen Graham
Karen Graham now

My high school self: Is there a category for "mutt"? I had friends in all different cliques, due to my varied interests, which included sports, ceramics and stage crew.

Others would have voted me most likely to...: Travel the world.

How my high school persona helped form the person I am today: Upon graduating from high school, I was unsure as to whether college was the right choice for me at that time. While shoe shopping in Haddonfield, N.J., I saw a sign that said, "See the world and earn your degree," so I enlisted in the Navy and, at age 19, found myself living in Sicily. Needless to say, I did not buy the shoes that I was looking for.

Advice for young people who view themselves as I did: Do what you love and follow your passion, not the crowd.

Mike Collison

  • Director of IS operations, Auto Warehousing Co.
  • Class of 1986, Jefferson High School, Lafayette, Ind.

My high school self: Definitely a nerd and a square peg. I didn't fit into any group. I was a serious introvert, so while I had two really good friends, I didn't make new friends easily or quickly.

In my junior year, they started offering PC-based computer courses, and I jumped into those. My parents got me a Commodore 64, and I could do rudimentary programming on it, as well as make my own adventure games and rudimentary graphics, through self-teaching.

Mike Collison
Mike Collison, then and now

I discovered I had a knack for it. But I wasn't sure that was where I wanted to go, because I was just cruising through high school. My dad finally asked me, with a sense of frustration, what I was going to do with my life, and to placate him, I said I liked computers.

Others would have voted me most likely to...: Not know what I wanted out of life.

How my high school persona helped form the person I am today: I still have a deep love for video games, and I still have introvert tendencies. I have to force myself to do things that make me uncomfortable on an almost daily basis.

But I'm a completely different person from what I was then. I ended up in situations and jobs that caused me to get way outside my comfort zone repeatedly. The more I was thrust into those situations, the farther I got from the person I was in high school. Doing the tasks I do now would have shut me down back then.

There are things -- public speaking, for one -- that still terrify me, but I end up muscling through those things and move forward.

Advice for young people who view themselves as I did: Think about what you want out of life and try the best you can to get there. You need to overcome any fear you have of going out and doing it. A lot of kids today are showered with things their parents didn't have, so they're very comfortable. But you can't wait for things to just fall in your lap.

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