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NIkky Finney

Convocation speaker Nikky Finney says to learn how to be ‘taken with yourself’ to find your strength

Convocation speaker, award-winning poet, and professor Nikky Finney told the entering class of 2012 to become “taken with yourself,” which she defined as having a healthy sense of where you came from and who you truly are.

Speaking in Haggin Auditorium on September 9 to the students as well as a general audience from within and outside the Transylvania community, Finney welcomed everyone to “...the beginning of another long, luscious year of new experiences, ideas, and life-long learning.”

She began her presentation—“The Art of Being Taken With Yourself!”—by drawing upon her own past to illustrate how she found what she values in life.

Finney referred to her grandmother, a farming woman who taught her about common sense and the “classroom of the natural world,” and to a favorite uncle, who impressed upon her that she arrived at college not as an empty vessel but as someone who had already had one upbringing.

“Being taken with yourself means that you look in the mirror when you need to find the center of your strength,” she said. “Find a few honest human truths that will help define who you are from the others in this room. Work to say the hard, necessary things in this life with as much beauty and courage as you can muster.”

While encouraging the students to be assertive with their ideas, she quoted the poet Maya Angelou as having said, “False modesty is the same as lying.”

“Work hard as if your work could change the world, because it can,” Finney said. “And forget what your mother told you about modesty. When called upon, don’t be modest with your gifts. Be humble, but not modest.”

She also advised the students to pay tribute to those who are helping them along the road to intellectual and social maturity.

“Whenever I came home from college, my mother insisted that I visit every person who had helped get me into college or invested in me in some way,” Finney said. “You should learn to value when someone is doing something good for you.”

In summing up the lessons she learned from fishing outings with her grandmother, college studies, and association with her classmates, she said, “Learning takes place on the lip of a pond, in the quiet of a library, or while sitting with new friends dividing up a pizza. Never just raise a hand and join a side, but be interested in facts, be curious, and don’t take your information second-hand. Be taken with your own mind, and give it a chance to be discerning.”

Finney is a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Kentucky. Her latest book of poetry, Head Off & Split, won the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry. Her 1995 book of poetry and portraits, RICE, won the PEN America Open Book Award, and her 2003 poetry collection, The World Is Round, won the Benjamin Franklin Award for poetry from the Independent Booksellers Association.

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