BY CHRISTIANNA CASALETTO // FEB. 24, 2016 //
Dan Koh, a Harvard graduate who serves as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s chief of staff, shared his struggle with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and succeeding in spite of a learning disability, to members of the Curry community during a program hosted Tuesday night by the Curry College Public Relations Student Association.
Aside from explaining day-to-day responsibilities working with Walsh, the major theme throughout the talk was how Koh overcame the obstacle of an ADHD diagnosis at the age of 14. Although it was a challenge, Koh said he used his ADHD as a strength rather than a weakness.
Matthew Katz, a sophomore criminal justice major, said it felt “reassuring” to hear of someone who has had so much success despite struggling with ADHD.
Even while managing his ADHD, Koh, 31, has developed an impressive resume. He has two Harvard degrees (an undergraduate degree and an MBA), was adviser to former Mayor Tom Menino, General Manager of HuffPost Live, and assisted in the creation CityScore, a way for Walsh and city managers to measure and monitor data trends in the city of Boston.
He has also been honored in Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30, the Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40, and was named one of 10 Outstanding Young Leaders by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
John Ridlen, a sophomore Communication major, said he admired how open Koh was about his diagnosis with ADHD. “There are a lot of young people who suffer from learning disabilities, and I think it’s great that he can sort of act as a role model for them.”
During his speech, Koh gave three pieces of advice to those in attendance.
The first was to help people. “Even when it’s a pain in the butt for you. Even when you don’t know that person,” he added. Koh gave an anecdote about how he helped a stranger get a job with the Huffington Post, which he had previously blogged for. That eventually led him to a future job opportunity as chief of staff for Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington.
The second was to “be persistent.” Koh reminded students that sometimes things fall through, but you shouldn’t give up. Upon hearing there was a job opportunity as chief of staff to the mayor, Koh emailed Walsh numerous times but with no response. However, he decided to send one more email.
“It was actually a Sunday…he was in church on his knees praying because he didn’t have a chief of staff,” said Koh. “He finished his prayer, mass ended, he opened up his phone, and my email was at the top of his inbox.”
The third piece of advice, and the one he stressed the most, resonated with his audience of Curry students. “Just because you struggle in school doesn’t mean you’re a failure,” he said. Koh described how he had a tough time thriving in an academic setting due to his ADHD.
He advised students with similar struggles to find jobs that appeal to their strengths and explained that he avoided a job that involved being at a desk all day and sitting through long meetings. “The real world in terms of working is very different from what you’re doing here.”
“Being able to relate to his challenges in school and hearing about how he overcame them inspired me to keep working hard to reach the goals I have for my own life,” said Alexandra Landry, a freshman Communication major.
Koh’s presentation left a lingering sense of hope for the future. He opened and closed with this message: “If you haven’t got it figured out, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to be successful.”
Kelsey Davis, a freshman Communication major, said she “walked away with knowledge about the professional world and how to be persistent with [her] goals.”
Alexandra Callanan, a sophomore Communication major, added: “It’s refreshing to know that even the most successful people have had struggles that they have overcome. Dan Koh is now someone that I can look up to when it comes to going after what I’m passionate about.”