A teacher once told Gary Cohn’s parents that if they were lucky he might grow up to be a truck driver.
“I was a horrible student,” Cohn, the president and COO of Goldman Sachs, told a room full of teachers.
On Thursday night, Cohn was honored at the Teach For America’s Annual New York City Benefit Dinner held at the Waldorf-Astoria.
“I know from my experiences in life that educators had an enormous impact and influence on me. And fortunately or unfortunately, I had a lot of experience with different educators,” he said.
As a kid growing up in Cleveland, Cohn was diagnosed with dyslexia — a reading disorder.
He struggled in school. By the time he was in 6th grade, he had been bounced around to four different schools.
Sometimes he would overhear things that his teachers told his parents, particularly about his trajectory in life.
“Probably the most poignant thing I heard out of a teacher that I wasn’t supposed to hear was when she told my parents if they were really lucky and spent a lot of time with me I might grow up to be a truck driver.”
Cohn, 54, joked that he drove a truck when he was 16. “I was a pretty damn good truck driver.”
Cohn used that moment as motivation though.
Eventually, Cohn connected with a teacher at a Catholic school who really did care about his academic life.
Cohn graduated high school and went on to graduate from American University.
“I did grow up to be a little more than a truck driver.”
At Thursday night’s fundraiser, Cohn praised Teach for America for their work in the American public school system.
“Going to school is not really education. It’s really who’s in front of the classrooms and who’s endearing themselves to the kids and who’s making the kids want to learn and who’s inspiring them to be curious about any topic in the world.”
Cohn also said education is the only way to address income inequality.
“Education is important,” he said. “And the difference of the zip code you grow up in or the zip code you are born in and how you turn out really isn’t fair to the kids of our world. When you think of breaking the string of poverty and when you think of income inequality, which is a topic we love to talk about — this year at Davos it was the No. 1 topic. Income inequality — everyone likes talking about it. No one likes dealing with it. Really, the only way to deal with poverty/income inequality and some of the unjust conditions with have in this country is through education. Education really is the key to success.”
Teach For America is a non-profit that has a national corps of recent college graduates who commit to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools.
Goldman Sachs is the largest non-academic hirer of Teach for America alumni. They have well over 20 former TFA teachers at Goldman, according to Cohn.