Last Tuesday, September 13, Matt Roloff from Little People, Big World spoke to Rensselaer students in the EMPAC Concert Hall. He was the first talk of the year for the Rensselaer Union Speakers Forum. Roloff gave an inspirational talk on how, through gritty self-determination, anyone can overcome any obstacle in their lives. He commented that despite his physical disabilities and short stature, he accomplishes all of the ambitious goals that he continues to set for his life.
He started the evening off with an admonition to the audience to “watch your thoughts because they become your words” and to “watch your character because that becomes your destiny.” The message was then expanded to say that instead of idly sitting by and watching your thoughts and character, you should “craft” your thoughts and words in order to always strive to be a better person. One of the overarching points he impressed onto the audience was the fact that through dogged determination and persistent self-advocacy, you are able to accomplish any goal you have in life. He also encouraged the audience to set their goals in life to be ambitious and not live in a state of average mediocrity.
Roloff then proceeded to give anecdotes from his childhood and early adult life about how exactly he set ambitious goals and managed to achieve them despite the many challenges he has in his life. In fact, he told the audience that he just had neck surgery in June and that he has been in an out of hospitals his entire life, but especially during his early childhood, due to medical complications from his dwarfism. One anecdote he shared was that, as a child and while in a full body cast, he built an underground fort that was popular with the other children in his neighborhood. Even more impressive was the fact that he dug it out of the ground using only garden trowel and a hammer.
Roloff said that he actually learned to be self-reliant during his frequent extended hospital stays as a child and that he quickly shed any fears he had of talking to adults and other authority figures in order to communicate effectively with them about his health care. He even said that in elementary school, he, like other boys in his neighborhood, wanted to have a newspaper route. In fact, he ended up taking a 150-paper route when most other boys only took around 50 or 80 papers. Despite not being able to lift the massive pile of papers from the sidewalk when he first got them, he ended up fashioning a go-kart from his father’s lawn mower and was able to deliver his papers faster than the other boys. When the police told him it was illegal to drive a homemade go-kart on public roads, he scheduled a meeting with the police chief who ended up giving him permission to do so on the condition it was used for work and not play. Roloff used that anecdote to describe how he has moved himself forward in life every time he decided that he needed to be independent and accomplish things on his own. Even today, he told the audience that he sees no need for a personal assistant and that he would rather struggle to be self-sufficient than have to rely on someone else to take care of him.
Toward the end of the talk, Roloff recounted how his show Little People, Big World got off the ground as a result of his outreach efforts as president of Little People of America. He even discussed episodes of the next season of his show with the audience during his question and answer session.
Roloff had an inspiring message for all of those who attended his talk and it basically come down to the fact that it doesn’t matter what obstacles there are in your life if you are determined enough to find ways to get around them and live life to the fullest. Certainly, that’s advice that all college students can take to heart as the fall semester really begins to ramp up in intensity, both academically as well as socially, during your adventure here at RPI.