“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

When I was eighteen, I was beaten and left unconscious on a San Francisco street, with my jaw shattered.

My all-male a cappella singing group from Yale University had been entertaining at a holiday celebration and was accosted by a gang of party crashers. The months that followed were a physical and emotional battle for me, including complex surgeries, my jaw wired shut, and an all-liquid diet. The sensational nature of the incident generated global media coverage. Headlines such as “Men’s Singing Group Beaten in Anti-Gay Attack” became commonplace. I was labeled, defined by assumptions and stereotypes. To some I was a victim. But to others, I provoked irrational rage. For years, I received hate mail from anonymous, homophobic strangers.

Their hate changed something inside me. I became determined to treat my predicament as a challenge, not an impediment. To give up, or even take it easy, would mean succumbing to hatred. I raised myself up by setting the bar higher each and every day. I would prove that though I had been beaten, I had not been defeated.

A quarter of my teeth have been replaced, I still have a titanium plate in my jaw and nerve damage in my chin; all permanent reminders of what I went through. But they are also reminders of my willpower. So it will always be: the darkest moment of my life will forever inspire and empower me to meet the challenges that lie ahead. 

— Sharyar Aziz