As a first-year student and a young adult, you will undoubtedly be exposed to a list of do’s and don’ts, the majority of which you will ignore in the first place or forget soon after. But, occasionally, you hear a piece of advice that sticks with you, that guides your life or that you recall only once at a particularly decisive moment. These are the pieces of advice that matter, that make listening worth the effort.
“Let your hunger for knowledge drive your thirst for action.”
But, because I’m both a bit doubtful of and eager for your attention, I refuse to share with you any of the conventional tenets that supposedly lead to success. While I do myself believe in and aspire to be a hardworking, dedicated, honest, team player, I’m sure that you’ve heard the merits of these traits expounded since you entered kindergarten. Instead, I think today’s the day for me to defend the virtues of greed, grit, and gracelessness as you begin your collegiate career. Not your typical words of advice, I know, but give me a chance and I’ll explain why they deserve a place amongst the more apparently noble of virtues.
Greed, because of its variety of definitions and connotations, is first up for defense. Let me begin by asking you to dismiss any association between greed and miserliness or money for the time being. No, in this discussion of greed, I specifically mean hunger to grow as a person, a community member, and as a scholar.
Here, at Transylvania, you have the opportunity to feast at a buffet of ideas, books, discussions, lectures, and experiences like you’ve never had before. I urge you to not be particularly delicate about how you approach it. Take all of it, or at least as much as you can carry with you in four years. Pack up whole courses at the buffet and take them home at holidays or on the weekends to share with your family. Stuff this food for growth into carry-on and checked luggage bags as you study abroad and travel with your friends. Yes, be a greedy hoarder insofar that you build-up a vast store of knowledge.
But then, and this is key, you must never let this knowledge go unused. You, as its inheritor, must take seriously your task to do something with it. What this something is, I don’t know. It will vary for each one of you. Sometimes it varies on a day-to-day basis for me. But whatever it is, you must do it. Put your wealthy brain and your well-developed hands to use. Let your hunger for knowledge drive your thirst for action. In this way, greed is an honorable attribute.
Yet you will soon learn that not all knowledge and development is served-up buffet fashion. Instead, you must work for it like you never thought possible. Here is where grit comes in. I ran into a certain chemistry professor this week who specifically mentioned that she thought this to be one of the most important qualities of a Transylvania student. It immediately struck a chord with me. After all, how many times have I sat stone still late at night, staring at an apparently meaningless page in a textbook, simply trying to understand. Despite my highlights, notes, attempts at simplification… the page is still unintelligible.
I’ve learned that at this point, one has two options. The lesser is to give-up; to believe that you have given it all you’ve got and that you are simply incapable of understanding any more. I’ve been there; regretfully, I’ve done that. I’ve rationalized and hidden my defeat by proclaiming that, “Well, that won’t be on the test,” or, “How could Professor So-and-So possibly expect me to master that?” These statements sell both me and my professors short. I can. You can. It simply requires grit—a willingness to push forward, to knock down the complex into its most basic truths, to take advantage of every resource and every tool to chisel away at the barriers to your understanding. Sometimes literally, you must clench your teeth and say, “This is for me to know. And know it I shall.”
Be careful… grit is often intimidating. It’s easy to be jealous of or to look down upon. But don’t let those thoughts cause you to shy away from being confident in your ability and your mission. You won’t often be advised to be a gritty person. But I encourage you—embrace your tenacity. You owe it to yourself.
As with any unrelenting pursuit, you will make mistakes. Occasionally, your grit will overpower you and you will say, do, or neglect things that you do not intend to say, do, or neglect. But because of your grit and your greed, you are growing. Think back to middle school and your early years of high school. If you were anything like me, you were awkward at best, undeniably klutzy at worst.
Well, this process of growth you are to begin here at Transylvania is not so different. As you seek to compound your ideas, nuance your arguments, and fight with yourself over equally valuable but disparate explanations, you will find yourself appearing clumsy, graceless. You might at times struggle to communicate, fall silent as opposed to speaking up when what you have to say may not be the most well articulated of your ideas. It is in these moments that you must learn to be fearless about your gracelessness.
My father used to remind me of a quote by Abraham Lincoln whenever I would speak of things I didn’t know much about: “It is better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.” It had been my tendency until arriving here to adamantly adhere to this proverb. After all, who am I to question Abraham Lincoln?
Well, I am Charli, a student at Transylvania, and I am not a fool. So why fear it? Speak upon reflection; write with depth and evidence. If you hold to these two tenets, you may occasionally communicate gracelessly, but you will not do so without substance. Don’t permit a lack of elegance to stifle your expressiveness. Now, in this environment, is the place for you to cultivate it.
Greed as hunger. Grit as determination. Gracelessness as fearlessness. Equipped with these three virtues, as strange as they may seem, you can begin your career at Transylvania with confidence.
Without a doubt, I love this school. It has provided me with a comforting and challenging family, dedicated and truly good friends... It is my home and my haven.
You can then see why in April and in May I was greedy to hear of the news of your coming here; I am full of grit and determination to express to you how eager and how joyous I am that you have joined our community, so forgive me if I’m occasionally a bit graceless in my excitement. Welcome to Transylvania, Class of 2016. The student body welcomes you into the fold.
Transylvania does not base employment or academic decisions on a person’s age, race, color, gender, disability or any other criteria prohibited by law. We are committed to providing equal opportunity in employment and education for all.