I woke up this morning with Edgar Albert Guest’s poem–“It Couldn’t Be Done”–on my mind. The poem reads:

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But, he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle it in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That “couldn’t be done,” and you’ll do it.

We had our TeenSHARP College Discovery group (10-12 year old) learn this poem two years ago and I memorized it along with them. As we kicked off the 4th program year of TeenSHARP yesterday with our annual orientation event, I was reminded how important it is to not allow naysayers to distract you from your mission. When we started TeenSHARP in 2009 we knocked on doors in the community where I grew up, posted flyers, contacted churches, and called friends hoping that some parents would see the need for our program and trust our fledgling organization with their precious children. During the first program year we enrolled 11 students and as parents started to spread the word about our program, we expanded to having two separate age groups in 2010-2011. Now, we certainly came across naysayers in the inaugural year of the program but after our 2nd year of the program there was a particular case of the “ Couldn’t be Dones” that puzzled us and fueled our desired to prove this nay-saying wrong.

After attending a networking event for college prep professionals in Philadelphia in the fall of 2010, I responded to an announcement seeking academic/college prep organizations to set up tables promoting their services at an event in Philadelphia. The organizers were expecting 100+ parents and we were excited to attend to share our program with these families. Until we received the following email message from a high-ranking official in Philadelphia:

“Your program looks really interesting, but the fair is just for Philadelphia middle and high school students and parents.  Since your programs are in New Jersey, I don’t think it would be beneficial for you to participate.”

I quickly responded to this email informing this person that although our program is based in Camden, NJ (closer for some Philadelphia students than many parts of Philadelphia—but I didn’t say this in the email!) it is open to any families in the surrounding areas that are interested. I also informed this person that we had a participant from the Philadelphia public school system during the previous program year. Surely this was a strong and logical case for allowing parents the simple courtesy of learning about our program. Not exactly:

“I think it would not be a great use of your time to participate.  We have a hard time getting parents to come out to meetings, etc. so I am not sure that they would be willing to come across the bridge for a program for their kids. Most are working parents with little extra time.  I hope you understand, and appreciate your consideration.”

This was not the response we expected and we were seriously upset by this. But we weren’t upset for reasons you might expect. We knew this was not the last promotional event we would be able to attend and our ego wasn’t bruised because of a faulty sense of our own importance. We were upset because this was yet another example of privileged people in positions of authority projecting their ideas of what can’t be done on working parents.

So as I reflect on the poignant words of Edgar Best and remain invigorated by the passion and energy of the families and volunteers that attended our TeenSHARP orientation yesterday, I feel compelled to share a list of some of the schools represented in applications to TeenSHARP this year (see below). I do this to remind all of our young TeenSHARPies to never give in to nay-saying  to caution my fellow social change workers to never underestimate the people you’re serving, and to encourage anyone else to start tackling that thing that just “ couldn’t be done.”

  • Academy At Palumbo High School: Philadelphia, PA
  • Academy of Notre Dame de Namur: Villanova, PA
  • Ad Prima Charter School: Philadelphia, PA
  • Amy Northwest: Philadelphia, PA
  • Burlington County Institute of Technology : Westampton, NJ
  • Burlington Township High school: Burlington, NJ
  • Burlington Township Middle School: Burlington, NJ
  • Community Academy Charter HS: Philadelphia, PA
  • George Washington Carver High School for Engineering and Science: Philadelphia, PA
  • Germantown High School: Philadelphia, PA
  • Holy Cross High School: Delran, NJ
  • Howard M. Pheifer : Pennsauken, NJ
  • John Bartram High School: Philadelphia, PA
  • Julia R. Mastermann: Philadelphia, PA
  • Lenape High School: Shamong, NJ
  • Masterman High School: Philadelphia, PA
  • Mastery Charter School : Philadelphia, PA
  • Memorial Middle School: Willingboro, NJ
  • Multicultral Academy Charter school : Philadelphia, PA
  • Nueva Esperanza Academy H. S.: Philadelphia, PA
  • Overbrook Educational Center: Philadelphia, PA
  • Pennwood High School: Landsdowne, PA
  • Performing Arts Charter School: Philadelphia, PA
  • Philadelphia High School for Girls: Philadelphia, PA
  • Pope John Paul II Regional School: Willingboro, NJ
  • Rancocas Valley Regional High School : Mt. Holly, NJ
  • Rutgers/Leap Academy: Camden, NJ
  • St. Joseph High School : Hammonton, NJ
  • St. Paul’s School: Burlington, NJ
  • The Baldwin School: Bryn Mawr, PA
  • The Pa Cyber Charter School: Pennsylvania
  • Trenton Catholic Academy: Trenton, NJ
  • Willingboro High School: Willingboro, NJ
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2 thoughts on “Curious Case of the “Couldn’t Be Dones”

  1. A powerful motivational poem, reminds me of”The heights that men have attained and kept was not gained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept were toiling upwards in the hight.”
    .

  2. This was a compelling and powerful testimony of what can be accomplished with a strong desire to affect change. I congratulate you on your success, but most of all on the lives that you are transforming one by one. Because of your passion and determination your legacy will continue to inspire others to keep pressing towards excellence. Continue to fight for what you believe in despite what others may say or do to discourage your efforts. Many great things will continue to be birthed through and from Teen sharp.

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