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).
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.