Today’s Illustration: An Impulsive Decision On The Way To The Podium That Gave Hope!

 Who: Who: Eugene W. Lang

When: 1981

Where: At PS 121 — Harlem New, York


  • spoke to the graduating class of 6th graders
  • PS 121 was the elementary school he had attended in East Harlem 50 years earlier
  • “he promised college tuition to every sixth grader who stayed in high school and graduated.”
  • “He hired a full-time Program Coordinator, Johnny Rivera
  • “he maintained close personal relationships with all of the Dreamers.”
  • “By August 1985, all of Lang’s Dreamers were still in school.”
  • The New York Times ran a front page story on the success of the program.
  • 60 Minutes also highlighted it and brought it to national awareness.
  • In 1986, Lang established the  “I Have A Dream” foundation.

Key Illustrative Thoughts:

  • impulse
  • decisions
  • giving
  • generosity
  • riches
  • others
  • kindness
  • sharing
  • wealth
  • hope  (Audio Link  to this illustration being used to highlight “hope”)


An Illustrative Example: [1]

He decided on his way to the podium! It turned out to be one of the most memorable speeches of his life!

Eugene W. Lang was born and raised in Harlem, New York. He attended PS 121 elementary school. He was just an average kid who grew up on the streets of New York City. Nevertheless, at the age of 15, he was admitted to Swathmore College!

Over the years, he became a hard-working businessman who flew coach and traveled on subways and buses. At 20, he founded REFAC Technology Development Corporation, which held patents relating to liquid crystal displays, automated teller machines, credit card verification systems, bar code scanners, video cassette recorders, cassette players, camcorders, electronic keyboards, and spreadsheets, and more! He ultimately became one of the most wealthy Americans in America.

But the story does end there. He also was an American philanthropist who one day decided to change the lives of others as he walked to the podium to give a graduation speech to 61 sixth graders at Public School 121, in 1981.

“I looked out at that audience of almost entirely black and Hispanic students, wondering what to say to them.”

He had intended to tell them, their families, and their teachers that he had attended P.S. 121 more than a half-century earlier, that he had worked hard and made a lot of money and that if they worked hard, maybe they could be successful, too!

These families were living with great hopes but in one of the poorest areas of America. The typical commencement speech usually includes such exhortations and encouragements.

“It dawned on me that the commencement banalities I planned were completely irrelevant.” But not this time. Lang had decided to put some real money with his words — this time!

He told them that he would earmark $2,000 for every one of the 61 students toward college tuition while they attended school at P.S. 121, and that he would add more money each year that they stayed in school.

He adopted the class and treated them to trips, restaurant meals, counseling during crisis, and his personal help in conjunction with the school officials. This was the beginning of the “I Have A Dream Foundation,” still located in NYC, with branches around the world.

“When I made the original promise, the principal told me that maybe one or two students would take advantage of my offer.”

When you read of such an account, you may think like me — “I wish I had the money and opportunity to do something like that for those who need real tangible help! There are some real needs that I wish I could meaningfully address!”

The real test is found in this statement — It is not what we would do if we won the lottery, but what we are doing with our “nickles and dimes” right now. There are people who need some help and the encouragement that comes from meaningful and tangible assistance! That may mean an offer to help with a project, a lift to an appointment, a visit to the hospital, a note or card, helping one find a job, a phone call, attending a funeral, a gas card, giving away our used car, and yes, even “Bigger Bucks $$$.”

Eugene Lang died in 2017 at the age of 98! But his decision that day, while walking to the podium, made a difference to almost all of the original 61 sixth graders, who had their lives changed and enrolled in public and private colleges.

Eugene Land reportedly gave away over 150 million dollars, all born of an impulse while walking to the podium and seeing the need for some meaningful and tangible help!

Why not do something “impulsive” today with your “nickles and dimes,” with your time, resources, and/or the talents that you have been given, to change the kind of day someone else is having!

Make it a meaningful giving of your time, talent, and/or treasure. Be a “small-time, modern-day, Jesus-philanthropist,” with the same eyes and heart as the Lord — Who though He was rich, He became poor that we might be so very enriched by His sacrifice on Calvary!

As our Lord stated, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” We are more blessed when we give than when we receive. That is really the truth about giving. There is a joy and satisfaction when we know that we have gone out of our way to help and encourage others!



Other Information & Links:

1. There is a “fourth way” to use a story, by using it to set up “An Approach” to a passage.


Audio Link Using This Illustration


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