By DeVon Kelley
Sitting comfortably in an over-stuffed chair, best-selling author Nicholas Sparks talked with Lincoln students at The Lighthouse in October about his life growing up for a time in Nebraska and gave them advice about overcoming adversity. The Lighthouse is an after school program for youth in grades 6-12.
Sparks came to Lincoln not only as an author, but also as a living example that even coming from a disadvantaged background,
like he did, you can still be a success through hard work and a positive attitude.
Sparks began talking about his life in Inglewood, California two years after the Watts riots. “We had no money,” he explained. He didn’t know milk was a liquid until he was in fifth grade, “I thought it was all powdered.” After that, when his family went clothes shopping he got one pair of pants, one pair of shoes, and two shirts. “That would last me throughout the year.”
His family was some of the only white people in their neighborhood, and prostitutes were his baby sitters. He talked to the students about his life so that perhaps they could improve their own. “So much of your life is about your attitude and what you want to do, and how you respond to all the bad things in your life,” Sparks said.
Even though he’s successful now, Sparks emphasized that money isn’t the only solution. “I think people think everyone else’s life is easier than theirs but it’s not, it’s just different, and everyone has different challenges and ways to cope with them.” He told the students exactly what he said he to his children. “Some of the happiest people I know are some of the poorest, and some of the richest people I know are just unhappy, bitter, angry people.”
Though Sparks grew up poor he had this to say about his childhood, “What that ended up doing is it very much fueled a desire to, I guess, be a bit more successful in my life.” He fulfilled his drive to be successful and more. He turned that desire into track and field, which ended up getting him a full scholarship to Notre Dame. He ran there for four years and he still holds the school record for the 800-meter dash.
However even with that success in athletics he was still unsure of his future. “When I graduated college at age, 22, I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, and I think that’s very important for you guys to know, it’s ok not to know.”
He assured the students even at our age he had no clue. “When I was in high school I thought I would be a pilot, I thought I would be a lawyer, I thought I would go into business, I had no idea. So I went to college for four years and graduated, and I still had no idea,” Sparks said.
After he graduated he said he bounced from job to job. He came to work for a major pharmaceutical company, and when he was 28 at that point with a house, a wife, two kids, he felt he still wanted to pursue a dream.
While working at the pharmaceutical company, he wrote The Notebook, and Warner Books bought the book for $1 million. “It was very much like winning the lottery,” Sparks said.
Pete Allman, president of Lighthouse said, “Sparks is originally from Nebraska and has overcome much in his life to achieve what he has. It is a great way to honor 20 years of success at Lighthouse.”
He has even invested $10 million of his own money to build his own school in New Bern, NC called the Epiphany School (grades 5-12). This way he could give his kids, as well as others, the best education possible. “Get an education,” Sparks advised. “Because the more you know about the world and things, the more you know about who you are and what you want to do – in addition to being able to solve the many problems that come up in life.”
Epiphany is a private school where students not only get to write about the various places in the world, they get to travel there as well.
“International travel is a big part of this school, so if you come in as a freshman, by the time you graduate you will have visited 23 countries on 6 continents and spent 213 days abroad,” Sparks said.
Executive Director of Lighthouse, Bill Michener said he hopes the kids take Sparks’ words of advice to heart. “He’s really down to earth, and for him to be working with our kids, and just chatting with them, it’s just nice. It’s just a breath of fresh air to see somebody of such magnitude be so down to earth and just casual,” Michener said.
In addition, The Lighthouse also hosted a Nicholas Sparks Book Basket online auction. Each basket contained a package of items to go along with an autographed hardcover book. Baskets were valued at $250 to $5,000.
Gift baskets based on Sparks’ novels were being auctioned off, and those proceeds, along with proceeds from a book signing at the Nebraska Book Store, and a presentation at the Lied Center that night, will go to The Lighthouse. Michener says they hope to raise $40,000 to help make up for declining donations.