Senior Oration: Elizabeth Carlson ’15

The Daily Deac is continuing to feature the finalists for Senior Orations.  Today we will see Am I Enough? An Addendum to Wake Forest’s Motto by Elizabeth Carlson ’15

But before we get there, you’ll note that today is a snow day here on campus.  That announcement has a link to Campusdish, which gives food service hours of operation (fear not, there is food to be had here!)

graham daily deacAlso, I received this lovely photo from a sophomore, Graham (’17).  He took the photo last night and thought that parents might like to see it.  This is an exceptionally pretty photo, and my thanks to Graham for letting me share it.

— by Betsy Chapman

 

And now, here is our Senior Oration from Elizabeth Carlson.

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There are several times in a young person’s life when one simple question plagues her identity: Am I enough? Am I smart enough? Involved enough? Do I participate in enough community service? Am I enough? Be it applying to college or a full-time job, these transitional stepping stones call into question our essential being. Having now passed through these pivotal moments and with the finish line of Commencement in sight, I can tell you one key difference between standing here today in this moment and standing here exactly four years ago: I now know I am not enough.

Walking into Wait Chapel for the new student Convocation with hoards of other frightened freshmen, I was convinced that in order to be successful I needed to be a one-woman show. I had to play the leading heroine, supporting friend, and comic relief all at the same time. And so, despite a varied class schedule, robust extracurricular involvement and healthy social life, a constant sense of inadequacy hovered around me because I wasn’t single-handedly “everything,” whatever this theoretical “everything” might be.

Amid this quest to be it all, I applied to CHARGE: Wake’s Emerging Leaders. Led by the formidable Mike Ford, the leadership development program began with a weekend retreat in the mountains. Nestled around a crackling campfire on a brisk January day, we discussed our results from the Strengths Finder assessment, a survey pinpointing the 34 most common human talents. I am an achiever, learner, arranger and maximizer. In other words, I’m a detail-oriented perfectionist who likes the process of learning more than the end result but still has to get things done. Mike began by sharing the inventory of our group’s strengths. With a chart composed of each of the 34 talents across the top and each group member’s name down the side, we individually checked off our top 5. I watched the grid slowly fill in until our group had every talent represented.

It dawned on me then with my friend the “relator” beside me and the “includer” across from me that I would never possess all 34 talents. I began to wonder if I really needed to; while my strengths fortified the team, my weaknesses were compensated for by the very same people. This simple act of filling in a grid showed me that while I may contribute a fundamental piece to this greater puzzle, it is still just one piece. A group made solely of maximizers and achievers like me may get a lot of things done, but without the “developers” how would we arrive at an idea to begin with? Without the sociable “Woo-ers” how could we market what we produce? The idea of “I” has become so engrained in our daily vernacular that the concept of “we” has been left by the wayside. By isolating ourselves, we miss the rowdy debates, impassioned defenses and gracious compromises that form the heart of remarkable ideas. While once I believed that asking for help meant admitting failure, now I realized that failing to ask for that guidance was a far greater injustice to the group itself.

My time as a CHARGE mentor over the following two years continued to reconstruct my long-held notion of success. One such moment came during the annual Play-Dough Challenge. Group members were instructed to re-create the Quad in Play-Dough. The tables turned, however, as mentors took away the power of speech from the chatty participants, use of the dominant hand from the proactive, and sight from the observers. Forced to counteract their weaknesses with the remaining strengths of others, I watched as reserved members talked the blind through the making of Reynolda’s stairs. I saw an overzealous right-handed person without use of that hand hold a piece while someone else molded the chapel. In this moment, I was struck by the potency of each member’s recognition that alone, they could never be enough. When their efforts combined, however, a fully-functioning emerged. It was this very cohesion that then successfully addressed the demands of an ever-expanding campus as students struggle with how to efficiently and effectively take breaks. The concept of a nap room in the ZSR was born to offer a quiet refuge closer to studies. When we first discussed the ZieSta Room, none of us could imagine the overwhelmingly positive – or even national – reception it would later receive. Today I happily invite you to witness the power of “we” as you hunker down in a cozy recliner on the mezzanine of the 24-hour room.

It wasn’t until this year as director of CHARGE, that I fully grasped the importance of our being enough, together. As student directors, we interview potential mentors and participants. Throughout this process, I realized I was not simply evaluating each applicant on individual strengths, but also on what he or she would contribute to our emerging group dynamic. Lessons I had observed as a participant and mentor culminated as I understood the fact that this humanity we work for is not an idle body staring back at us, but a dynamic group working right beside us. Leadership is not an independent task, but rather an intrinsic interaction that functions best when fully collaborative.

So no, I am not enough. You are not enough. And as such, a university made entirely of “me’s” or “you’s” is not enough either. But we, we are enough. A university built of me and you and us, that is enough. Earlier this year, as I sat in Wait Chapel listening to a heated town hall discussion, I felt the familiar sense of inadequacy creeping in. I didn’t have answers for the troubling questions of racial tension or religious intolerance being debated, but a sense of urgency to find those answers overwhelmed me. Then I realized that pesky little first person pronoun had crept back into my vocabulary. The problems facing our community won’t be resolved by me or by any single person. But together, our cumulative strengths can tackle these very challenges. For in these four years I’ve realized that a successful life is one lived not solely for humanity but also with humanity. Not just Pro Humanitate, but also Cum Humanitate.

 

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