What follows has become something of a tradition. I share it each fall as the college gets underway, and it just so happens that classes begin one week from today. It originally comes from a speech I used to give as Dean of the College.
Robert F. Kennedy, 1966:
"You live in the most privileged nation on earth. You are the most privileged citizens of that nation - for you have been given the opportunity to study and learn. You can use your enormous privilege and opportunity to seek purely private pleasure and gain, but history will judge you, and as the years pass, you will ultimately judge yourself, on the extent to which you have used your gifts to enlighten and enrich the lives of your fellow man. In your hands, not with presidents and leaders, is the future of your world and the fulfillment of the best qualities of your own spirit."
I’ve been thinking about what I want to tell my new advisees. You know – those wide-eyed freshmen who are eager to drink every drop of wisdom I can offer and know it will be just the elixir to guarantee success in college and therefore success and happiness in life.
But ... if they would listen, I could be very brief and would offer just one thought. I want them to think about becoming TAKER
s. All of their lives they have probably been taught that it’s better to Give
than to Receive
. Well, I don’t want them to do that anymore; I want them to become TAKER
First, I want them to TAKE ADVANTAGE
of the wealth of opportunities offered by higher education.
I want them to embrace diversity - whether it’s through an international program that allows them to study just about anywhere in the world or one that brings to them students from other cultures so we can all learn from them. I want them to engage fully each of their professors by taking advantage of opportunities for interaction inside AND outside of class. Take from us. Drain us of all that we know. I want them to participate in a variety of student life activities, athletics, and community outreach programs – in other words, become good citizens.
Second, I want them to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
They must get themselves to class. Some professors don’t care but most do, and students simply will not do their best if they do not take responsibility for getting to class. Once there, they must listen carefully, and if they don’t know how to listen, they need to learn to listen. And quickly. If they don't know how, they need to learn to take notes. They must also keep healthy and rested, and this is no so small task. They need to eat well and sleep sufficiently. They must recognize stress and deal with it, and they must seek help when it's needed.
Third, I want them to TAKE CHANCES
They should explore courses that are difficult or that they think you might not enjoy. They should not fear being less than perfect; so few of us are. I wasn't even close – not today either - so this was never a challenge for me. The reality is they are not going to get all “A”s. It would be nice, but it’s not likely. There was a time decades ago when I offered therapy for students with significant test anxiety. I stopped when it became obvious they were mostly “A” students who were scared to death they might get a “B” in something. I had better things to do with my time.
Now the wonderful irony in all of this is that if they learn to be TAKER
s, they’ll actually become GIVER
s. They’ll be giving me and themselves and their education 100%, and that’s all that I or anyone else could ever ask of them.
That's what I would say - if they asked. And if they were willing to listen. Or, they could emulate Bluto and end up on Double Secret Probation and see "seven years of college down the drain."