The Bronx Science Lessons

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In the fall of 1959, I took an hour and a half subway ride for my first day at the Bronx High School of Science. Every year, some 30,000 students take the admissions exam. About 800 are invited to come for that first day.

“Science,” as it’s called, is one of the best high schools in the country. It was rich with excellent teachers and challenges. It had, and has, a student body filled with very smart people. One thing I learned is that being with smart people can be a lot of fun.

There’s always somebody smarter

I also learned another lesson. I call it “Bronx Science Lesson Number 1.” There’s always somebody smarter. I knew I was smart, but at Science I discovered that when it came to smart, I was on the junior varsity at best.

Smart is good but not good enough

There’s another Bronx Science Lesson that I really didn’t understand until it was time for our fortieth class reunion. When I was in school, we were told that we would all go on to great things. But we didn’t.

Some of the smartest among us have had great careers and made great contributions. Mike Zasloff, for example, became a noted biomedical researcher. At the time of our fortieth reunion he was Georgetown University Medical Center’s Dean of Research and Translational Science. But lots of other very smart people had very ordinary careers.

Bronx Science Lesson Number 2 is that smarts alone are not enough. Discipline and hard work and the ability to finish have a lot to do with success. Passion for the work to be done and grit seem more important than raw smarts most of the time.

Smart is overrated

I’m not sure why, be we seem to equate intelligence with the ability to do all sorts of things. Smart is important. You have to be smart enough to meet whatever challenge you face. But other talents, attitude, and experience play a big role in success at anything.

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