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Author and journalist tells students to face their challenges and reach for their dreams

walls_t.jpgBOONE—Readers of Jeannette Walls’ memoir “The Glass Castle” know that when she was 5 years old, her father told her pick out a star from the night sky for her Christmas present.

She fondly remembers that experience. But, it’s the gift of being able to face challenges, learn from failure, and gain the belief that she can survive no matter what life throws at her that were the most valuable gifts she received from her parents.

Walls shared her story of growing up in poverty to encourage students and others at Appalachian State University to also make the most of whatever challenges life brings their way, and to dream about what the future may bring them.

Speaking during the university’s academic convocation Sept. 4, Walls said that for years she lived in a self-imposed exile, fearing peoples’ reactions to her if they learned that her family was often homeless and that she and her siblings often searched through garbage for food to eat.

But despite often being cold and hungry, Walls had a life that was enriched in other ways—one of which was dreaming.

Walls’ father often dreamed of building a glass castle for his family—a house that would operate on solar energy. And while he never built his glass castle, striving to achieve her own dreams of earning a college education helped Walls build a better life for herself.

“Be greedy about gathering knowledge; take every bit of it that you can find,” she said. “Learn from books, learn from television shows, learn from the people around you. Learn from life. A good education is priceless. But you will find that some of the most valuable lessons you will get along the way are the ones you will learn by facing and overcoming challenges.”

Walls said that despite growing up in poverty, she always knew she would go to college.

“I believe that was because of the glass castle—the blueprints that my father had made of the dream house he was going to build for us one day,” she said. “Dad never did build the glass castle, but I believe he did something much more important. Dad gave me a dream, a dream that kept me going in tough times. It took me a long time to realize that that was what the glass castle meant to me, not some fancy solar-powered gift but a dream and hope for the future. And that, I believe, is a much more precious gift.”