How the Dumbest kid in 5th Grade Became Valedictorian

By Nick Wagoner, Life Skills Director at Launch Academy, Founder of Wagoner & Friends Non-Profit, and High School Motivational Speaker


Ben had a childhood dream of becoming a physician. But circumstances weren’t exactly optimal.  Ben grew up in a single parent home, surrounded by dire poverty.  Not only that, but he had terrible grades in school, a horrible temper, and an extremely low self-esteem. Not exactly “physician” material.

 But that’s not the crazy part.

What’s crazy is that Ben would grow up to be Dr. Ben Carson, M.D., who today is a world renowned speaker, considered to be one of the top physicians in the world, and is a professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery, and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

He went from being the dumbest kid in his 5th grade class to graduating high school as a valedictorian, top in his class.


What?! Back up. Did I miss something?

Where’s the gap?  What happened to Ben Carson? What changed everything? If you brain is about to explode with amazement, hold tight. Here’s the rest of the story:

If you talked to Ben Carson today he would say it started with his mother (who only had a third-grade education, by the way) who would challenge her sons to strive for excellence. His mom would often tell Ben, “You’re Smart Bennie. You can do anything you want to do.

It just takes one person to believe in you to change everything. Poor report card after poor report card, excuse after excuse, his mom would grow more and more concerned for her two boys. Then one day, after praying, she came home with a vision for her sons.  And it came from her work.

Mrs. Carson cleaned homes for a living and the client’s homes she cleaned belonged to mainly wealthy individuals. She noticed that a common trait in their lives was that they had a vast collection of books and that they were major readers.  Go into any successful individual’s home today and this is still true.

But the story continues….

She would say, You’re wasting too much time in front of that television. You don’t get an education from staring at television all the time.” Before either Ben or his brother could protest, she told them, “The Lord’s told me what to do.” “So from now on, you will not watch television, except two pre-selected programs each week.

Just two programs?!” Ben exclaimed hysterically. “And only after you’ve done your homework,” she added. “Furthermore, you don’t play outside after school, either, until you’ve done all your homework.

Ben couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  “Everybody else plays outside right after school,” Ben said, unable to think of anything except how bad it would if he couldn’t play with his friends. “I won’t have any friends if I stay in the house all the time!

That may be,” his mom said, “but everybody else is not going to be as successful as you are.

But Ben didn’t really care about being more “successful.”  His head was spinning.  This academic lockdown was too intense and, just as he thought things couldn’t get worse, his mother said the dreaded words – “But that’s not all.”

In addition to doing your homework,” she said, “You have to read two books from the library each week, every single week.

Let’s come back to the present for a second.  

This regiment sounds ridiculous even today!  This is hard for an adult to do, let alone a child. But this is what changed everything for Ben Carson and his brother. A dedication to excellence. To giving your best in life. If there is a single skill that could help a child out in all areas of academics, that skill would be reading.

Reading is the way out of ignorance, and the road to achievement.

So parents…. your words and beliefs have power. Believe in your children. Believe in their God-given talents. Reading is priceless, so make them read! And the cliche is true – leaders are readers and readers are leaders.


Find out more about the inspirational story of Ben Carson, watch it below!


Stay Smart.

Nick Wagoner



Carson, Ben. (1992) Think Big. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.


PS. Craziest part about this story is that Ben Carson’s mother couldn’t even read herself.  Despite this, she still made her children read because she knew how it would help them.  If you’re a parent and you struggled in an area of school, don’t let your setbacks become your student’s setbacks.  Pull them up to a higher academic level and, before you know it, you’ll be on a higher level too.

For additional information about Launch Academy (Tulsa Tutoring), click here! At Launch Academy we pride ourselves on helping students to improve their confidence, their self-motivational, their overall ability to learn and most importantly how to translate that learning into results. Although Tulsa has many wonderful tutoring services available, we offer a few unique services that you cannot find anywhere within the city including:

1. One-to-one in-home tutoring – Many students report experiencing feelings of anxiety when being tutored in front of a group of their peers. In order to minimize this anxiety we have specially designed programs that allow our qualified tutors to enter into the homes and lives of our students in an impactful way. Our tutors will sit down at the kitchen table with their student and help them to learn the basics and fundamentals or the most advanced concepts.

2. Innovative ACT program – We all know of the importance of the infamous ACT test. Entire scholarships are awarded or not awarded based upon the overall test scores a student achieves. At Launch Academy we focus on your student to learn how to achieve success on this important exam. In fact Launch Academy students average a 27 on their overall ACT Score as opposed to the Oklahoma average test score of 21.2.

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