What Living a Life of Significance Means to Me

David Schroeder

By David Schroeder | August 25, 2015

My rugby teammates at the Naval Academy gave me a lot of grief when they learned I had won the inaugural Penn Mutual Life of Significance Award — mostly because they didn’t understand what it stood for. The running joke was that I was the only significant person on the team, but after I learned more about it, I realized the true meaning of the award. Accepting the award was a way of giving back to the Naval Academy and the USNA rugby team, both of which have given me so much.

I’ve thought a lot since then on what it means to live a life of significance. It is important that our life journeys make a difference in this world. To me, making a difference is putting others before yourself. I don’t think anybody would really consider someone who’s narcissistic, regardless of how successful they are, to be a person of significance if they’re only thinking about themselves all the time. Successful people can excel in their field, but success alone doesn’t make a person significant. Significance makes a difference.

My Story

I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. We lived in the suburbs, and I went to public schools. I was an average student in high school but I didn’t really try that hard. My family was very involved in church, and the big Southern Baptist church near our home was where we found our community and our friends. We were raised in the church and based our values on religious or biblical principles.

Coming out of high school, I was accepted into the University of Louisville. My dad worked at the University, so I would be able to attend for free. Somehow, I sensed that would be the easy way out for me, and I was looking for a challenge, some way that I could make a difference. I started looking at other options, and one day I spoke with a Marine recruiter. He was a really great guy, and he helped me through making decisions about my life. He never once lied to me about anything. I know because I double-checked the facts on what he told me.

Joining the Marines

A few months later, after figuring out what I wanted to do, I contacted the recruiter again and joined the Marines. This offered the challenge I was seeking and also enabled me to get out and see the world while getting paid to do it.

The thing that attracted me most about the Marine Corps was its philosophy that leadership starts at the very lowest level. You’re always in charge of someone, and you’re never just concerned about yourself. I always loved that, because it’s the principle of putting others before yourself. I joined the Marine Corps in late 2007 and was eventually stationed in Okinawa, Japan, working on C130 cargo planes as a load master, logistics, and cargo handler.

Applying to the Naval Academy

Okinawa is a quiet place, and there really wasn’t a lot to distract me from my work. I was promoted pretty quickly. They made me an instructor because I was proficient at my job, but I felt I had a potential to affect more people and help in a different way than the way I was being used. I knew I wanted to lead, so I started looking into officer programs. The Naval Academy was unique among the officer programs as it would accept me in the middle of my current enlistment. Essentially, it was just the fastest way to become an officer.

To be honest, I didn’t really know much about the Academy before I arrived there. I’d had some officer friends who had graduated, and they recommended it to me, but they didn’t really tell me what it was about. I went there with the intention of just being a Marine officer and getting through it as quickly as possible.

Discovering the Fellowship of Rugby

During my freshman year I met a senior who became my role model and mentor: He’s now a Navy Seal. He also played rugby. He was a very compassionate and intelligent guy, but he was also tough. When he invited me to come try out for the team, I honestly had no idea what rugby was about, but I tried out and made the team.

I know for a fact that I was not the most athletic, talented or gifted athlete on the field, but I’m a competitor at heart and I absolutely hate not striving towards my best in whatever way. That drove me to stick with rugby and I’m thankful that I did.

The rugby team is where I sought refuge from all the stress at the Academy. Here I was, a 22 year old in school with 18 year olds, most of whom had never had a job or lived away from their parents. Yet they were also very, very smart kids and I felt I stuck out like a sore thumb. The rugby team really helped me to find a place and make friends that had similar interests.

We have a saying on the team. It’s from Shakespeare and it basically says, “He who bleeds with me shall be my brother.” I’ve broken several bones while playing rugby, torn ligaments, gotten staples and stitches everywhere, and so did most of the guys on the team. When you do that with other men, it doesn’t really matter what your differences are, it bonds you, and it’s an extremely strong bond.

After the Academy

I graduated from the Naval Academy on May 22nd. Shortly afterwards, I played with my rugby teammates for the last time at the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, where I also received the Penn Mutual Life of Significance Award. Now, as soon as I graduate the basic school for Marine officers, I’ll be going to flight school.

As part of the award, Penn Mutual is making a donation to a charity of my choice. I chose the Travis Manion Foundation. Travis was a graduate of the Academy, and he’s one of the guys we all look up to and respect for what he did and for the life that he led. I was able to meet his father, Tom Manion, the night before the presentation of the award. He spoke to us and the team from the Air Force about leadership and service. Afterwards, I was able to introduce myself and talk to him for a few minutes. When they asked me what charity I chose, it was kind of obvious that it should be the Travis Manion Foundation, because that’s one of the most meaningful charities to me.

To sum up my feelings about the award: It is an honor, but there are probably plenty of other players who worked harder or who have done things that were more worth recognition than what I’ve done. I’m still not sure that I am worthy of an award or a title. What I’ve done is just part of my life, what I like to do. In the end, that’s probably the secret of a life of significance. Do what you know is right, something you know will make a difference to others, regardless of whether you get recognition for it. In closing, I’d like to say that I give God the glory for everything that I’ve been able to accomplish, because without His love and mercy, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere in life. I’ve always trusted Him to get me through everything.

4 Comments

  • Avatar Paul Taffy Longman says:

    Great values and integrity attached to this story from David
    As a Former Player and Coach who has also bled with many brothers on the field
    Welsh excite of choice living in Australia
    I wanted to acknowledge a rugby warrior in the World Club of rugby union

3 Trackbacks

Leave a Reply