Senior Orations: Chesleigh Fowler

We have two more Senior Orations to feature, and today we are showing the work of Chesleigh Fowler.

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Statistics of Success

19th century German anatomist Julian Wolff proposed a theory that a bone once broken will grow back stronger than it was before the break. Those of us who have, in fact, broken bones have first hand knowledge that this particular adage is not entirely true.  In a different context, however, I can understand Dr. Wolff’s theory. A site of identified weakness can, with time and care, become an area of strength.  There is perhaps no better proof of that theory than the lessons learned here in the study of liberal arts at Wake Forest.

I came to college as a person who had faced very little failure in my life. I had done well in high school, flourishing academically, athletically and socially. The competitive drive that I had always had was well fed, and I looked forward to the new and varied challenges that college would present me. I had been encouraged to believe that the world was my oyster, and if I worked hard enough, I would succeed at the tasks set before me. During my first semester of freshman year, my worldview changed rather drastically when I was introduced to my own personal kryptonite: Elementary Probability and Statistics.

To say that I was a poor student of Statistics would be a vast understatement; I was an unmitigated disaster. For the first time in my life, I found myself working tirelessly, and achieving little. I was quick to blame the professor, the material, and even my own apparently useless brain but no matter what, I was lost. It was at this very early stage in my college career that I learned perhaps the most valuable piece of information I have absorbed over the past four years: I needed to turn to those intelligent and talented people around me for help. I started studying with classmates before tests, I went to a tutor for help on homework problems, and slowly, I began to improve. 

In reaching out to my peers, I found a port in the storm, and though I didn’t “ace” the class, I didn’t fail either. It was a small victory that taught me a greater lesson about the way I needed to approach every aspect of my liberal arts education; in every classroom, there is a scientist, a dancer, a mathematician, an economist, a writer, a politician, and a philosopher. By identifying and accepting my own shortcomings and weaknesses, I could adapt and become stronger as I looked to the people around me for help. 

When I look back on my time at Wake Forest, and on the many different areas of study I explored before becoming an English major, I can’t help but appreciate the way that the liberal arts system forces a student to find themselves through a rigorous process of elimination. I have known plenty of people who knew exactly what they wanted to do from the moment they set foot on this campus, and who stuck to that plan. I have also known plenty of students who had a completely finite strategy that was totally upended when they were introduced to an academic interest they never knew existed. And I have known students who, like myself, had no idea where they would be at the end of their time at Wake, and who explored every possible option before figuring out not only what they wanted to study, but what actively engaged their interest. 

We are a student body of vastly different people who have been challenged to think critically, engage academically, and work in fields and areas that we are not comfortable with. However, because we have explored and identified our weaknesses as well as our strengths, we are better students who are well equipped to utilize our skills, and to identify the value of the skills of others. We spend four years in classes that encourage active debate, discussion and collaboration, all of which encourage us to develop our own voice, and to learn to listen to the unique perspectives that other people have to share. 

Through many trials and much error, I have learned that I am not a scientist, a dancer, a painter, an economist, and I am certainly not a mathematician. The competitor in me would like to look at these weaknesses as types of failure, but as I have learned over the past four years, weakness is not failure. People who can contribute complementary strengths to my weaknesses have surrounded me since I arrived here, and just as I have learned to ask for their help, I have learned to use my own skills to help them. We all spend our time here as explorers, attempting to discover our niche. A liberal arts education seeks to educate the whole person, forcing us to examine every angle of academia before we can specifically define our pursuits. We are encouraged not only to celebrate and applaud our own strengths, but also to be able to acknowledge our weaknesses so that we can learn to utilize the strengths of others. Just like a broken bone that exists as an obvious site of limitation, our weaknesses as students become some of the greatest teachers we will ever have, because when correctly understood, those weakness encourage us to turn to the greatest strength we have at a school like Wake Forest; our peers.   

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