‘Failure is not an option’: Motivational influencer Jordan Toma inspires McHenry County students

Jordan Toma, a New Jersey-based motivational speaker, speaks to Woodstock North High School students April 9, 2024.

Motivational influencer Jordan Toma hoped to inspire McHenry County high schoolers this week.

Toma, a New Jersey-based influencer who has more than 2 million followers on TikTok and Instagram combined, uses his social media platforms to spread a message of positivity and perseverance with audiences both virtual and offline. He also discusses mental health during his talks, and specifically asks audiences about anxiety. He draws on his life experiences, including being diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, and while he’s now in his mid-30s, is open about struggles he had in school. “School was really hard for me,” Toma said.

Toma flew to Illinois this weekend and spoke at Alden-Hebron and Woodstock high schools Monday and at Woodstock North and Harvard high schools Tuesday. He’ll wrap up his tour in McHenry County on Wednesday with a visit to Marian Central Catholic High School in Woodstock, according to his Instagram page.

“Your struggle is your strength” was the primary message Toma said he wanted to share before he took the stage Tuesday morning at Woodstock North.

Toma had a table of giveaway items like beanies, T-shirts and copies of his 2022 book, “I’m Just a Kid With an IEP: My Story,” that he gave out throughout the presentation. He autographed copies of the book for students – and even signed attendee Anna Ojeda’s shoe. Ojeda called the talk “very motivational” and said “it helped everyone.”

The book also details Toma’s struggles in school, including his diagnoses. However, he eventually overcame his learning disabilities and said he graduated from college with a 3.3 GPA after he had flunked out of a private high school.

“My life as a learning-disabled individual has been a roller-coaster of emotions. I let these diagnoses control my life and diminish my confidence for my first 18 years on this earth,” Toma wrote in his book.

Jordan Toma, a New Jersey-based motivational speaker, hands out giveaway items to Woodstock North High School students April 9, 2024.

During his talk Tuesday morning, Toma began by asking icebreaker questions, like whether Woodstock or Woodstock North was better at various sports.

He then shared his story and encouraged the audience to follow him on social media, saying he will follow back students who follow him. Toma has 1.6 million followers on TikTok and 744,000 on Instagram.

Toma shared stories from his educational career, including an anecdote about a paper at his first high school that he worked with a tutor on and felt good about. “It was the hardest I ever worked in my life,” Toma said. “I just wanted some validation.” He wound up getting a “see me” on the paper.

However, in a twist, he said during the presentation Tuesday that the high school where he wrote that paper has put in a request for him to speak there.

He then shared after high school, he got rejected from most of the colleges he applied to, but was accepted into the Step Ahead summer program at Centenary University in New Jersey. He said he graduated from high school with a 1.7 GPA, but got a 4.0 GPA in the summer program.

Toma also sprinkled in relevant life advice during anecdotes. When, for example, he was moving into a financial advising career, he had to take an exam. He studied for a year and said in that time, he failed 11,000 practice tests. When he sat for the exam, he failed by one point. On his second try he did one point better and passed. “Never change your answers,” Toma said about tests.

Several students shared their thoughts on the event. “It was awesome,” attendee Emily Clinge said about his talk, adding she plans to follow Toma on social media.

Jordan Toma speaks to Woodstock North High School students April 9, 2024.

Toma’s speaker fees were covered by a Social Emotional Learning grant, said Diana Hartmann, McHenry County’s Regional Superintendent of Schools.

“Students are attentive,” Hartmann said, adding she likes to bring in speakers who can talk directly to students. She also urged parents “never to give up on the kid.”

Toma also shared a message of perseverance in his book: “Failure is not an option. It’s only over if you give up.”