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The Daily Deac

Senior Oration Finalist – Fahim Gulamali (’14)

Last but certainly not least, the Daily Deac concludes its coverage of the Senior Oration finalists.  Congratulations to all the students who made the Top Ten.

Today we invite you to enjoy “The Stronger Pull of Love” by Fahim Gulamali (’14).

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The renowned Muslim poet Jalaluddin Rumi once said, “Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.” Rumi’s words have poignantly portrayed the feelings of my evolution as a first-year student, to my senior year  here at Wake Forest.  I came in to this university as a pre-med student; a potential biology major; a ‘heterosexual’; and an insecure human being. Today, I am leaving as a worldly religious studies major; an unfaltering feminist; a proud gay person; and so much more. I know that I would not have been able to come into my true self if, in my senior year in high school, I had not released my inhibitions and let the universe, a term I now understand as God, pull me towards the institution that I have come to love—Wake Forest University.

I spent my childhood in an imaginary space, one filled with magic and possible impossibilities. I would gallop on my trusty steed while trying to battle Voldemort to save Hogwarts. I would wrap myself in a bed-sheet and find myself flying to different parts of the world. I was happy because I gave the universe opportunity to draw me to my true loves.  I was so in tune with the universe, that I sprinted towards all that drowned me with love and happiness.

Somewhere between the  summer of middle and high school, I buried myself in self-loathing and insecurity. I weighed a mere 110 pounds and my hair began to thin. I had  become conscious of my ‘otherness’—the fact that I did not fit into society’s stereotype of a ‘masculine’ person—and I invested my energy in hiding who I truly was from the world. I joined a flag football team when I had no interest in football and dated a couple of girls, while secretly spending time with someone of the same sex to whom I was attracted. Nothing was right in my life because I buried myself in my reserves and cut myself off from that which I genuinely loved. I was unhappy. And then, in my senior year of high school, I accepted the offer to attend Wake Forest University.

From the moment I stepped onto this campus, I started to evolve. Retrospectively, I began to  grow into myself. I let go of my worries and what others thought of me. I dabbled  in the things such as WakeTV, service trips through Global Brigades, and Amnesty International. Really, anything that caught my attention. I let my classes mold me, challenge my belief system, and ultimately help me learn more about myself than ever before. I allowed my friends to empower and support me in every decision I made, and to take care of me when those decisions led me down rocky roads. I delved into every opportunity that Wake Forest offered me, and I grew stronger when I was faced with opposition. Certain recollections flood my memory when the true essence of Wake Forest came to play a role in my life-the week of April 22, 2012, when I “came out” to the world as a gay person.

That specific week, I was learning about the role that the queer community plays within various religious institutions in Dr. Lynn Neal’s ‘Religious Intolerance in the United States’ class. This was when I realized that I could not hide a part of my identity any longer. I had grown so much already—I had let myself be pulled in the direction of so much love, and I did not want to stop. I called one of my mentors on the way back from volunteering at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital on April 26 and said the words —‘Imran, I think I’m gay. No—I KNOW I am. I have always felt it.” These words liberated me. They let me breathe more than ever. I was already at an academic institution that I loved, studying subjects I was passionate about, surrounded by supportive friends and professors that had become my family, and it was time that I was true to the world and myself.

That week, I confirmed everything that I had learned about myself and the Wake Forest community that surrounded me. Faculty and staff embraced me with open arms. Religion Department Administrative Coordinator Sheila Lockhart even went to the extent of opening her home to me when I thought my own home would reject me. My friends showered me with love and affection when I was learning to become comfortable with who I was while also grieving my old self. I slept over at different friends’ homes because I was too afraid to be alone. These human beings shared a part of their hearts with me so I could fully embrace that which I loved. They embodied the motto of this university—Pro Humanitate. They did not let me fall.

Today, I ask each and every one of you to let go and be free. To follow what you love and let your heart and universe be the guide to pull you in the right direction. I also ask you to help others realize the freedom that comes from following their intuition and pursuing what they truly love, as my friends did when I was afraid to do so. Be a voice for those who have been silenced by what philosopher Michel Foucault would refer to as the ‘the dominant discourse’—a voice for my gay identity in a majority heterosexual world, for example. In the end, let us all release our apprehensions and surrender to the stronger pull of love.

Events After Spring Break

If your students are looking for things to do the week they get back from Spring Break, there are a plethora of options on the Events Calendar.  Lectures, sporting events, Student Union ‘short courses’ and more.

I want to draw your students’ attention to one of the events, and that is “The Big Disruption – the Coming Transformation of Higher Education.”  There is more information on the Big Disruption website, but I would submit to your students that this is a great opportunity to hear from campus leaders and alumni who are nationally-recognized experts in higher education.

College has changed from yours and my days, Deac families.  There seem to me to be so many more campus life offerings and and development opportunities for our students than there were during my own days knocking about Wake Forest as an undergrad.  And I suspect that the institution of college will need to change and innovate and be more nimble and flexible, to borrow words from President Hatch.

Your students are in the thick of it right now as college students.  This is a chance to have them hear more about what might be ahead by the time their children go to college.

Senior Oration Finalist – Claire Nagy-Kato (’14)

We’re coming down to the wire and sharing the last of the Senior Oration finalists.  We hope you have been enjoying them.

Today we invite you to enjoy “Practice Makes Perspective” by Claire Nagy-Kato (’14).

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In my early years at Wake, I was a screw-up. Well, I thought I was. I dozed off in classes. I joined over 20 clubs, and quit over 20 clubs. I missed countless meetings with professors and bosses. I broke plans with my textbooks to hang out with friends and I broke plans with friends to study. I became the master of procrastination. I enjoyed most of my academic courses, yet I received more F’s on tests than I can count on my two hands. A map of my brainwaves probably resembled a painting by Jackson Pollock. Not a small one, but a big one. Have you ever been to the Art Institute of Chicago? We’re talking a football field size work by Jackson Pollock. Yeah, that’s my brain.

I was surrounded by so many organized and driven people that when I revealed my flaws to them, they would look at me with dismay, and sympathy, sometimes even call me a quitter. I felt I had flaws that no Wake Forest student should have. And I hated that. I was asking myself, what is good about me? Why was I so unfocused? Why I could walk home with a smile on my face when I had an F in one hand, but a hummingbird in the other? I pulled many all-nighters for F’s. But then when I think about, what I thought was studying all night really comprised of a few hours of studying, and many more speculating with my friends about how a simple trip to CVS turned into a greater understanding of the inner connectivity of human life (that’s another speech). Unfortunately, I found that the word Failure often accompanied my priority for exploring the larger systemic forces in the universe. So freshman and sophomore year, I was convinced that the only way I could be a good student was to change my priorities. I had to focus more on my textbooks and less on my elemental curiosity.

Then something snapped. They were the sticks beneath my feet. I was in the woods again, except this time it was for my Evolution and Ecology class. Exploring dirt and trees for a grade? Inconceivable, I thought. This was my first hint that education that could be attained in and out of human-made walls. It didn’t hit me instantly, but slowly my perspective on knowledge didn’t feel so confined. With this new outlook, I was not a screw-up. I was curious. I had an imagination. Although many of my previous discoveries often distracted me from my schooling, I was educating myself. I was finding meaning in the existence of time, habits, words, and even creatures, even if it seemed downright mad to scoop up the tiniest bird in the world for a proper burial or find enlightenment in the magazine aisle of a CVS. I recognized for the first time that my tenacious curiosity was a personal strength that was equally important both inside and outside the classroom.

In the classroom, teachers say to their students, “you should not simply come to class and take notes; you should read the book before class, and be sure to check out the supplementary sources I posted on Sakai. Oh! And while you’re in the midst of your groaning, I want you to find real-world examples.” “There’s those words again,” I thought. “Real. World. Examples. I get it, it’s like how we use physics to build rollercoasters or math to calculate a tip at restaurants.”

Wow, I did not get it. My idea that divide exists between learning in the classroom and learning through living was at the root of my struggles in the majority of my life at Wake Forest. These professors were teaching us how to learn, how to be curious, not just in the classroom but in our lives. They were asking us to gain perspective on subject matter, and find that these lessons are prevalent in the real-world.

So after four years of contemplating and exploring Pro Humanitate, I learned that it means to search beyond the constructed subject matter presented to us in our courses. We develop a cognitive boundary, or bias, from our initial source of knowledge, often times it derives from our textbooks, friends, family, FOX news, some more unfortunate than others. I had developed a cognitive boundary about grades, and their abilities to measure intelligence, and this is what really constricted my flow of knowledge. As soon as I fully rejected this construction of how I should be learning, I flourished. I looked beyond my required readings and read counterarguments. I discussed with people who held different religious beliefs than I. I tried to harness the wisdom that lies within every crevice of life on earth. I found anything that we call matter and turned into a subject, and it’s no wonder grades couldn’t properly reflect that. Once we all begin to do this, none of us have to think we are screw-ups because we get F’s every now and then. We all provide our own gifts to Wake Forest, to the Winston-Salem community, and to the world. For me, Pro Humanitate is recognizing the symbiotic relationship we can form with each human being and all living things on the planet. Because that is what is good for humanity.

So how does one begin to live in tandem with Pro Humanitate? It starts with walking in someone’s shoes for a day. We’ve all heard that. Learn from another’s experiences before you make a judgment or decision. But why just walk? Why not run, skip, roller blade? What about the things that don’t move at all? And the things that don’t wear shoes? Me personally, I don’t really like shoes. Maybe that’s why I learn from trees and birds and bees before I make many of my decisions. We should look at all facets of life and life forms with a new lens, and do it not just “for a day”, but every single day.

Perspective is important, but the practice of perspective shows true growth. If we practice detaching ourselves from biases, nurtured values, our ideas of “normal” and “acceptable”, we can then connect one subject to another like Religion and Ecology, and also connect all of the human-based subjects with the remainder of the world’s greatest treasures. We can question the true efficiency of human-kind’s creations. How does modern medicine affect the ecosystems from which the plants derive? How does economics measure happiness? How does science measure spirituality? How does religion unite us all? What does the subject matter in our formal education teach us about the rest of the world? I found that teachers have wanted us to figure this out, but they also want us to find how the rest of the world holds the perspectives we need to truly understand our classroom education. Every place I go, from classroom to woods to the floor of a marketplace, I try to learn something, even if someone thinks I am a quitter. Even if someone calls me scatter-brained.  Even if I get one hundred more F’s in my life. I am a Jackson Pollock, except with a chemistry degree, and a ukulele.

Spring Break

It is a quiet time on campus this week, with the majority of our students gone for Spring Break.  It’s a shame they are gone, because late Saturday and all day Sunday, we had some of the best weather of the spring – close to 70 degrees.   And sunny.  FINALLY.

Some of our students, I suspect, got their travel plans bungled by the late, unwelcome sleet and ice we got last Thursday night and Friday.  Honestly, Deac families, this is the craziest winter I have seen in Winston-Salem in a good many years.  Normally we are not a ‘snow and ice event’ part of the country – usually we are just a bit too far south for that – but this winter has been a real bear.

I feel confident saying we are all aching for spring.  There are many reasons that spring is a wonderful time at Wake Forest, but I’ll name just a few.  And they are all about the landscape:

- cafe-tablesBistro tables and chairs on the Quad.  Our Bryant Park NYC-eque outdoor seating is a wonderful place to study, have lunch, sip a cold drink and warm yourself in the sun.  I hope your students use them often.  And the carts full of board games.  And the outdoor piano.  An active Quad is a beautiful Quad.  There are tables in other places too – outside the Pit, by Benson.

- 20090420campus0118Cherry blossoms.  They will be opening on the trees, especially on the Quad near the above mentioned bistro tables.  They are beautiful on the trees, but also if there is a strong wind, the tiny petals blow off into big piles on the ground.  Like a pink snowstorm.  Pink confetti.  I have a spot that is my favorite to sit on windy days, and it is beyond peaceful.

- 20040416C_tulips6516Daffodils.  If your students drive/walk/jog/bike up the entrance to campus from the Reynolda Road/Silas Creek side, there have to be at least 10,000 daffodils that poke up during the spring.  You come up the gentle slope and it is a carpet of flowers.

-20100422quad3396 The hidden oasis.  On the side of Wait Chapel closest to Efird Hall, there is a little hidden gem.  It’s a garden dedicated to two Wake Forest students, Maia Witzl and Julie Hansen, (see article on page 2) who were killed by a drunk driver in an accident just off campus back in 1996.  Once the azaleas bloom, you can be practically hidden in this oasis – just find the opening in the iron railing and step in to gorgeous splendor.  There are 2 benches, and green grass.

And now that we have moved the clocks ahead, it is staying light longer, and so we are getting sunsets later.  If your student hasn’t found the best spot to sit and relax and watch some of our resplendent spring sunsets, ping him or her that sometimes the best thing you’ll do all day is sit in peace for 20 minutes, not on the phone, not texting, but just watching nature unfold.

Senior Oration Finalist – Olivia Campbell (’14)

The Daily Deac is wrapping up its coverage of the Senior Oration finalists this week.  The three winning orations were read at Founders’ Day Convocation (more info on the Wake Forest News website.)

Today we invite you to enjoy “A Part of Humanity” by Olivia Campbell (’14).

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During my first year at Wake Forest, I experienced a culture shock verging on existential crisis. In contrast to my hometown, Wake Forest seemed impossibly wealthy, preppy, and cliquey, and I did not understand how to integrate. It was difficult to relate to most of my classmates, something I’d never experienced before. I distinctly remember being dumbfounded when, multiple times during my freshman year, I said “hello” to a passing stranger or even classmate and received a blank stare in return. This led me to ask the following questions: How have I, a slightly extroverted people-pleaser, inserted myself into a situation where I can find no common ground with my peers? How can I come to fit in with these students, and what does it say about me that I have not been able to so far? Does the fact that I can’t make sense of college mean I won’t be able to make sense of people in the real world, or for the rest of my life?

I handled my culture shock in all the wrong ways. Being appalled by many of my peers’ exclusivity, partying, and other antics allowed me to “other” them, or set myself apart from them, effortlessly. As I concluded that we had nothing in common, I took the easy way out; I assumed Wake’s culture was not for me and disengaged.

While doing my best to ignore rather than delve into the enigma that is Wake’s student body, I took an eclectic assortment of classes. I contently gathered knowledge without leaving my comfort zone. That is, until my junior year, when I studied abroad with a professor who challenged everything I knew. Literally—every word I spoke was scrutinized for evidence of social construction, bias, implicit assumptions. He constantly dissected my words and thoughts; even sentences used to explain initial claims were probed in a never-ending cycle of questions meant to teach us about ourselves, and, in turn, others. For example, in our first class, having claimed that men and women are physically different, I was asked to define “physical,” “men,” and “women,” then asked how my definition excludes people who are neither or both. Thirty minutes later, we had meandered to chromosomal differences as well as gender roles.

To say the least, I was not used to this. When I raised my hand in class, I did so because I wanted to bring up a specific point, not to evaluate myself. I became so frustrated that many debates both in and out of the classroom ended in tears, and I dreaded going to class. I routinely ducked behind furniture to avoid confrontation when moving about the house. But in spite of this, I could not keep my mouth shut. I continued offering up tidbits of myself for verbal dissection, unwilling to give up until I understood what he was trying to impress on me. As much as I wanted to ignore my professor, something about these conversations was starting to resonate with me. Not only did I rediscover the power of language, so easily overlooked; I was also learning how to examine and improve my own mind, casting resentment and embarrassment aside in order to grow.

In this class, I recognized for the first time my practice of “othering” fellow Wake students. But simply acknowledging the problem was not enough. I had put myself in a box apart from an entire group of people, and I was desperate to break out and explore. Luckily, time abroad gave me the opportunity to do just that.

During that semester in Europe, I felt oddly immune to social expectations people my age usually place on each other. When interacting with Europeans, if I did something awkward or bizarre, it was attributed to the fact that I was foreign rather than inept. I was automatically forgiven for all of my quirks. I more and more frequently forgot to “check” myself in social situations; instead, I just was. I felt liberated.

That summer, I experienced the same phenomenon when I camped in the Amazon with a group of Peruvian students in spite of the fact that I don’t speak Spanish. Again, the social disconnect between them and me allowed me to feel exponentially more comfortable and connected to them. I couldn’t depend on American customs or the English language to make sense of our interactions, so I was forced to rely on intuition and emotion instead. It was there, in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, that I finally realized how remarkably similar all human beings are. We are all afraid sometimes; we seek approval; we want the best for someone else in our lives. I understood that truly, we share a language. Emotionally charged images from all of my travels popped into my head: watching an Amazonian native tenderly carry her newborn through the jungle; feeding sick stray cats with an elderly Greek man; nearly jumping out of our boat in excitement as a Peruvian researcher and I finally spotted an elusive jaguar; laughing apologetically as I butchered a waltz with a young Austrian. The universal sentiment in each transcended time and language, coming through clear as day. I had found the tools I needed to relate to others independently of culture.

Returning to Wake for my senior year after many months abroad, I was delighted to find that my former feelings of culture shock had vanished. I caught myself grinning as I walked around campus, inwardly pleased by how simple this all was, by how much sense it made. Now very much at ease, I stopped to chat with strangers and friends, cheered at football games, performed in choral concerts, and volunteered in the community.

I’ve heard the most valuable lessons are those you don’t realize you need to learn. Wake Forest has given me a most unexpected and important skill: a heightened ability to empathize, without qualifications. If you are a human being, we can find a shared experience. These miniscule commonalities are the building blocks of relationships. Now that I know this, it seems laughable to feel lost or lonely, even as I face graduation and an unpredictable future. I feel empowered because I am at home anywhere there are people.

Now, Pro Humanitate has a new meaning to me: to be truly capable of doing something for the good of humanity, you must first understand how you are a part of it. I now understand how I am a part of Wake Forest, and for that I will always be grateful.

The Ballerina Question

Last Friday I was in a presentation by four young alumni – two ’13 graduates who are working in Wake Forest Fellows positions (a one-year gig following graduation), and two ’12 graduates who have more permanent positions.  They were making a presentation about their reflections back to their student days, sharing what they wish their 23 year old selves knew when they were 18 or 19 and just starting Wake Forest.  All of these young alumni were exceptional students – high achieving academically, involved extracurricularly in many ways.

One of the pieces of advice given was [paraphrased] “I wish I had been more present and in the moment instead of always thinking ahead and worrying.  When I was in class, sometimes I was worrying about whatever was coming next or some other activity or person, instead of just enjoying the moment.  I could have been really focusing on the material I was learning, but my mind was in a million places instead.”

Another said something like this [again, paraphrased]  ”I wish I had realized that the difference between getting a 93 and a 94 on something is really not that big a deal, and I could have used the time and energy on something else.”  In other words, it was not worth driving yourself crazy just to get that one extra point – a point that at the end of the day didn’t have an enormous impact on the overall grade.

Thinking about the perspective of young people and what we see anecdotally of this generation – huge ambition, eager to please, high achievers, but with an aversion to risking and potentially failing – led me to remember a conversation I had with a dear Wake Forest related friend.  She is a former professional ballerina, a weapons grade talent who has danced in major US cities and who has toured the world with prestigious companies.  She is teaching ballet now, and she was telling me once that one of her biggest struggles is to get her students to attempt big things, complicated jumps and such.

She said to me [more paraphrasing!] ‘The students don’t want to try because they are afraid to fall.  Do you have any idea how many times I fell flat on my face, on stage, in a tutu in a performance?  More times than I can tell you.’

My ballerina friend’s point was that she was willing as a student and as a professional dancer to try, to be bold – and I’d bet you your next Starbucks that 99% of the time she made the jumps and executed the moves perfectly.  But her fear of the potential of falling was not enough to keep her from making the attempt.

Which is something she isn’t seeing in some of her students.  They don’t want to try, lest they fail.

And until and unless these students try, they will never reach this ballerina’s level.

How can we help our students figure out that it is worth it to take the ballerina’s leap?  Even if they fall, they will learn something.  Is it better to keep your tutu pristine and unwrinkled?  Or is it better to try that jump, even if you stumble?

Therein lies the Ballerina Question.

 

 

Senior Oration Finalist – Celia Quillian (’14)

The Daily Deac is showcasing one more Senior Oration finalist this week, and we’ll cover the balance next week.  The three winning orations are online on the Wake Forest News website.

Today we invite you to enjoy “Failing Up” by Celia Quillian (’14)

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I have a confession. I have suffered from Atychiphobia since childhood. You see, at the age of five, I desperately wanted to fly. I don’t mean metaphorically, and I don’t mean on an airplane. Much like Michael Jordan in the classic 90s film, “Space Jam,” I believed I could fly, and of my own volition. I spent months preparing for my first flight, leaping off the couch, measuring my distance, and combating gravity with handfuls of plastic grocery bags suspended above my head. After I had reached the height of my training, I marched triumphantly outside to the swing set, pumped my legs until I reached the greatest altitude, and launched myself into the air. I soared for approximately two-point-three seconds before the laws of the gravity took hold, and I crash-landed onto a pinecone. As I ran inside, crying for my mother, Atychiphobia first entered my life.

Yes, Atychiphobia, the fear from which I am sure we overachieving, all-star Wake Forest students have all suffered—the fear of failure.  Flash forward to my freshman year at Wake Forest.  While hanging out with some new friends in Babcock lounge, at some point I decided I would impress them with my vast knowledge, and I quoted a wise man who once said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Unfortunately, I attributed this quotation to none other than Albus Dumbledore. Nope, it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I know that now. Thank you, liberal arts.

Pretty soon thereafter, in my Evolutionary and Ecological Biology class, I had my first ever college exam, and I was feeling pretty confident. Like most of you, I was the definition of “star student” in high school. Furthermore, I had received a score of 5 on the AP Bio exam, and the night before this exam, I studied for hours, making over 200 flashcards. I had this thing in the bag. Unfortunately, I later found out that bag had a gaping hole in the bottom when I received a 59 out of 100 with a curve.

Zoom ahead to November, when the time came for auditions for the University Theatre’s third Main Stage show of the year. I had already been doing pretty well for myself theatre-wise. After performing in thirteen consecutive shows in high school, I came to Wake Forest with a Presidential Scholarship for theatre. In my first week at Wake, I was cast in both a student production and the first Main Stage production of the year. Now, I wasn’t expecting to get another big role in this show, but because of the large cast size of “The Grapes of Wrath,” I must admit I expected to be in the show, especially after I had been called back for the biggest female role in the show. Suffice it to say, when the cast list came out, my name was nowhere to be found.

Now, those were just a select few of my biggest “failures” from my first year at Wake Forest. Oddly enough, they all led to some of the greatest successes of that year. Had I been cast in that play, I would not have auditioned for the Anthony Aston Players production, “Independence,” which is to this day my proudest accomplishment on stage. Had I not failed that biology test, I would not have gotten into the very necessary habit of going to my professors for extra help and advice; I would have not become a better student; and I would not have left the course with a B+ that semester. Furthermore, I  might have ended up majoring in biology and becoming the future physician of one of you out there—so, uh, you’re welcome! That mis-quote at the beginning of the year, in addition to some playful teasing, spurred a delightful conversation about Harry Potter and also contributed to some of the best friendships I have made at Wake Forest. Had I not tried and failed at flying at the age of five,  I might not be in college.  Yes, the story was a major part of my college admissions essay. It seems, instead of falling down with these failures, I somehow fell up. I “failed  up.”

When looking back at some of the greatest success stories, however, I should not be surprised by these results. Often, the foundation of the greatest ideas and success stories is failure. In one of his first jobs as a newspaper editor, Walt Disney was fired because he, quote-on-quote, “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Disney then went on to have a number of small businesses that ended in bankruptcy. Lucille Ball was widely thought to be a failed actress and advised by her instructors to choose another profession. Later, she went on to win an Emmy award four times for “I Love Lucy.” Thomas Edison could not have created the light bulb had he not first made thousands of failed prototypes. Finally, J.K. Rowling, who was recently divorced and living off welfare while writing her  twelve-times-denied manuscript for “The Philosopher’s Stone,” once said, “Failure meant a stripping away of the essential…Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea.”

All of their failures catalyzed stunning success. They “failed up.”

And they “failed up” because they allowed themselves the privilege of self-reflection. They allowed their failures to be defined as lessons and opportunities. I have come to realize over my past four years at Wake Forest, that there really are no “failures” and no “mistakes”, but there are only refining moments. Through my failings, I have learned that caring is good but stressing is bad. I learned that trying is sometimes better than succeeding and that I would have rather tried and failed than not tried at all. I now know that I have support in the midst of failure from friends, family, and faculty who will be there for me to console, mentor, and encourage me. I have  learned a lot about myself, and through my failures I have discovered my strengths and passions. I now realize that the failures that affect me most are those which drive me the hardest to continue.  I am currently in the process of “failing up” to my best potential.   As Maya Angelou once said, “It may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

Most of us were probably top of our class in high school, and coming to Wake Forest, filled with equally bright and talented students, was probably our first big ego blow. Four years later, we are on the cusp of entering  an even more challenging world, without meal plans, dorm rooms, or holiday breaks. As I prepare to step away from Wake Forest’s comforting bubble as an alumna and to enter the “real world,” there is no doubt in my mind that I will face failure. I hope to be some combination of a writer, film director, entrepreneur, and actor, so I have kindly asked all of my failures to take a number and form an organized line.

Thanks to my time at Wake Forest, I feel prepared to face this sneering and jeering line of failures. Thanks to Wake Forest, I have learned that failure is part of life, and honestly, it is a pretty positive necessity for growth. In terms of my Atychiphobia, it turns out I really did only need to fear the “fear itself.” Because thefear  of failure can be crippling, butf ailure is not an end. Rather, it is a beginning. Thanks to our failures, big or small, at Wake Forest we are all equipped with the resilience, intellect, strategy, striving, passion, and supportive community that we have developed here at Mother, So Dear.

I end this speech with a promise, and one that I hope you will join me in making. That promise is: if at first we don’t succeed, that we will fail, and fail again. We will “fail up,” and up, until we have reached the greatest altitude.  Then, free from the heavy burden of regret and what-ifs and oh-nos, we  will fly. And when we do fly, lofted by the energized wisdom from failures corralled in our  collective consciousness, we will soar right back to the Upper Quad, and roll it like it has never been rolled before.

Senior Oration Finalist – Erin Hellman (’14)

We hope you have been enjoying our Senior Oration Finalist coverage.  These seniors are providing interesting and compelling reflections about their formative moments and experiences at Mother So Dear.  If you missed the winning orations read at Founders’ Day Convocation, they are  featured on the Wake Forest News website.

Today we invite you to enjoy “Education Through Service” by Erin Hellman (’14).

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It was the Saturday before Halloween and, like all Saturdays this past fall semester, I was up early, excited to see the smiling face of my favorite 5th  grader, Charice. Last year a fellow Wake Forest senior and I started a program at Ashley Elementary that we call “Saturday Academy.” Ashley Elementary is located less than 5 miles from our campus but is one of the lowest performing schools in the district. 91% of the students are considered low income and fewer than 20% of the students pass the state mandated standardized tests. With this challenge in mind, we began working at Ashley hoping to be one piece to the puzzle of closing the opportunity and achievement gaps that emerge as early as elementary school. With other Wake Forest students who have volunteered their time, we commute to Ashley Elementary every Saturday morning to tutor the students in math, reading, and healthy eating. Although as tutors our intent was to give back to the Winston-Salem community by helping young people, we quickly learned that these students and their families had much to teach us as well. What they have taught me has significantly enhanced by Wake Forest education, providing context for what I have learned in the classroom.

On this particular Saturday morning, the cafeteria was abuzz with students telling us about their plans for Halloween. Charice, greeted me with her usual excitement and immediately began chattering about the costume that she had planned to wear. I always love hearing about what the students are doing and immediately began asking questions. We were having a nice, lighthearted conversation until I naively asked if she would be trick-or-treating in her neighborhood. She adopted a very serious tone, as if she were now an adult talking to a naïve child, and began to tell me about the dangers of her neighborhood, offering a powerful narrative that indicated her awareness of the roles that race and class play in her life.

In my sophomore year after declaring a Sociology major with a focus on education, I began to realize that I would be spending many hours studying inequality in our country. I became fascinated by the many false assumptions that we make about people based on their race or class, and the way in which two individuals living less than 5 miles from one another, the distance that separates me and the students I work with at Ashley, can be going to school with such different perspectives and opportunities.

Many of these concepts were only things that I had read about growing up, having never had the experiences myself. As I became more immersed in my class work, I decided that I needed to know firsthand the people I was studying in order to really understand the issues. This need led me to Ashley Elementary, and there I found what had been missing from my education.

I believe the opportunity and achievement gaps are the largest problem facing American education. As I have learned in my courses at Wake Forest, many of our schools remain deeply segregated by both race and class. Opportunities for students often differ based on where they were fortunate enough to be born, and these opportunities, or lack thereof, have a profound impact on students’ future outcomes. By the 4th  grade low-income and minority students are, on average, already 2 years behind their more affluent peers, and the gap continues to grow throughout their schooling. Of the 30% of low income and minority students that enroll in college, fewer than half ever graduate. Although I had studied these problems in my classes at Wake, only when I immersed myself in the community did I truly begin to understand the inequality of opportunity that exists in our society. These experiences have led to a passion for helping young people and the drive to do something about the inequality that in our society.

The students at Ashley are facing many more challenges than I did as a child, but they have shown more perseverance and hope than imaginable. In spite of their own limited resources, their parents work extremely hard to provide the best that they can for their children. Some don’t even have cars to bring their children to school on Saturday mornings, but they always ensure that they are there and ready to work. All of the students tell me with excitement about their plans to graduate from high school and attend college, although all of them will be first generation college students. Their parents are hopeful as well, despite the fact that many of them know there’s deep uncertainty about their ability to afford college expenses.

My time at Ashley has taught me so much about the “real” world, both in the bad and very good sense; these highs and lows  have contributed immensely to my education. These Ashley students and their families have welcomed me and the other Wake Forest students into their lives, not as “others” but as friends. They have shown us that, although we have had different opportunities and experiences, we all share a hope for our future. We all strive to improve ourselves, and we all have genuine joy in working and learning together. As I study issues pertaining to race, class, and opportunity I can now put a face to the names, better understand the complexity of the issues, and relate them to my own experiences. In the classroom, there is a new depth to my understanding and my ability to formulate solutions, resulting from what my students have taught me.

The students at Ashley have taught me that we have an obligation to act. We cannot accept a world without hope or opportunity and be content with our current levels of inequality, the number of children in poverty, and the lack of safe neighborhoods. These students and their families are no longer  “others” to me who I only read about. They are my neighbors, my friends, my “family,” for whom I care deeply. As such, I can’t ignore them, and I must carry with me the education I have received from them, always remembering that everyone who lacks equality and opportunity is nevertheless a person, a member of my community, and a friend.

Thus, the beauty of my Wake Forest education is that I have been able to create a bridge from what I have learned in the classroom to the actual world in which we live. The spirit of “pro humanitate” has had a profound impact on my concept of an individual’s responsibility toward the world and on my plans for the future. I leave Wake Forest a more compassionate and empathetic person than when I entered. We all have great power as educated individuals and the opportunity to choose how we will exercise that power. I am looking forward, upon graduation, to begin teaching and empowering students through education. I thank Wake Forest for putting me on this path, and my wonderful peers and professors who have supported me and inspired me to make a difference.

Senior Oration Finalists – Kimberly Quick (’14)

Daily Deac is continuing coverage of some of the Senior Oration finalists.  As you may recall, the three winning orations were read at Founders’ Day Convocation; links to those speeches were featured on the Wake Forest News website.

Today we invite you to enjoy  ”Flying with a Parachute” by Kimberly Quick (’14).

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I looked at him in disbelief. His English was clear—his diction, precise—but his instructions seemed nonsensical, defying all logic and common sense. “Run until you reach the edge of the mountain,” he told me in his cheerful Swiss accent. “And then keep running.” I stood paralyzed on the summit from a combination of fear and cold that whipped off the mountain, piercing me like an enemy. A champion of the cautious, I naturally asked for clarification.

“So you are telling me to run off the side of the Alps?”

“Well, yes. But with a parachute,” he replied, his calmness in direct contrast to my poorly concealed panic.

The advice of the paragliding instructor has stuck with me, even two years after I returned from my study abroad experience. To the relief of my mother, I don’t treat his words literally, as I have so far only run off the side of that one mountain. But as I floated down over the lake in Interlaken, parachute securely fastened to me, my inner English minor emerged, and I hyper-analyzed the words of the Swiss gentleman who moments before had assured me that I would not only survive paragliding, but would live more fully while in the air.

Wake Forest, for me, has been the parachute. Coming into Wake as a freshman, I thought that I would never end my love affair with certainty. I liked facts, questions with reasonable answers, plans and procedures. College, to me, was a time to learn more of this, to figure out the formula for success and implement it. My education would be earned by walking a narrow path in the classroom, the library, office hours. Sure, I would meet new people, share experiences, and forge bonds of friendship. But these people were unlikely to have definitive answers to my many questions, the multiple opinions muddling my curious mind into a confused mess. Prepared to stand steadfast on that mountain of higher education, I felt safe, if a little cold.

But soon after arriving to Wake Forest, it became clear that my ideas about education were reductive, at best. The newness of the place both frightened and attracted me, and I soon became an eager freshman student, signing up for what probably amounted to 20 different clubs during the activities fair. Without realizing it, I began to form networks within the Wake community. Subconsciously, I pieced together my very own parachute of many colors, panel by panel. I enrolled in a variety of classes, finding numerous interdepartmental themes but various solutions to the same problems. Sitting in the offices of my professors, they told me to read independently and form my own conclusions. The blue panel. Initially attracted to the glitz and glamour of the costumes, I found myself on the Ballroom Dance competition team, a random departure from my much more streamlined background in ballet. The yellow panel. Becoming increasingly interested in concerns over diversity and inclusion at Wake, I joined a committee to plan a campus-wide dialogue on campus culture and the ways in which to improve it. I wove together a group of friends vastly different from me and from each other, and relished in our spirited yet respectful late night debates, which rarely had a resolution. The red. I joined Amnesty International, feeding my interest in international human rights. Before the end of freshman year, I had already planned and committed two study abroad trips—one summer in Ghana, and a semester in London. Green, orange, purple. My parachute was almost ready for use.

My education at Wake Forest has taught me one definitive that I will never forget; that I cannot know everything, and that I certainly do not want to. Very little is in black and white; life is open to interpretation; quests for answers simply yield more questions. Curiosity, not certainty, is tool of the well-educated. Throughout my time here I have formed and reformed opinions, contradicted myself, faced both failure and success, and, I hope, have emerged with an increased knowledge of myself, an elevated ability to think critically, and an increased compassion for and understanding of those who are different from me. The uncomfortable, the new, and the risky serve as my most powerful instructors. I have found these things, not in adventure sports or dangerous activities, but in constantly challenging and expanding what I know of my environment. With each piece of literature I analyze, each nation I study in the classroom, I am inspired to carve out my own place in this vast world. Every new relationship during college teaches me the riskiness of honesty and vulnerability; each new experience, whether initially good or bad, is a vital piece of information about how I would like to live my life. Most importantly, I have learned to appreciate the beauty of the unknown future and the wider world, so full of splendor and potential that it will take me a lifetime to begin to find its treasures. Though change can be frightening, it is simultaneously glorious.

My parachute is durable, sewn together by professors that care about me, friends that love me, family that supports me, and my own combination of self-awareness and curiosity. I feel myself gaining momentum, running a little faster, the wind picking up under the panels and preparing to take me somewhere new. Wake has provided the Class of 2014 with the necessary tools to take a major leap of faith, each of us possessing our own personalized floating device. They might take us in different directions, placing us on new lands to begin once again. But for now, the air sure feels good.

 

Spring Break Thoughts

Spring Break is just around the corner, and many of our Deacs will be headed off campus – either home, or with friends to (most likely) warm and tropical destinations.  But not everyone leaves for Spring Break, and the Office of Service and Social Action and the ZSR Library has created a Spring Break “Staycation” option for students who will be in town.  For just $100, your student can be fed, have access to fun activities like movies, dinner downtown, service, even a WFU tunnels tour.  The 2014 Wake Alternative Break Flyer has more information if your student is interested.

And my colleagues in the University Police have assembled some spring break safety tips for students who are visiting foreign countries over Spring Break (on cruises, package vacations, etc.).  While some of these feel like common sense, consider passing them on to your Deacs anyway.

Whether your student stays on campus, goes to visit you at home (or goes to friends’ homes), or has a destination vacation, we hope he or she has a great and safe Spring Break!

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Safe Break

  • Check the U.S. State Department travel warnings website for countries on their list.
  • Remember not all countries have safety requirements or inspections for things such as Zip Lines and Parasailing.
  • Only use established taxis. Some countries allow anyone to act as a taxi with a sign. Ask how much to take you to your destination.
  • Do not go to an unknown destination.
  • Have enough money to get back to your hotel.
  • Take only one credit card and your check card. Keep them on you at all times.
  • Make copies of your credit cards and passport in case they are lost. Including the phone number to call and cancel the cards.
  • Let a family member know your travel plans. Where you are staying and when you will return.
  • Communication is important. Carry your cell phone. You can get it turned on in other countries by contacting your cell provider (check in advance if you need foreign country coverage; roaming charges for service can be VERY expensive). Carry a phone card if your cell cannot be turned on.
  • Remember your medications. Do not try to go a week without your medications.
  • Find out how you contact police, hospitals, and make collect calls once you arrive in another country.
  • Do not accept food or drinks from strangers
  • Arrive in a new country with a few dollars of the local currency. You do not want to stand out in a crowd trying to get change for a 20.00 bill for a soda. (The vendor may not know the rate of exchange)