A school assembly in Texas drew national attention after a startup founder’s message to students was criticized as tone deaf.
Kash Shaikh, whose company #BeSomebody calls itself “the World’s Platform for Passion,” addressed students at Austin High School on Jan. 5 about the experience of leaving his job to pursue other goals. #BeSomebody has an app that matches users with other people who share their interests and received $1 million from E.W. Scripps last year.
“I called myself out 19 months ago and walked away from everything I once thought was important: money, title, lifestyle, things, a career that started at Proctor and Gamble, the largest consumer products company in the world, and started to blossom at GoPro, the fastest growing camera company in the world,” Shaikh said in a speech at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in December.
Shaikh’s message—to follow your dream without a “Plan B” — failed to resonate with students, who criticized him as ignorant of the privileges that allowed him to follow his passion in contrast to the difficulties facing young students. State data from last year show that 33 percent of students at Austin High School are “economically disadvantaged,” KUT reported.
Student Sean Saldana wrote in Austin High School’s newspaper The Maroon that Shaikh’s access to education, access to funding and prior job experience were advantages that many people lack. He wrote:
If Kash Shaikh ever had a doubt that his dream would come true he could abandon his company and find a great job with a nice salary with few issues, I imagine. The average high school student isn’t in the same boat as him. For every Kash Shaikh, there are hundreds and hundreds of minimum wage retail workers who couldn’t find a sustainable way to practice their passions.
Shaikh responded with an online post criticizing students’ attitudes titled “You Have No Idea What PASSION Means” and #BeSomebody content director Alex Dorner lashed out at critics on Twitter, calling one Austin High School teacher a “dork.”
The Austin Independent School District released a statement to KUT on the reaction to the speech.
“Austin High School prides itself on being a safe, respectful forum in which the school community can discuss and debate ideas and opinions,” the statement said. “Mr. Shaikh’s presentation sparked much discussion. Although some of the discussions after the assembly became heated, we are proud of the way our school community handled and responded to the ideas and opinions presented.”
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to correct the name of the school that publishes The Maroon.